The following post is part of The Movie of the Week Blogathon, hosted by the Classic Film & TV Café. Thanks to Rick at that site for including me in the lineup! You can find info on & get links to the rest of the entries in the Blogathon here: http://www.classicfilmtvcafe.com/2017/01/the-movie-of-week-blogathon.html. Enjoy reading these posts about some classic made for TV movies!
In the long ago & far away days of the 1970s, before reality shows and NCIS & Law & Order spinoffs took over prime time, there was a little thing called the “Movie of the Week” on ABC. Actually, all three networks regularly produced original movies during the 1970s, but for me, it feels like ABC telecast a number of the most memorable suspense, horror & fantasy films, including Steven Spielberg’s Duel (1971), Dan Curtis’ Trilogy of Terror (1975), the original The Night Stalker (1972), and a terrifying little tale called Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which aired in October 1973. If, like me, you saw this movie in your younger days (I was 10 years old at the time) it probably left an indelible impression on you. It's still one of my favorites from the era.
|Kim Darby in "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark"|
The story concerns Sally Farnham (Kim Darby) and her husband Alex. They move into a house inherited from her late grandmother. Sally discovers a bricked up fireplace in the basement, and asks the local handyman about it. He’s a little evasive, but tells her that her grandmother had it bricked up following the death of her grandfather. He advises her to leave it alone. But a curious Sally uses some tools to pry open a small side door that leads to a sub-basement. When she leaves the room, strange voices are heard from below. Mysterious things start to happen, and Sally is almost sure she hears those same weird voices calling her name, over & over.
One night, while she’s alone, she feels something grab her leg and hears the words, “We want you.” When her husband returns, he doubts her story, but makes sure the fireplace door is bolted shut. The next night, Alex & Sally host a dinner party for some of his work colleagues, and Sally sees a strange creature under the dinner table, which scurries away. No one else sees or hears anything. Later that evening, while she’s taking a shower, several of the little monsters turn out the lights and attack her with a razor. When she flicks the lights back on, they scurry away. Once again, only Sally sees them.
Alex begins to doubt his wife’s mental stability, and urges her to spend time with a friend while he’s away on business. The creatures attack Sally again, and tell her they want her spirit. She becomes even more frantic as the creatures continually terrorize her. Sally’s doctor prescribes some sedatives for her, and her friend Joan stays over with her. Alex returns from his trip, and goes to visit the handyman in order to discover the true history of the house. The creatures trap Joan outside, and drug Sally’s coffee. Will Alex return in time to save her? The film’s terrifying final moments (which I won’t spoil for you here) are what stayed with me after I first saw the film. I’m sure the creepy ending freaked out a lot of kids from my generation, who were peeking out from behind their favorite couch pillow during the movie’s conclusion.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was one of those films we all talked about at school after it aired, like many fondly remembered made for TV terror tales, such as the titles mentioned earlier, or others like Gargoyles (1972) and Satan’s School For Girls (1973). Solidly directed by John Newland (the host of the late 1950s anthology series One Step Beyond) and starring Kim Darby and Jim Hutton, the film is quite atmospheric with some truly chilling sequences. Darby is best known for starring alongside John Wayne in True Grit (1969) and as “Miri” on an episode of the original Star Trek series. She gives an excellent performance as the beleaguered Sally, and Hutton (TV’s Ellery Queen) is quite good as Alex. There are a couple of bonuses for classic TV fans: William Demarest (Uncle Charlie from My Three Sons) plays the handyman, and Barbara Anderson, of Ironside & Mission: Impossible fame, co-stars as Joan. The spine-chilling score is by the veteran TV & film composer Billy Goldenberg.
The film was written by Nigel McKeand, who also penned scripts for the The Waltons & Family. Those TV series were obviously in quite a different genre than this horror classic. The movie may seem kind of tame by today’s standards, but you won’t soon forget those spooky creatures and their eerie voices. In 2011, writer-director Guillermo Del Toro, an acknowledged fan of the movie, produced a new version of the film, also titled Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which has some interesting moments. But that big screen film is really more of a re-imagining of the story than a remake. The original TV chiller is available on DVD, and a trailer can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fz3dB0z08vs. And remember “Free...free…..she set us free….”