Remake Double Take: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

I can't help but to feel sorry for the horror genre of movies these days. Of all of the other genres out there, horror seems to be the one that is most likely to be subjected to remakes, reboots or "reimaginings". Often, these are remakes of movies that didn't need to be remade at all: The Haunting, Carnival of Souls, Psycho, Halloween, The Omen, Amityville Horror, Black Christmas, The Stepford Wives, Prom Night, Nightmare on Elm Street, the list goes on and on with no end in sight.

In my opinion, remakes are only worthwhile if they do one of two things: either they bring something different to the story that's distinct but is still faithful to the original narrative's internal logic, or they redo a movie that had potential to be great but for whatever reason didn't completely succeed in its initial cinematic incarnation. In the first category, there are remakes such as The Thing, The Fly and The Blob, each based on classic films but are different and effective enough to stand on their own. The other category is much harder to pin down, because movie companies are far more likely to remake classics due to name recognition and built-in fan bases than to remake an obscure film that not many people liked in the first place. There are many flawed but intriguing movies that I would like to see given a second chance as better movies (Phase IV, Looker and Trancers immediately come to mind) but the odds of that happening range from slim to impossible.

Somewhere in between these two categories is Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, an upcoming remake produced by Guillermo del Toro of a 1973 TV movie that has a devoted cult following. Click here to see the initial preview trailer, which looks very promising. Being familiar with the original movie, I'd like to share a few thoughts about this remake, about what might make this film either a worthy update to a cult classic or yet another title to add to the growing list of ambitious but misguided horror remakes. Read on ...

Believe it or not, there was a time when made-for-TV movies were respectable contributions to the horror genre. Many of these TV movies were broadcast during the 1970s, and Dark is one of them. Dark is about a young couple, Sally and Alex Farnham (played by Kim Darby and Jim Hutton) who move into a Victorian mansion that they inherited from Sally's grandmother. While redecorating the house, Sally decides to open up a fireplace which had been bricked shut; in doing so, she unwittingly frees a group of tiny, demonic creatures who develop and obsession with Sally.

The creatures in Dark are the highlight of the movie. They're like a pint-sized, prune-faced, trap-setting cult of sick freaks that you don't want to encounter under any circumstances. One of the best things about them is that it is never fully explained what exactly they are and from where they came. You learn just enough about them to realize that they are not of this world but so much more is left up to your imagination, leaving you wondering with nervous apprehension what these tiny terrors are fully capable of doing.

The good news about the remake of Dark is the involvement of del Toro, who has a solid enough track record in the horror genre to bring Dark back into the public eye with a fresh interpretation of the original story. While he's not directing the film itself--that task has been left to Troy Nixey--he co-wrote the screenplay, so I'm hoping he can bring the same artistic sensibilities to this project as he did to The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth.

However, the bad news is that del Toro and company are approaching this story as a "dark fairy tale", and they changed the character of Sally from a grown worman into a little girl. This remake could easily veer into the same narrative and thematic territory as 2009's Coraline, which is a tough act to follow with its distinct, unforgettable stop-motion animation by Henry Selick and original story by Neil Gaiman. Furthermore, what made the creatures in the original Dark so effective is that they work as a wonderful metaphor for mental illness (particularly inherited mental illness): like a recurring hallucination, the Dark creatures lurk just outside of vision, waiting to be set free, with tiny, whispering voices coming from the shadows that repeatedly voice unhealthy obsessions and sadistic, murderous intent. This plays well against the adult character of Sally, whose marriage to her neglectful, career-focused husband is already under strain when the story begins. The original movie's ending, where Sally is pulled into the creatures' unseen underworld lair (presumably where her grandfather was taken as well), visibly echoes a mental illness sufferer's final descent into a permanent state of dementia. Taking these monsters out of an adult context and into that of a child could end up making them much less scary than their original incarnation. I guess we'll just have to wait until 2011 to see for ourselves.

For more information about the "golden age" of horror TV movies from the late 60s, 70s, and early 80s, check out Terror Trap site and the Made for TV Mayhem blog. For a more in-depth, spot-on review of the original Don't Be Afraid of the Dark movie, check out John Kenneth Muir's Reflections on Film/TV blog.


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