TOT TERRORS: DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (1973)
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.
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 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: http://a.co/7dUccTo.
Posted on October 16, 2017, in Horror Movies, Tot Terrors and tagged 1970s scary TV movies, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark 1973, Kim Darby 1970s movie, movie with fireplace that goes to hell, movies about the Women’s Lib movement. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.