Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark DVD REVIEW

Teeth thing troubles

Bailee Madison stars as Sally.

Children: still the most economical way of cleaning your chimney.

Release Date: 20 February 2012
2011 | 15 | 95 minutes | £17.99 (DVD)/£22.99 (Blu-ray)
Distributor: Studiocanal
Director: Troy Nixey
Cast: Bailee Madison, Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce

If the latest “presented by Guillermo del Toro” horror proves anything, it’s that what scarred impressionable young minds in the ‘70s won’t necessarily stand up today as grown-up entertainment, however much you give it a polish.

In Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark Alex (Guy Pearce), new girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) and eight-year-old daughter Sally (Bailee Madison) move into a dilapidated gothic mansion, planning to renovate. Sally soon discovers there’s something nasty in the cellar: creatures that whisper her name, and have a taste for human teeth…

A remake of a 1973 TV movie of the same name which gave the young del Toro the heebie-jeebies, it mixes the old (eerie music-box melodies; old teddy bears) with the new (CGI-assisted zooms down ventilation shafts). In performing his own renovations to the tale, the co-writer/producer has made many improvements, whilst preserving key period features. There’s more depth to the characterisation, with the addition of a dysfunctional family dynamic. Switching the central character from a grown woman to a child swerves all the problems inherent in presenting a female protagonist as helpless and ineffectual, then having her dismissed as hysterical. The creatures are given a mythological backstory as Kim hits the library for your rote horror-movie-investigation, and are much more effectively realised. Previously men in furry suits which seemed to switch size on their every appearance, they’re now scuttling CGI hunchbacks – part monkey, part Gollum, part Norman Tebbit.

Trouble is, we see these whispering critters far too much. They weren’t exactly camera-shy in the original version, but here you really start to wish they’d stay in the shadows more – you should never get sick of the sight of the monster. And whilst another addition – a memorably gruesome prologue – will set your teeth on edge, its attempt to tease arguably reveals too much, too soon.

With its warm, amber tones, the film certainly looks gorgeous (although director Troy Nixey’s habit of continually floating the camera around risks becoming an irritant) and little Bailee Madison is excellent as Sally. But the one thing del Toro and his collaborators can’t “fix” is the essential daftness of the concept: a bunch of whispering critters living in a fireplace, apparently the only examples of their kind, who make come-hither whispers when they’re perfectly capable of just dragging people down into their hole? It all seems a wee bit silly. So while this dark domestic fairytale will certainly unnerve any children who somehow get hold of the disc, it’s unlikely to leave many adult viewers with a case of nyctophobia.


Slim pickings: three brief Making Of featurettes (eight minutes); three “character profiles” where the actors discuss their roles (seven minutes); trailers. The lack of a commentary by the always-entertaining del Toro is a major disappointment.

Ian Berriman

For an alternate perspective on Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, read our review of the theatrical release.

Read more of our DVD reviews.