Friday, September 2, 2011

Not Very Afraid of the Dark

This summer's Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a remake of a 1973 TV-movie that I haven't seen and can't comment on. What I would like to comment on are the new film's deformed destructive beings, or DDBs. A horror movie is only as good as its DDB(s), and the little creatures in Dark are a case in point. They are fascinating and entertaining, but not horrifying enough to make this a horror movie of the first rank.

As in innumerable haunted house movies before (eg, The Amityville Horror), Dark has a family move into a big old house that turns out to be haunted. But instead of being haunted by ghosts, the house is haunted by little creatures that live under the basement. Like rats and other vermin, they don't like light and mostly move around in the dark. They look sort of like rats, gray and hunched over, but also sort of human, walking around on spindly legs. There is a suggestion that they are evil fairies--they like teeth, and their taste for teeth may have been the origin of the legend of the tooth fairy. Their chief means of destructiveness is in abducting people to join them forever in their underground lair.

At times these DDBs are horrifying. When the little girl, Sally, peeks under her bedsheet and comes face to face with one of the creatures, the effect is powerful, raising sexual fears and terrors of contamination. But too often the creatures verge on being--cute. They have high-pitched voices with which they communicate with Sally. They scuttle about making mischief like the gremlins in Gremlins, who were also a little too cute for that movie's own good. They are well-realized, but the more we see of them the more it is clear they are CGI creations, which undermines the realism that is essential to horror.

Guillermo del Toro, who co-produced and co-wrote the film, has a fondness for horror films that are either not really horror films or are on the edge of horror. Pan's Labyrinth is a fantasy with elements of horror; Cronos is a horror film, but just barely, with a vampire who is almost too nice to be a vampire. Dark is definitely a horror film, but the horror it produces is limited by the cute fantasy aspect of its DDBs. In keeping with the title, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is unlikely to make the viewer afraid of the dark.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

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