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

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Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark TVGuide.png
Original 1973 TV Guide advertisement.
Genre Horror
Written by Nigel McKeand
Directed by John Newland
Starring Kim Darby
Jim Hutton
Music by Billy Goldenberg
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
Executive producer(s) Lee Rich
Producer(s) Allen S. Epstein
Neil T. Maffeo (associate producer)
Location(s) Piru Mansion - 829 & 837 Park Road, Piru, California
Cinematography Andrew Jackson
Editor(s) Gene Fowler Jr.
Michael McCrosker
Running time 74 minutes
Production company(s) Lorimar Productions
Original network ABC
Original release
  • October 10, 1973 (1973-10-10)

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is an American made-for-television dark fantasy film directed by John Newland and starring Kim Darby and Jim Hutton. It was released by Lorimar Productions and was first telecast on ABC on Wednesday October 10, 1973 during the ABC Movie of the Week. It has since been shown many times in syndication and was distributed on home video and now on DVD. It is known as Nightmare in certain countries in Europe. The story centers around a young housewife who unknowingly unleashes a trio of hideous goblin-like creatures from within a sealed fireplace in the Victorian mansion that she inherited from her late grandmother, which both she and her husband are also restoring. The creatures, now free, begin terrorizing her and later reveal their sinister plans: they want her to become one of them. It has since become a cult film,[1] and a theatrical remake of the same name was released in August 2011.


Sally Farnum and her husband Alex inherit an old mansion from Sally's recently deceased grandmother. Shortly after moving in, she discovers a bricked-up fireplace in the basement den, and asks the estate's handyman, Mr. Harris, about it. He tells her that Sally's grandmother had him seal it up after her grandfather died and that it is better to leave it the way it is. After he leaves for the day and Sally is alone in the room, she uses some of Mr. Harris' tools to try to remove the bricks herself. She is unable to budge the bricks, but is able to pry open a small side door that Mr. Harris had said was used for removing ashes from the fireplace. Inside is not a fireplace at all but a large, dark, deep sub-basement. As Sally leaves the den, several whispering voices are heard coming from behind the fireplace, calling her name, and proclaiming that "she set us free".

Sally soon begins to feel unsettled in the house. One night while sleeping, she is woken by voices whispering her name, and an ashtray mysteriously falls off her bedside cabinet. However, Alex dismisses her concerns and believes she is suffering from nervous tension. The next evening, when she is alone in the house, something grabs her dress as she is walking down the stairs and she hears voices whispering "We want you". She manages to free herself and sees something scuttling away behind a curtain, which she believes was a small animal of some kind. Soon afterwards, she hears the same whispering coming from behind the fireplace in the basement den. When Alex returns home, he remains unconvinced of her story, but makes sure the fireplace is bolted securely shut to reassure her.

The following night, Sally throws a dinner party for Alex's colleagues as he is up for partnership at his law firm. During the party, Sally sees a small, hideous goblin-like creature near her leg under the dinner table. She screams, but nobody believes what she saw as the creature quickly vanishes. Alex grows impatient with her and thinks she is becoming delusional. Later, while Sally is in the shower, three of the goblin creatures make their way into the bathroom and turn out the lights so that they can attack her with a razor. As Sally turns the light back on, the creatures shriek and retreat from the brightness into the bathroom cupboards where they disappear. She tells Alex they should sell the house.

The following day, Alex goes away on business and Sally arranges to go and stay with her friend Joan. However, before she goes, the creatures attempt to trip Sally down a flight of stairs, but they accidentally cause the death of her interior decorator instead. Sally tries to confront the creatures and asks them what they want, to which they reply they want her spirit as whoever frees them (as Sally did by opening the fireplace) must become one of them.

That evening, Sally's doctor prescribes sedatives while her friend Joan stays with her. Joan begins to believe Sally's story about supernatural creatures in the house. However, returning early from his trip, Alex remains unconvinced. Alex then leaves to speak with their handyman regarding the history of the house and the bricked up fireplace. Sally tries to stay awake after the creatures put the sedatives into her coffee but they cut the electricity. Joan is locked outside by them while checking on the circuit breaker box. Sally manages to walk downstairs, but the creatures trip her over in the dark. As she is semi-conscious, they then drag her into the basement den and into the unsealed fireplace before Alex and Joan can reach her.

Ultimately, Sally, now one with the creatures and speaking with them, patiently waits for their next victim to move into the house.



On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 67% based on 6 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 6.8/10.[2] Maitland McDonagh from TV Guide awarded the film three out of a possible five stars calling the film "[an] above-average, made-for-TV chiller" also writing, "Overall the film may be a little slow and obvious by today's standards, but these stand-out moments insure it a place in the memories of children of the '70s".[3] Donald Guarisco from AllMovie gave the film a positive review, calling the film "a potent little fright-fest", complimenting the film's script, acting, characterizations, steadily built tension, and Newland's tense direction.[4] Ian Jane from DVD Talk wrote, "While Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark may not be a deep film nor will it win any awards for originality, it's a fun seventies horror picture with some memorable moments, great camerawork and a genuinely surprising finale."[5]

The film was not without its detractors, with some contemporary reviews of the film noting that the film had become dated. On his website Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings, Dave Sindelar gave the film a mixed review, criticizing the film's familiar storyline, Demarest's cliched character, and overuse of the whispering voices of the creatures. However, Sindelar called it "one of the better made-for-TV horror movies out there" and stated that the film did have its moments.[6] Bloody Disgusting felt that the film had become dated, and criticized Darby's overacting, creature design, and forced perspective shots of the creatures. The review did, however, commend the film for its "campy surrealism" which they felt was the film's strongest attribute.[7]


Director Guillermo del Toro (who produced and co-wrote the film's remake) was heavily influenced by it when he saw it on television as a child. He and his brothers would reportedly follow each other around the house saying "Sally, Sally", mimicking the creatures in the 1973 film.[8] "It was something close to my heart for a very long time ... We thought the movie was the most terrifying on Earth", said del Toro.[8]

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark has often been noted for its Freudian themes as well as the proto-feminist undertones and the "fears and anxieties about the changing roles of women and the ways they are so often victimized or go unheard."[9]

The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons creature known as the meenlock (first appearing in Fiend Folio (1981)) bears close resemblance to the creatures in the movie.[10]

2011 remake[edit]

Miramax Films produced a remake of the film as a theatrical feature, released on August 26, 2011. The remake stars, Bailee Madison, Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce, and was produced and co-written by Guillermo del Toro. The remake marks the directorial debut of comic book artist-writer Troy Nixey.[11]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on VHS through USA Home Video in the 1980s. It was released on DVD on August 18, 2009, by Warner Archive. It was available online only as a made-to-order DVD-R. This release went out of print the following year, but was remastered and re-released again on August 24, 2011.[12] This newly restored release of the film was timed to release with the theatrical release of the remake two days later.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hays, Matthew (September 10, 2012). "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark: Creepy critters rise again". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved July 18, 2015. 
  2. ^ "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 28, 2016. 
  3. ^ McDonagh, Maitland. "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark - Movie Reviews and Movie Ratings". TV Maitland McDonagh. Retrieved May 12, 2016. 
  4. ^ Guarisco, Donald. "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973) - John Newland". Donald Guarisco. Retrieved May 12, 2016. 
  5. ^ Jane, Ian. "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark : DVD Talk Review of the DVD Video". DVD Ian Jane. Retrieved 7 July 2018. 
  6. ^ Sindelar, Dave. "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)". Fantastic Movie Dave Sindelar. Retrieved 7 July 2018. 
  7. ^ "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark (TV) - Bloody Disgusting". Bloody Bloody Disgusting Staff. Retrieved 7 July 2018. 
  8. ^ a b Wloszczyna, Susan (August 21, 2011). "Guillermo del Toro loves the 'Dark'". USA Today. Retrieved August 30, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark: Voices in the basement". August 24, 2011. Retrieved August 30, 2011. 
  10. ^ "Mythic Monday: The Meenlock". April 11, 2011. Retrieved March 22, 2015. 
  11. ^ Goldstein, Gregg (2008-07-30). "Del Toro, Miramax not 'Afraid of the Dark'". The Hollywood Reporter. Nielsen Company. Archived from the original on 2008-08-22. Retrieved 2008-07-30. 
  12. ^ Shaffer, R.L. (25 August 2011). "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark DVD Review". IGN. Retrieved 29 August 2011. 

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