“Don’t be Afraid of the Dark,” a reimagining scary 1973 TV movie of the same name, is a modern day gothic horror produced by shock maestro Guillermo del Toro. Set in Rhode Island it features things that go bump in the night, lots of shadows, mysterious voices, a creepy kid and even creepier little creatures.
Blackwood Manor, a stately old house where years earlier a famous painter had lost his son and mysteriously disappeared, is now it is the property of an ambitious designer (Guy Pearce) who is restoring the home in hopes of landing the cover of Architectural Digest. Instead his young daughter awakens some mysterious creepy-crawlies with a taste for little girls.
“Don’t be Afraid of the Dark” has a slow build to an exciting climax. The opening hour is chock-a-block with atmosphere and the hallmarks of gothic horror—like a groundskeeper who knows more than he is letting on, mysterious voices and hidden chambers—but is light on action. It plays like a family drama—the youngster is collateral damage in a nasty breakup between Pearce and his ex-wife—as seen through the lens of a genre filmmaker.
Mostly the first hour is Bailee Madison, as the young girl the little beasties find so appealing, alternatively acting out, whimpering or staring blankly in the age old creepy-kid horror film tradition.
It all leads to a satisfying climax, however, featuring swarms of cool creatures and enough ferocious fun to make the slow start worthwhile.
Guillermo del Toro may be the world’s cuddliest boogeyman. When I enter the hotel room to interview the 47-year-old producer of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, he stands up and hugs me. Not exactly what you anticipate from a master of horror.
But then again, surprises are his stock in trade. From the eerie Pale Man character in Pan’s Labyrinth to the deadly mechanical scarab of Cronos, he has trained viewers to expect the unexpected from his films.
A career spent scaring the pants off people has given the director some insight on why we like to be terrified at the movies.
“We try to look for the extraordinary in our ordinary lives,” he says. “That’s just the normal way we behave as spiritual beings. And horror movies allow us to live extraordinary experiences without having to go through extraordinary risk.
“I have a harder time understanding reality shows than I have a hard time understanding genre films. Because genre films give you something you don’t get in real life. Reality shows give you people you would normally never talk to in real life. Why are you interested in watching them?”
Not that the self described workaholic has much time to watch reality TV. When he’s not executive producing Oscar-nominated movies like Biutiful he’s writing the much anticipated The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, or working on a new novel with his co-writer Chuck Hogan. Add to that the alien attack movie Pacific Rim which he’ll spend the next year filming in Toronto and you have one of the busiest men in the business.
“Hard work is pleasure for me,” he says, adding that luckily, “I have been surrounded by a system of enabling family and I submerge myself in my work.”
A horror fan since childhood, (“I read Salem’s Lot in one sitting,” he says. “Eleven hours from eight a.m. to seven p.m. outside in the pool. I had a second degree burn because of that!”), he has s simple criteria for the projects he accepts.
“You should only get involved in things you love irrationally,” he says. “I turn down very lucrative things. I do constantly and I’ve done it all my career. But I go with the things I believe in and I think, so far, everything you see that I’ve put out feels like part of that universe.”
Del Toro on his movie’s monsters:
“The scariest thing about these creatures in the movie is that they are intelligent. They strategize. They literally find ways to get the upper hand against the humans.”