“It's just a matter of time. Of waiting for a while. All we have to do is bide our time. Bide our time.” - Creature
There was a time in the early seventies when the trend on TV was a TV movie of the week. These were films made specifically for TV rather than the cinema. Feature length, structured for the requisite commercial breaks. It was a new and exciting development.
Most of them were pretty forgettable, but many were absolute gems. Three that immediately spring to mind are Steven Spielberg’s Duel, Trilogy of Terror was another (both those films were based on the works of Richard Matheson) – and there was this – Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Another film that made an impression on me in my teenage years.
Okay, it isn’t strong, gory horror – but horror doesn’t need to be gory. This is a pretty creepy thriller with a lot of atmosphere and a good payoff at the end. It was considered a good enough film to merit remaking in 2011 with a much higher budget and way better effects. But for the purposes of this particular exercise, I’m going classic.
An upwardly mobile young couple move into an old Californian mansion. Oh, they have big plans. The husband, Alex Farnham (Jim Hutton) has his eyes set on a partnership in the firm he works for, and this being 1973, his wife Sally (Kim Darby) is content to be at home, tending house and planning dinner parties.
She’s also doing a bit of remodelling to her inheritance – and opens up a basement room that would make an ideal study, but has a bricked up and sealed fireplace that arouses her curiosity. (And in writing that, I’m suddenly aware of the fireplace behind me here in MY study….).
The handyman they employ strongly advises Sally NOT to open up the fireplace, but telling her not to, is obviously like telling a moth to avoid a lightbulb. As soon as his back is turned, there she is, rummaging in his toolbox for something to open up the damn fireplace.
Obviously, Sally hasn’t seen too many horror movies. Otherwise she’d know that if an elderly caretaker/janitor/maintenance guy whatever tells you NOT to open up a sealed part of an old house – then you DON’T OPEN IT. There are good reasons for these warnings, people.
Anyhow, she opens it and that’s when the unpleasantness hits the fan. Because living behind the bricks and the bolted steel door are a bunch of small gremlin-like creatures, who have been plotting their release and now they’re free and their intentions, frankly, are not good.
They’re plotting to add to their numbers by taking Sally, and the film becomes a cat and mouse game between the ever increasingly nervous wreck victim and the devious little monsters who hide behind curtains, in cupboards – anywhere it’s dark because they don’t like the light.
As her hysteria increases due to the attacks on her becoming bolder and more determined by the barely glimpsed gremlins (if that indeed is what they are, it’s not explained whether they’re alien, supernatural or what….) husband Alex is getting increasingly fed up and impatient with her. Every time a gremlin attacks, there’s never any evidence to prove what happened. There’s only a distraught Sally.
Distraught or not, Alex has to go away on business overnight and that’s when Sally determines to face the creatures who by now have killed the haughty interior decorator she has employed by tripping him up on the stairs – a fate actually meant for Sally herself. She asks them what they want, and they say that that whoever releases them must become one of them.
Her friend comes to stay the night, but ends up locked outside by the creatures after they drug Sally’s coffee with some prescribed sedatives. They also cut the power so they can make their move. (Sadly, this sequence is marred by having the friend try to force her way into the house when it’s already established it’s the middle of the night and thus pitch black).
Sally begins to get up and moves sluggishly around the darkened room, easy prey for the creatures who trip her up and drag her downstairs to their lair in the study fireplace where she becomes one of them. The film closes with her voice whispering among the others, plotting their next move, their next victim.
I think this is one of the very few made for TV horror movies that didn’t have an upbeat ending, with everything resolved and everybody living happily ever after.
Now, sadly this movie isn’t available on region 2 in the UK, so this link will only take you to a region 1 disc. If you buy it, you need to have a multi region DVD player, okay?
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