There are times where you just have to let the “remake” tag go, I guess. It’s one thing to remake FRIGHT NIGHT, since it was a significant box-office hit in 1985 and a hugely recognizable “brand name,” but when someone travels all the way back to one of the creepiest made-for-TV movies of the 1970s and decides to flesh it out and put it on the big screen, that’s a little bit more unusual. And when it’s Guillermo del Toro doing it, I happen to think the product warrants significantly more attention than when, say, people with far less gifted imaginations decide to rehash WHEN A STRANGER CALLS and PROM NIGHT.
I think we can generally agree that del Toro has more than earned our respect—he’s no “remake king,” but he’s always paid tribute to the entertainment that affected him most profoundly in his youth—everything from THE OUTER LIMITS to THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE shows through in his work. So it’s scarcely surprising that one of the films that must have really gotten to him back in the day was the TV-chiller DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (hell, didn’t that one get to all of us?), which became his first official remake (as producer and co-writer), with directorial duties entrusted to accomplished short-film maker Troy Nixey.
What makes this revision unmistakably del Toro’s is the child’s perspective provided by newcomer Bailee Madison. There’s no local civil war into which to drop young Sally, but we still get generous slices of both THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE and PAN’S LABYRINTH as the youngster finds herself passed between two divorced parents, neither of whom knows quite what to do with her. Sally’s father (Guy Pearce) is obsessed with simultaneously restoring an old mansion and his own career by trying to land on the cover of ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST; while his live-in lover/interior designer (Katie Holmes) isn’t prepared for either surrogate motherhood or Sally’s spirited resistance.
Of course Sally’s troubled. Of course one might expect her to act out. Is it any wonder at all that nobody believes her when she says that the house is full of little monsters…?
As you can see, we have a new tapestry into which the essentials of the original film are faithfully woven. The original TV-movie was creepy as hell on a primal level with no detailed explanation as to exactly why those little devils were doing what they were doing (let alone from whence they sprang). For the remake, del Toro provides plenty of backstory and detail (and yes, a plot contrivance or two—people tend to groan at the helpful librarian for making things too “easy,” but there’s a reason this information is gleaned expeditiously—would you rather spend half an hour of movie time watching Katie Holmes slowly discover what you already knew?), but it’s the sort of detail that makes the new DARK at one with his body of work—and which gives the movie a whole new reason to be creepy as hell. Thankfully, del Toro’s trust in director Nixey was well-founded.
This low-budget shocker will certainly recoup its costs in the video arena, but it’s still a damn shame that the studio essentially dumped it (nearly a full year after the teaser trailers hit theatres—I saw virtually NO promotion of this film over the last few months) in a truly deadly release slot. Add this to the FRIGHT NIGHT remake for a list of good horror films nobody wants to see. Then do yourself a favor and SEE it.
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