I often get asked about what influences my work as a writer. Inspired by the amazing website Kindertrauma–which is right up my alley–I’m compiling all of my childhood (and some adult) terrors.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973) 1

I first watched 1973’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark on a Sunday afternoon in the late 1970s—at my grandmother’s house, on one of the channels that always ran repeat made-for-TV films.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which aired on October 10, 1973 on ABC, stars Kim Darby as a nervous homemaker who inherits her grandfather’s massive—and decrepit—mansion, complete with a caretaker who’s constantly warning her that “some things are better left alone” when she finds a tightly sealed fireplace in a shadowy room under the staircase. Which, of course, she opens in the name of “updating” the home. Soon, she’s plagued by voices calling her name, flying ashtrays, and trip cords across her main staircase—and no one believes her.

It terrified me; I didn’t sleep for days. But life moved on, and as I got older, I remembered it only as “the one with the creatures that live in the fireplace that goes all the way down to hell,” accompanied by a mental snapshot of the film’s final image—the imposing house in which it takes place—and a chilling audio replay of the villains’ sinister whispering.

I wasn’t alone. Kindertrauma, an online community which chronicles films, books, commercials and anything else that has scarred the very young, has officially named it an “Official Traumatizer.”

I finally rediscovered this in 2010. While it certainly didn’t scare me a second time around, there is much to be admired: the simple special effects—curtains moving on their own, shattering ashtrays, threatening whispers and obscured demonic faces—hold up in most places and are even still unsettling. It’s also loaded with symbols, and is a well-paced, conflict-ratcheting, solid story that makes a comment on the then-contemporary Women’s Lib movement: a woman’s continued oppression could drive her mad. Others made the same connection; Tom Chick and Chris Hornbostel discuss this in a little more detail in a 2013 article here, and Kindertrauma examines the movie’s themes of identity crisis as it pins it in the class with The Haunting and “The Yellow Wallpaper” here.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973) 7 - Tug of War

The gremlins have just killed Sally’s designer by setting up a trip cord across the grand staircase. Here, Sally tugs of war with them — while they’re whispering to her, “We need your spirit!” This moment particularly messed with my head.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is available on Amazon as a “Special Edition”—which only means it’s been “remastered” (there are no special features). Most of the film is dark and grainy, with not-so-great sound, but it’s still got charm, and we are lucky it’s out there at all. If you want to pick it up, you can get it here:

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973) 8 - Sally's voice Of course they will come we know they will

This is the image that remained in my mind for so many years. We hear the gremlins whispering, and we hear Sally comforting them, saying “they will come, you know they will” — implying that a new family of victims will arrive in due time. I heard the audio that accompanied this scene in my head for many years.

About kristipetersenschoonover

A ghost story writer who still sleeps with the lights on, Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s fiction has appeared in countless magazines and anthologies. She has received three Norman Mailer Writers Colony Residencies, served as a co-editor for Read Short Fiction, has judged both writing and grant competitions and co-hosts the Dark Discussions Podcast. Her work Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole is a collection of ghost stories set in Disney Parks; her novel, Bad Apple, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She’s also a member of the New England Horror Writers Association. More info:

Posted on October 16, 2017, in Horror Movies, Tot Terrors and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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