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Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
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81 of 96 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2011
As I start my review for "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" I must confess one thing: I'm not a fan of supernatural horror movies. While I admire haunted house films like "Poltergeist", I've always found this sub-genre of horror to be painfully dull and its characters to be agonizingly stupid ("The Amityville Horror", I'm looking at you). They usually have the same formula: a stupid, yuppie couple (occasionally with children) buy a house, move in, hear strange noises, and bad things happen. Rinse and repeat. So, going into "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark", my expectations were pretty low. After reading some not so positive reviews online, they sank even further. So is "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" worth screaming for? Well..more on that in a bit.

The film begins with a gruesome prologue shows the home's deranged first owner, Emerson Blackwood, luring his maid into the dungeon-like basement and performing medieval dentistry on the terrified young woman. As he carries out the atrocity, he explains to the young maid that they, the goblin-like creatures known as Homunculi, have taken his son and will only give him back with teeth. As the young woman screams, whispering can be heard all around the room from the sealed up fireplace. Blackwood makes his way over to the fireplace and offers the teeth in exchange for the return of his son, only to be told his offering wasn't acceptable and he is pulled into the fireplace. The basement is sealed and forgotten over the generations.

The movie then opens with a young girl, Sally Hirst (Bailee Madison), moving into Blackwood Manor, the Gothic mansion being restored by her architect father Alex (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes), an interior decorator. Her father is renovating the house they live in, in hopes of having it on the front page of a known magazine. Due to the fact that her mother recently abandoned her, Sally has become a distant child with emotional vulnerability. Although Kim tries to befriend her, Sally alienates herself from her.

One day, Sally hears voices calling her name and follows them -- finding a hidden basement with a fireplace that has been bolted shut. She is drawn toward the fireplace, as she can hear voices that beg her to open it, promising friendship. One day she sneaks into the basement to open the fireplace, but her father stops her before she can get the door completely open. The Homunculi escape, however, and begin to torment Sally at night telling her to turn the lights out.

As the days progress, Kim finds one of her dresses shredded. Shortly afterward, a teddy bear that Kim gave to Sally is found destroyed underneath her bed after she yelled for her Dad having been scared by the creatures. Sally claims that someone (or something) else is to blame for these things, but her father does not believe her and is preoccupied with renovating the house. Kim, however, begins to believe her claims, as strange incidents occur more frequently. But is it too late?

"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" is over-the-top, melodramatic, and full of plot holes. But, you know what dear reader, I loved every minute of it. This is the kind of movie in which logic is thrown out the door before the opening credits even begin. It is atmospheric in a way that has been missing from most horror movies today. Those that were disappointed by the lack of Gothic overtones in the "Fright Night" remake will be in Heaven here. The sets are gorgeous and the fluid use of cinematography is inviting in a way that makes you feel at home with these gawkily little creatures. The acting here is a bit hit or miss. Guy Pearce is terrible as the father who doesn't seem to care whether his girlfriend or his daughter lives or dies. His performance is bland to the point of sleepwalking through his role. Katie Holmes, on the other hand, is a revelation. It's nice to see a strong, female role in which she is neither helpless nor a shrewd bitch. She thoroughly blew me away and has a few very touching scenes with Madison. Madison makes for a convincingly scared child but her performance is a bit hit or miss. Overall, if you are in the mood for a moody, Gothic treat, you could do far, far worse than "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark".
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2011
"This place isn't safe here, especially for kids." Sally is sent by her mother to live with her father (Pearce) and his girlfriend (Holmes) in an old house that they are trying to fix up. Sally is not happy there and while she is out running around she finds a hidden door. The older grounds keeper tries to warn to stay away. When Sally unknowingly unlocks a hidden evil the house and the family is in severe danger. This movie was much better then I was expecting, but I wasn't expecting much. This has a definite "Pan's Laberynth" feel to it, and that is enough to keep you watching. I wouldn't call this a scary movie as much as a disturbing movie. There are a few little stomach jumpers in this, but most of the time you are on the edge of your seat and waiting for what you know is coming to come. While the movie is tense and keeps you watching it's nothing really amazing. The ending of the movie really makes it better because the movie has the guts to end the way it does and that really changes the way you feel about it. Overall, a very OK movie that is made better because of the ending. Worth a watch though. I give it a B.
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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
A rule to live by: If you find yourself in a house that's haunted, get out of the house. But people will persist in dismissing those ominous signposts, those telltale clues. In horror pictures, children tend to be more savvy than the grown-ups, and they normally heed those twitches of primordial unease. But I guess little Sally, sullen and desolate and unbelievably unhappy, is the one exception. I think that Bailee Madison, who plays Sally, manages to construct an intriguing character. Madison isn't cutesy-ootsy in that obvious Hollywood kid actor way, and this makes her refreshing. It's not her fault the screenplay has her reacting unbelievably to what unfolds in the spooky mansion.

DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK is based on the original 1973 teleplay which starred Kim Darby, and it supposedly had a lasting impact on a young Guillermo del Toro. Del Toro co-produces and co-writes this 2011 reimagining, except that one wishes he'd directed it as well. Because while you have to credit this retelling for its moody cinematography and its creepy gothic vibe and its stab at psychological horror, you also condemn some of its choices and its lapses in logic.

How would you feel if you were a little kid and one neglectful parent passes you to the other? Sally, relocating from the warmth of Los Angeles to the depressing climate of the east coast, scorns her father's welcome, ignores his girlfriend Kim's (Katie Holmes) friendly overtures. Sally retreats into her own little world.

There are whispers of the horror lying dormant in the Blackwood manor (also called Fallen Mill), disquieting rumors surrounding the mad artist who had lived in it decades and decades ago. Today, Sally's father (Guy Pearce) intends to restore the Victorian manor with the notion of then selling it for huge profits. Guy Pearce has a thankless role, playing not only an inattentive father but also an oblivious observer who grows only more unlikable as the film progresses. I was seriously wishing unfortunate things to befall him.

You can't blame Sally for wanting to make friends. But these particular friends? Some may admire her pluck in braving the dark areas of the house, but I question her decision to cosy up to the things with the sibilant voices and who dwell, trapped, behind a furnace grate in that sealed-up basement. These skulking things don't exactly come off like cute Smurfs. When something calls out my name in a goosebumpy hiss and then goes skittering under the floorboards, I am not charmed. I am alarmed like a mother, and so check out my dust as I promptly skedaddle out of the house. (Again, if you find yourself in a house that's haunted, get out of the house.) When these creatures caress Sally's name over and over and promise to be her friend, she lets them out the grate.

The film opts for that creeping psychological horror in which the corners of your mind do all the heavy lifting, and that works to a certain extent. Your imagination, manipulated by foreshadowing and score and cinematography, conjures up all sorts of nastiness scurrying about in Fallen Mill's endless nooks and crannies. The creatures, when finally unveiled, actually live up to expectation. They are grimy and toothy and nightmarish enough. Maybe the most frightening bit in the movie has little Sally in the dark and under her sheets, tentatively canvassing for demonic interlopers. It's one of the few cheap "Boo!" moments that works.

But maybe it's just me. Because I don't find these little goblins so daunting, even if they earn scare points for their preferred consumption of children's teeth. And these tooth fairies seem more peevish than truly malignant. They'll cut up a person's wardrobe ensemble and they effectively terrorize the little girl (because Sally does eventually come to her senses). But the body count hardly rises, the payoff is slim. The Rock's take on the tooth fairy is actually more disturbing.

Sally and her father's girlfriend, Kim, become more likable, especially when they begin bonding with each other. Katie Holmes, for an actress whose part doesn't give her much to do, actually performs well; she's a sympathetic character from jump. It took me longer to empathize with young Sally (mostly because I couldn't believe the dumb moves she was pulling). But how do you not feel for a little girl being so traumatized? And, as usual, in a horror movie, no one ever listens to a child. I think we all saw that child psychologist coming from a mile away. Ultimately, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK falls short of its ambitions, fails to deliver those dark shivers it promised. But, despite its flaws, it's worth watching for the mood evoked, for its elegant visual look, for the melancholy ending, and for Bailee Madison's performance. 3 out of 5 stars for Del Toro's reworking.

SPOILERS now and some parting thoughts:

- Maybe someday, new residents of a haunted house will listen to the sinister groundskeeper's (or maid's or governess') warnings

- Even in dark fairy tales, surely Polaroid cameras must eventually run out of flash bulbs, which is detrimental for when you want to keep nasty light-sensitive things at bay

- I, in fact, question the use of the Polaroid camera of which flash function you have to keep operating; why not, instead, a durable flashlight that shines a steady beam?

- How self-involved is the dad that he allows his small child to have the run of the place by herself?

- After the goblin attack during the dinner party, when her dad and the guests are gathered around a distraught Sally in the library den, you'd think that Sally, to show incontestible proof, would point out that one goblin she'd just crushed with the sliding book shelf. Instead she says, "I took a picture." And then I guess no one bothered to glance at the photographs scattered about the room. That or Sally just takes crummy photos

- When you're on the floor and are being swarmed by goblins that are merely inches tall, the most expedient way to extricate yourself is to GET UP

- Trussed up with the same length of rope, Kim and Sally (in that order) are being inexorably dragged towards the furnace by the goblins; Kim, instead of slicing the rope between her and the furnace (thus freeing them both), opts to cut the rope between her and Sally
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
What was Gulliermo Del Toro thinking? The director who gave us “Devil’s Backbone” and ”Pan’s Labyrinth” came up with this? (Del Toro is writer and producer while Troy Nixey directed.) The film has received some positive reviews from a few critics, most notably from Roger Ebert. Pay no attention to that. Pay attention to the C- grade from Cinemascore. (Cinemascore is a market research firm that does immediate exit polling of average movie goers. Thus it provides a summary of a real audience’s reaction to a film. Sometimes cinemascore grades are unreliable because the audience is skewed: case in point the high grades given to the Transformers series. But in this case where you have a diverse, relatively educated audience, they’re bang on. And a C- is very low as a CinemaScore.)

Now before I continue, let me address the big issue: why not listen to Ebert rather than me? After all, he won a Pulitzer Prize. That definitely trumps the teaching award I received in 2005. If I may, let me respond by pointing to C.S. Lewis’s comments in his Reflections on the Psalms. Lewis addressed the question of why you should read a literary critic who doesn’t know Hebrew on the Psalms. His answer was that sometimes a lack of specialist knowledge allows one to get at the essentials of a passage, unencumbered by the endless qualifications and clarifications that can come with specialist knowledge. I submit the same is true for my review. Ebert has more knowledge of cinema in his toenail shavings than I have in my cranium. But that fact actually helps me get to the nub of the issue for the average movie goer.

And what is that nub?

Here it is: the film is meant to be scary. It isn’t. It’s boring. And endlessly silly. And a little bit funny. And if a film is meant to be scary but is actually boring and endlessly silly and a little bit funny then the deal is off. It’s like a handsome Italian sports car that won’t start. I don’t care how much you talk about the quality of the paint. I’m not interested.

At this point be warned: spoilers may lay ahead. But if you’re still worried about spoilers at this point in the review then you haven’t been listening to a thing I’ve said.

The film centers on a father (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend (Katie Holmes) who are living in a scary old Victorian mansion when the father’s daughter (Bailee Madison) comes to live with them. Since I forget the names of the first two characters I’ll just call them Dad and Girlfriend. I can’t forget the daughter’s name (it is “Sally”) because the little gremlins in the walls keep whispering it over and over, apparently in a futile attempt to create some sense of impending doom. (The only sense of impending doom I felt related to the growing realization that I had wasted twenty bucks on tickets and popcorn.)

Sally wanders the large, scary home and discovers a basement with a hearth that has things in it which keep doing the above mentioned whispering. When, eventually, you see the things doing the whispering you immediately wish you hadn’t. They look like little 8 inch ugly humanoid creatures with very bad teeth. As the film shamelessly depicts the little nasties running around wreaking havoc you begin to realize this is going to be about as scary as “Gremlins”.

For me things definitely took a turn for the worst at the dinner party. It is meant to be an occasion for dad, an architect, to show off his handiwork of restoring the mansion to Architectural Digest. But as the guests arrive Sally has a Polaroid camera (yes a Polaroid. Did she buy it on Ebay?) and she takes a picture of one of the gremlins peaking out of a green plant. That reminded me of the opening scene of “Toy Story” where the toy soldiers are staking out the birthday party downstairs and providing reports back to Woody and the gang. And once I started thinking of that I went on to think how I wish Buzz Lightyear, Woody, and the rest of the gang were here to battle Sally’s gremlins. Now that would be entertaining.

Anyway Dad doesn’t believe Sally about the gremlins. But Girlfriend suspects something might be up. So she goes to the local public library to do some research. I don’t know about your local public library, but mine has primary colors, giant choo choo train decals, and a community announcements billboard. The local branch Girlfriend visits looks like the reading room from the Vatican Library. Impressive.

While at the library Girlfriend discovers that these little gremlin creatures have been stealing human beings for centuries. But then at some point in the 900s the Pope, yes the same Pope that uses the real Vatican reading room, signed a treaty with the gremlins so that they would agree to take human teeth rather than human lives to satiate their desires or needs or whatever.

Wait a minute. Don’t visualize that or you’ll burst into laughter. Am I supposed to envision an entourage of 8 inch gremlins arriving at the Vatican for a formal document signing ceremony? Like I said, this film is unintentionally funny.

As events unfold Dad, Girlfriend, and yes poor Sally, all act very stupid. They might as well have covered themselves with honey before venturing into the Hundred Acre Wood. Don’t be surprised when you find Winnie the Pooh gumming your ankles. You deserve it.

In the end Girlfriend is whisked away to certain doom down the hearth in a scene that reminded me of the ending in another recent film, “Drag me to hell.” Sally and Dad are spared however. Ironically their survival created the biggest chill of the entire film: the possibility of a sequel.

randalrauser.com
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A remake of a 1973 TV movie "Don't Be Afraid of The Dark" is an atmospheric thriller that doesn't quite deliver on the its promise but still manages to be entertaining even if it is a tad contrived. Co-writers Guillermo Del Toro and Matthew Robbins use the original TV movie as the primary basis for this new version (although uncredited the 1973 script written by Nigel McKeand was reportedly based on H. P. Lovecraft's "The Rats in the Walls")altering the dynamic of the original script which didn't use a child as the main focus of the TV movie.

Co-producer Guillermo Del Toro ("Hellboy", "Chronos", "Pan's Labyrinth")and co-writer Matthew Robbins ("Dragonslayer", "*batteries not included")along with first time director Troy Nixey create an impressive looking movie with some strong performances particularly from Baliee Madison. The main problem with "Don't Be Afriad of the Dark" is that despite the impressive production design, acting talent and moody photography "Don't Be Afraid of The Dark" isn't very scary.

Sally (Madison) is a little girl who feels lost as she's shuffled off to live with her father Alex (Guy Pearce)and Alex's girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) who specialize in renovating older, dilapited mansions. Sally discovers there are creatures living in the Blackwood home that abduct children.

Unfortunately Pearce isn't given much to work with as Alex who primarily comes across as a twit and Katie Holmes character of Kim although written a bit more sympathetically doesn't have much depth either.

The Blu-ray looks marvelous with a nicely detailed, moody presentation of the film. Skin tones are solid thorughout. Blacks are solid throughout and given that this is such a dark, moody looking film that's a good thing.

Audio is very active particularly during the scenes where the little monsters attack with a nice DTS 5.1 lossless presentation.

The special features include a featurette where Del Toro, Nixey and others discuss the challenges of adapting the original TV movie, altering the main focus to a child and then trying to create a thriller where the child isn't in more danger from the creatures.

We also get a gallery of concept art but, given some of the commentary tracks that Del Toro has done in the past, I'm really surprised that Del Toro and director Nixey don't give us a commentary track explaining the often flawed creative decisions the trio of Del Toro, Robbins and Nixey made relating to their approach to the film. If they had stayed with the approach of the original TV movie of making an adult the focus of the film and putting the main characters in peril more often, "Don't Be Afraid of The Dark" MIGHT have lived up to its potential. As it is the film is a handsome looking, atmospheric thriller that's a victory of style over content.

If you must see it, rent it first to make sure it will appeal to you.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 21, 2011
** Spoilers for those who don't want to know what the monsters are in the movie. **

Sally Hurst is unhappy. Her mother gives her to her father, Alex, like a baseball card and ships her far away from her home and friends. She has to live in a huge, gloomy house with Alex and his girlfriend, Kim. Introverted and quiet, Sally is miserable in the new house and just wants to go home. Her only solace is in the hidden basement she discovered while exploring. She hears voices call her name and opens a gateway that has held these creatures at bay for nearly a century. At first, they seem to just want to be her friend. After destroying Kim's things and brutally attacking a gardener, Sally realizes that they just want to manipulate and hurt her. Even after these strange incidences, Kim and her father don't believe her and think she's a disturbed little girl who needs a therapist. Can Sally convince them of the danger before it's too late?

I had the wonderful opportunity to see an advanced screening of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark thanks to Screamfest. I went in expecting a cheesy ghost movie that would be a rip-off of Paranormal Activity or the Amityville Horror that I would not enjoy. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was completely wrong. The film is actually a modern fairy tale with a lot of suspense mixed in. It starts off like a typical fairy tale with the unhappy daughter, stepmother, and father living together. Instead of an evil stepmother, Kim is actually very loving and the first person to believe Sally when she warns them about the menace in their house. She is more willing than Alex to get Sally out of harm's way even if it means losing money and prestige by cancelling an important dinner party. I like this role reversal from the typical fairy tale story. The reversal theme continues with the menacing creatures. They are fairies, which are typically the helpers to our young heroine, that have an affinity for teeth. Like the Tooth Fairy of my childhood, they leave money for teeth left underneath pillows, but they don't do this out of generosity. Their source of food is teeth and they especially like children's teeth. (For 2 clips with the tooth fairies, click here.) If you have seen Hellboy II, it's as if Guillermo del Toro took those tooth fairies, made them look a bit creepier, and gave them their own movie. Considering they were my favorite creature from that film, I am totally on board with this concept.

Unlike many other horror films, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark relies heavily on suspense and dark ambiance over heavy gore and torture. A couple of scenes are squirm inducing, but mostly due to implication. The very first scene in the film features the man who originally built the house removing his own teeth and the teeth of a maid to appease the tooth fairies and get his son back. Even with this scene and one other that is particularly creepy, this film should not be rated R. There isn't much blood and there is no nudity, cursing, or anything else I can think of that would warrant such a rating. The house is beautiful and the perfect gothic setting for the story. The music by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders enhances the creepy and haunting feel of the film. The architecture and the art of the original owner of the house are a perfect complement as well. The art was actually drawn by Keith Thompson, who also illustrated Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series and he creates magic with just a black and white palette.

The film, however, isn't perfect. A Polaroid camera is used extensively throughout the film. This may be a nod to the original version from the 70's, but a digital camera would have worked just as well. Plus Polaroid cameras aren't even made anymore, so it seems irrelevant in a modern film. The creatures' strengths and weaknesses fluctuated a lot throughout, from their numbers to the degree of their light sensitivity to their speed, without any real sense why. It seemed like if they had the same strength they had at the end, they could have easily won very early on, but then there would be no movie. That's not a good rationale and comes off as inconsistent story telling.

Overall, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a dark and wonderful deconstructed fairy tale. Bailee Madison's performance as Sally is nuanced, mature, and frankly amazing. I would recommend this to fans of dark fantasy and Pan's Labyrinth.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2012
What's it about?

When a young girl is sent to live with her father and his girlfriend she discovers little creatures living in the basement.

Is it any good?

As a fan of Guillermo del Toro, I watch anything he puts his name to (well anything except Hellboy 2), but in this case I was a little disappointed. Co-written and produced by del Toro; this remake of an old TV movie is for the most part a cliche attempt at a haunted house movie that would be more suitable at scaring children as opposed to adults. The only redeeming scares remain within the lighting, which builds a chilling atmosphere as creepy whispers are heard behind walls. Meanwhile, the creatures taunt poor little Sally running around with scalpels bigger than they are, yes, those little light fearing CGI creatures that resemble your Grandpa's ball sack, but less scary. Bailee Madison is excellent as sad-eyed Sally and gets the majority of screen time while Pearce and Holmes are stuck with thin characters and nowhere to go. Even though `Don't be Afraid of the Dark' contains elements of del Toro's signature gothic fairytale imagery it falls short with a thin plot and a WTF ending.

Best bit?

Aussie actor Gary MacDonald gives a strong cameo performance as `Emerson Blackwood'.

Did you know?

This film was rated `R' for "pervasive scariness".....seriously?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A rule to live by: If a house is haunted, get out of the house. But people will persist in dismissing those ominous signposts, those telltale clues. In horror pictures, children tend to be more savvy than the grown-ups, tend to heed those twitches of primordial unease. But I guess little Sally, sullen and unbelievably unhappy, is the one exception. I think that Bailee Madison constructs a nifty and intriguing character in Sally. Madison isn't cutesy-ootsy in that obvious Hollywood kid actor way, and this makes her instantly refreshing. It's not her fault the screenplay has her reacting unbelievably to what unfolds in the spooky mansion.

DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK is based on the original 1973 teleplay which starred Kim Darby, and it supposedly had a lasting impact on a young Guillermo del Toro. Del Toro co-produces and co-writes this 2011 reimagining, except that one wishes he'd directed it as well. Because while you have to credit this retelling for its moody cinematography and its creepy gothic vibe and its stab at psychological horror, you also condemn some of its choices, its lapses in logic.

How would you feel if you were a little kid and one neglectful parent passes you to the other? Sally, relocating from the warmth of Los Angeles to the depressing climate of the east coast, scorns her father's welcome, ignores his girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes). Sally, desolate and isolated, retreats into her own little world. And the unsuspected inhabitants of her father's sprawling mansion figure into it.

There are whispers of the horror lying dormant in the Blackwood manor (also called Fallen Mill), disquieting rumors surrounding the mad artist who had lived in it decades and decades ago. Today, Sally's father (Guy Pearce) intends to restore the Victorian manor with the notion of then selling it for huge profits. Guy Pearce has a thankless role, playing not only a neglectful father but also an oblivious observer who grows only more unlikable as the film progresses. I was seriously wishing unfortunate things to befall him.

You can't blame Sally for wanting to make friends. But these particular friends? Some may admire her pluck in braving the dark areas of the house, but I question her decision to cosy up to the things with the sibilant voices and who dwell, trapped, in a furnace grate in that gloomy, sealed-up basement. These skulking things don't exactly come off like cute Smurfs. When something calls out my name in a sibilant hiss and then goes skittering under the floorboards, I am not charmed. I am alarmed like a mother, and check out my dust as I promptly skedaddle out of the house. When these creatures hiss out Sally's name over and over and promise to be her friend, she lets them out the grate.

The film-makers try to have their cake and eat it too. The film opts for that creeping psychological horror in which the corners of your mind do all the heavy lifting, and that works to a certain extent and even appreciated. Again, the rich gothic atmosphere convincingly conveys the proper mood. Your imagination, manipulated by foreshadowing and score and cinematography, can't help but conjure up all sorts of nastiness scurrying about in Fallen Mill's endless nooks and crannies. The creatures, when finally unveiled, actually live up to expectation. They are grimy and toothy and nightmarish enough. Maybe the most frightening bit in the movie has little Sally in the dark and under her sheets, tentatively canvassing for demonic interlopers. It's one of the few cheap scares that works.

But maybe it's just me. Mostly, I don't find these little goblins particularly daunting, even if they earn scare points for their preferred consumption of children's teeth. And these tooth fairies seem more peevish than truly malignant. They'll cut up a person's wardrobe ensemble and they effectively terrorize the little girl (because Sally does eventually come to her senses). But the body count hardly rises, the payoff is slim. The Rock's take on the tooth fairy is actually more disturbing.

Sally and her father's girlfriend, Kim, become more likable, especially when they begin bonding with each other. Katie Holmes, for an actress whose part doesn't give her much to do, actually performs well; she's a sympathetic character from jump. It took me longer to empathize with young Sally (mostly because I couldn't believe the dumb moves she was pulling). But how do you not feel for a little girl being so traumatized? And, as usual, in a horror movie, no one ever listens to a child. I think we all saw that child psychologist coming from a mile away. Ultimately, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK falls short of its ambitions, fails to deliver those dark shivers it promised. But, despite its flaws, it's worth watching for the mood evoked, for the elegant visual look of the film, for the melancholy ending, and for Bailee Madison's performance. 3 out of 5 stars for Del Toro's reworking.

SPOILERS now as I nitpick off the top of my head:

- Someday, new residents of a haunted house will listen to the sinister groundskeeper's (or maid's or governess') warnings

- Even in horror/dark fairy tale stories, Polaroid cameras must eventually run out of flash bulbs

- I, in fact, question the use of the Polariod camera. why not, say, a bigger and more durable flashlight?

- How self-involved is the dad that he allows his small child to have the run of the place by herself?

- After the attack during the dinner party, when her dad and the guests are gathered around a distraught Sally in the library den, you'd think that Sally, to show incontestible proof, would point out that one goblin she'd just crushed with the sliding book shelf. Instead she says, "I took a picture." And I guess no one bothered to glance at the photographs scattered about the room. That or Sally just takes crummy photos

- When you're on the ground and hordes of demons mere inches tall are swarming on you, the most expedient way to get out of that is by getting up

- Trussed up with the same length of rope, as Kim and Sally (in that order) are being inexorably dragged towards the furnace, Kim, instead of slicing the rope between her and Sally, should've maybe cut the rope between her and the furnace.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2012
This remake of the 1970s TV movie has been a pet project of Guillermo del Toro for over a decade. He saw the original as a child and it scared him witless. The original story follows a young wife who is tormented by little demon creatures who want to make her one of them. I haven't seen it but have it on good authority that it is quite excellent and worth seeing.

This movie changes the female protagonist to a nine- or ten-year old girl named Sally who has been sent by her mom to live with her dad and his live-in girlfriend. They are fixing up a house on the east coast. There's a lot of family awkwardness that fuels the girl's feelings of loneliness and abandonment. So when she starts hearing voices calling her to come play in the basement, maybe it isn't so strange that she wants to find out who these new friends might be.

Sally doesn't realize how bad an idea it is because she missed the opening of the film, set over 100 years before she arrived. The previous home owner went crazy trying to get his son back from the little demons who live in the ashpit under the house. They wanted children's teeth in exchange for the son. He offers his own and we (mostly) see him collect teeth from his housemaid. That scene was pretty traumatic and horrifying, showing just enough to make it all the more terrifying.

The movie never really maintains the level of dread set at the beginning. Sure, moments are scary and the creatures are nasty looking. But the creatures do not seem so overwhelming, even in large numbers. Their success seems to rely on people being stunned into inaction by their presence, or being tripped and knocked semi- or completely unconscious. And they flee light, which seems like a very easy weapon to have or use more effectively than the characters in the movie make use of.

Some bits are hard to believe, like the skeptical father who still won't believe his daughter is seeing little creatures even after the caretaker has been attacked and, later, the daughter has taken a picture (which he doesn't bother to look at). The demons' voices inviting Sally to join them are throaty and threatening, making me wonder why Sally wasn't more skeptical herself.

Some bits are quite enjoyable. The house is quite beautiful--gothic without being a sinister haunted house like you see in so many other movies. The interiors are warm and original. Only the basement is cold and unnerving. I thought the creatures looked pretty convincing. Many scenes and props reminded me of other movies (especially other del Toro movies like Pan's Labyrinth) but not in a bad, rip-off way. It was more like seeing bits from another movie and saying, "Hey, I know where I've seen that before!" That might be annoying to other viewers (and sometimes stuff like that is annoying to me).

Overall, this movie was a mild disappointment, considering the source material and del Toro's involvement (he's one of my favorite current directors). I had heard a lot of negative reviews before seeing this, so my expectations were pretty low. If I'd seen it in the theater I would have been more disappointed. I can't really recommend it unless you are a die-hard fan of a cast member or one of the creators or the genre.

DVD note: after seeing dozens of films that boast multiple hours of special features, it was nice to see a DVD that had at most 20 minutes of extras. Three featurettes described how the story was put together, how they made the exteriors and interiors of the house, and the development of the creatures from concept to finished film effects.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon January 27, 2012
In 1973, ABC Television presented a made-for-TV movie starring Kim Darby and Jim Hutton in the first version of this story. For some reason, Guillermo del Toro and the folks a Miramax Films thought it should be remade. Mr. del Toro has had some success with films of this genre including "The Orphanage", "Hellboy" (I and II) and the brilliant "Pan's Labyrinth." It is not surprising then that the art decoration and sets are first class. The old house is sufficiently large and creepy even though it is undergoing renovation. This time the directing chores are performed by rookie Troy Nixie.

The problem with the film is that it just isn't very scary. Bailee Madison plays Sally, a girl of about 11 or 12, who is being foisted on her divorced dad by a mom (never seen) who has had enough of Sally's behavior problems. Sally sets the stage early on by gobbling Adderal and getting caught lying several times. So for the rest of the movie we know that no one will believe anything she says. Dad (Guy Pearce) has a new live-in girlfriend (Katie Holmes) and together they have invested everything they have into the restoration. This of course means their focus is not on Sally's stories but on getting the house in "Architectural Digest."

The house is haunted, but not by traditional ghosts. Here we have little 10 inch thin skinned humanoids with small heads and sharp teeth. Oh yes, the teeth. Evidently that is what they use for sustenance. Children's teeth are best. There is a history of lost children and adults that is shown in the opening sequence, which is actually pretty good. Kim (Holmes) eventually comes around and believes Sally's tales of creatures. Kim gives Sally a Polaroid flash camera (yeah, when's the last time you saw one of those?) to get a picture and protect herself (the creatures don't like bright lights). We know exactly what is going to happen from one scene to the next. This is a by-the-numbers haunted house film that I suspect will also be on TV pretty soon.

This Blu ray version also contains a digital transfer. The video is excellent. The dark scenes still stand out. The DTS-HD Master Audio displays the sound effects and creepy music in all the right places.
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