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
VHS artwork
Written byNigel McKeand
Directed byJohn Newland
StarringKim Darby
Jim Hutton
Music byBilly Goldenberg
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
Executive producer(s)Lee Rich
Producer(s)Allen S. Epstein
Neil T. Maffeo (associate producer)
Production location(s)Piru Mansion - 829 & 837 Park Road, Piru, California
CinematographyAndrew Jackson
Editor(s)Gene Fowler Jr.
Michael McCrosker
Running time74 minutes
Production company(s)Lorimar Productions
Original networkABC
Original release
  • October 10, 1973 (1973-10-10)

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is an American made-for-television horror 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, inherited from her late grandmother, that she and her husband are restoring. Now free, the creatures begin terrorizing her and later reveal their sinister plans to her: whoever frees them must become one of them. It has since become a cult film,[1] and a theatrical remake of the same name was released in August 2010.


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. The estate's handyman, Mr. Harris, 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, she uses some of Harris' tools to try to remove the bricks herself. She fails, but is able to pry open a small side door used for removing fireplace ashes. Inside is not a fireplace at all but a large, dark, deep sub-basement. As Sally leaves the den, several whispering voices call her name from behind the fireplace, proclaiming that "She set us free."

Sally begins to feel unsettled in the house. One night she is awakened by voices whispering her name, and an ashtray mysteriously falls off her bedside cabinet. Alex dismisses her concerns and believes she is suffering from nervous tension. The next evening, something grabs her dress as she is walking down the stairs and she hears voices whispering "We want you." Freeing herself, she sees something scuttling away behind a curtain, which she believes is a small animal of some kind. Later, she hears the same whispering coming from behind the fireplace in the basement den. Alex remains unconvinced of her story, but makes sure the ash door is bolted securely shut.

The following night, Sally throws a dinner party for Alex's colleagues 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 and the creature quickly vanishes. Alex grows impatient with her and thinks she is becoming delusional. While Sally is in the shower, three of the goblin creatures 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. 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, and they reply they want her spirit. Whoever frees them (as Sally did by opening the fireplace) must become one of them. Sally's doctor prescribes sedatives and her friend Joan stays with her. Joan begins to believe Sally's story. Alex remains unconvinced. He leaves to meet their handyman regarding the history of the house and the fireplace. Sally tries to stay awake but the creatures put sedatives into her coffee and cut the electricity. They lock Joan outside when she checks the circuit breaker. Sally manages to walk downstairs, but the creatures trip her in the dark. While she is semi-conscious, they drag her into the basement den and into the unsealed fireplace.

Sally, now one of the creatures, patiently waits for their next victim to move into the house.



Home media[edit]

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark was released on VHS through USA Home Video in the 1980s.[citation needed] It was released on DVD on August 18, 2009, by Warner Archive burn-on-demand service. This release went out of print the following year, but was remastered and re-released again on August 24, 2011.[2] This newly restored release of the film was timed to release with the theatrical release of the remake two days later.[citation needed] In 2019 it was given a 4K remaster and released on Blu-ray by Warner Archive.[3]

Critical reception[edit]

Critical response for Don't Be Afraid of the Dark has been mostly positive upon its initial release.

Maitland McDonagh from TV Guide rated 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".[4] 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.[5] 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."[6]

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.[7]

Bloody Disgusting felt that the film had become dated, and criticized what it called 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.[8]


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.[9] "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.[9]

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."[10]

The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons creature known as the meenlock (first appearing in Fiend Folio (1981)) bears close resemblance to the creatures in the movie.[11]


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.[12]

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. ^ Shaffer, R.L. (25 August 2011). "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark DVD Review". IGN. Retrieved 29 August 2011.
  3. ^ Don't Be Afraid of the Dark Blu-ray Release Date October 22, 2019, retrieved 2019-11-30
  4. ^ McDonagh, Maitland. "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark - Movie Reviews and Movie Ratings". TV Maitland McDonagh. Retrieved May 12, 2016.
  5. ^ Guarisco, Donald. "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973) - John Newland". Donald Guarisco. Retrieved May 12, 2016.
  6. ^ Jane, Ian. "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark : DVD Talk Review of the DVD Video". DVD Ian Jane. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
  7. ^ Sindelar, Dave. "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)". Fantastic Movie Dave Sindelar. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
  8. ^ "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark (TV) - Bloody Disgusting". Bloody Bloody Disgusting Staff. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
  9. ^ a b Wloszczyna, Susan (August 21, 2011). "Guillermo del Toro loves the 'Dark'". USA Today. Retrieved August 30, 2011.
  10. ^ "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark: Voices in the basement". August 24, 2011. Retrieved August 30, 2011.
  11. ^ "Mythic Monday: The Meenlock". April 11, 2011. Retrieved March 22, 2015.[unreliable source?]
  12. ^ 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.

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