Comic-Con 2010: Del Toro's Don't Be Afraid of the Dark Scares
by Ethan Anderton
July 26, 2010
There are definitely some loyal fans to the horror genre out there who keep turning out for films like Saw, Hostel, Final Destination and all of their sequels. But for every one of those fans, there are also others who find the genre to be in a sad state, with crappy sequels and cheap "horror" films. But thank the maker for a filmmaker like Guillermo Del Toro who not only creates intricate and amazing worlds out of nothing, but brings genuine scares back to the cinema. This time del Toro showed up with first-time director Troy Nixey to tease their remake of the 1973 TV movie Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, and holy sh*t was I afraid of it.
This is a project that one could say started in del Toro's mind when he was just a child. He grew up during what he called "the golden age of horror television" when there used to be horror on TV. Del Toro said, "For many years [this] was the scariest movie I ever saw. It was like a myth of childhood." If you're unfamiliar with the story, there's an ancient ashpit (kind of like a chimney) in the basement of a house in which a new family has arrived. When the little girl in the family discovers the ashpit and opens it, the things that live in there want to take her down with them, including changelings that snatch children and replace them with fake ones and a Rip Van Winkle-like monster that takes children away to "fairy land." As you have probably surmised though, this is not a happy, pink fairy land, but a dark, desolate world set in fairytale lore.
As a first-time feature director, Nixey seems to be nailing it, and del Toro has helped his first time out by surrounding the director with a tremendously talented crew. No doubt del Toro is one of the very few directors who can still conjure a genuine scare out of me whether it's in a movie theater or in the comforts of my own home, so his faith in Nixey speaks volumes about his talent. Del Toro's philosophy is that film, no matter the genre, "should deliver a shiver, or a good old-fashioned scare." Even the most basic action film should keep you on the edge of your seat in some sort of fear. With the footage shown, however, the scares in this movie are much more than just a simple shiver.
You may not think a horror remake is the best way to deliver this kind of thrill. But this is a del Toro production we're talking about, and he thinks some of the best horror films are remakes, but is careful to point out that "when a remake comes from a marketing decision, it's kind of fucked up." This is a remake about telling an old story in a new way. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark feels like a mixture of Pan's Labyrinth and Drag Me to Hell with the opening prologue setting up a history of the creatures in the ashpit and the darkness that resides in the house that will become the contemporary setting for the film. Even watching this film with thousands of others in the safety of Hall H (despite the unsafe events that happened the next day), I found myself feeling terribly uneasy if only because of the darkness surrounding us.
Much of the teaser trailer shown in Hall H was, as you would expect, a simple tease with quite a scary final shot which made the entire hall collectively jump with fear (not even kidding). Then an entire clip was shown focusing on the prologue (set in the 1900's) to set up the film's contemporay setting. A maid hears strange noises on the lower level of the house and decides to investigate. The owner of the house has set up a wire for her to trip on down the stairs. Upon her tumble, the man appears, clearly not himself, and thrusts himself on the woman, a chisel and hammer in hand. He's mumbling to himself something about teeth, and he clearly needs them. After scraping the chisel around in her mouth and across her teeth, he makes his swing with the hammer. The teeth shatter, spread across the wood floor, and he collects them to hand over to the ashpit. But upon his presentation, he finds himself grabbed by obscured creatures as they drag his entire body down the ashpit.
But good news does come from the MPAA, a place where good news doesn't usually ever escape. Originally, del Toro and Nixey thought they could get away with crafting a truly scary movie and keeping the film PG-13 (the lack of gore and nudity being the typical factor in hitting an R-rating). And so they proceeded with the film, submitted to the MPAA and still received an irreversible R-rating. Why? It has too much "pervasive scariness." The film was simply so scary that the MPAA found it too jarring for anyone under 17. So GdT and Nixey thought, "Why ruin a perfectly good scary movie?" Now we have a high quality, legitimately scary film starring Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce headed to theaters in January 2011. It's going to be hard to sleep after this one, folks. Be prepared.