Warner Archive: Don’t be Afraid of the Dark

I’ve always dreamed of owning an old, spooky house with oddly-shaped rooms and secret cubbies. As long as it didn’t come fully equipped with a collection of creatures who call my name in the dark. That’s the problem Kim Darby faces, when she moves into her grandmother’s old home in the 1973, TV movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.

Kim plays Sally, a stay-at-home wife dedicated to her upwardly mobile husband (Jim Hutton). Though he’s not sold on the merits of country living, Sally happily dives into the task of turning the quaint building into a showplace where she can have cocktail parties with her granny-gown wearing friends. (Granny-gowns were all the rage in 1973.).

To help her with the job, she hires a temperamental, shi shi, interior designer and Uncle Charlie (Willian Demarest) to do the carpentry work.

Sally discovers a small, dark room off the kitchen that was once her grandfather’s study. The two by four room has a fireplace which has been bricked up with great vigor and the ash door has been bolted shut. Uncle Charlie tells Sally that it must stay that way but he won’t explain why. He should have told her that building a fire in a room the size of a VW bus would be akin to relaxing in front of a metal smelting furnace, but no, he has to be contrary and make her curious.

As soon as he leaves, Sally pries the bolts off the ash door and peers in. It’s a bottomless chute and from this angle she sees that unbricking it would be hard. Never mind the fact that the fireplace has no floor, so no place to actually put the burning logs, but that’s apparently not important.

What is important, is that Sally has inadvertently set them free. At first, they’re nothing but squeaky, whispered voices who are a little too excited about the possibilities. Then they go on the attack. They grab Sally’s dress as she walks down the stairs and steal her napkin at a dinner party. When she finally gets a glimpse of the two-foot beasts, she freaks out in front of her guests who all think she’s gone mad.

But I Want To!

The creatures are truly a thing of wonder in this movie. They have fat, furry bodies and heads that look like a moldy pumpkins. They move beautifully because they’re real. Diminutive actor, Felix Silla, who played Cousin Itt on The Addams Family fills out one of the three monster suits. The set designers then created large scale objects such as books and phones to make the creatures look even smaller as the crawl around spying on Sally.

The best scene in the movie takes place in the bathroom. Sally is in the shower, when the creatures come out of the closet. They use a coat hanger to turn off the lights, then one grabs a straight razor with intentions of doing some damage. “No, don’t hurt her,” whispers the leader. “But I want to!” razor boy whispers back. It’s truly creepy and so much fun.

As Sally spirals downward, her husband gets more annoyed than concerned. She’s jeopardizing his shot at full partner at the agency and he wants her to knock it off. Her solution, sell the house which angers not only the designer but the whispering creatures as well. They up their terror campaign, but they don’t count on Sally’s best friend, Barbara Anderson, the one person who believes Sally’s story.

In the end, its a full-on battle for Sally’s soul as the creatures find ways to eliminate everyone around her. Her only weapon against them is light but these sneaky little monsters are out to prove a point. Flashlights and candles won’t help you. You should be very afraid of the dark.

Warner Archive has recently released a remastered version of this excellent TV movie. It’s scary without being gruesome and full of chilling cat and mouse play between Sally and her not-so-inner demons. The movie is available through Warner Archive’s burn-on-demand program. Visit their movie page to see a sample of the remastered film quality which is much better than the clip I’ve included below.

Spoiler alert: This clip does show the creatures, so don’t watch it if you’d rather be surprised!

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