Film

Gremlins and the Housewife in 'Don't Be Afraid of the Dark'

(IMDB)

The house itself wants to pull the neurotic woman into its maw and absorb her whole as a literal housewife.


Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Director: John Newland
Cast: Kim Darby, Jim Hutton
Distributor: Warner Archive
Year: 1973
US Release date: 2011-08-23

This cheap, creepy, simple TV movie was never forgotten by those who caught it because it effectively pares its fears into one compact little bone in the throat. The movie's live wire, or raw nerve, or whatever you call the thing that makes it rise above its limits, is the feminist element of the disbelieved "hysterical woman", someone poised between restless wifery and women's lib.

In Nigel McKeand's script, the fears and ills of the common housewife isn't a subtext; it's the text of most conversations. Sally Farnum (Kim Darby) opines that Alex (Jim Hutton) only married her "to be the perfect hostess" and that he concentrates all his energy on his career (translation: no sex). He's patronizing, dismissive, or angry at the problems she's supposedly causing with her irrational behavior.

In defense, she counter-patronizes. "I'm a perfect woman, stubborn and curious," she says to the crotchety handyman (William Demarest), and instead of telling an irate husband she's just seen monsters in the bathroom, she makes herself apologetic: "Alex, I think you're right about this house. I think we should sell it." He's happy at her capitulation and comforts his little girl. She has to handle the men in their language.

The first person to take her seriously is best friend Joan (Barbara Anderson), who goes from reassuring Sally that she imagines everything and that all women are in the same bind to crisply refuting Alex's hysteria. Too bad she's useless in an emergency, but horror films of this period are structured on the inevitable resolution instead of the last-minute cop-out.

Like all haunted-house films, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is more or less conscious of what Stephen King called "real estate horror", as the cost of renovations becomes an issue. In a real sense, it's the house itself that wants to pull the neurotic woman into its maw, like Hill House in The Haunting of Hill House, and absorb her whole as a literal housewife; it's the pay-off of her desire to claim this property and make a space for herself in the basement, while her husband would rather live in a city apartment.

Director John Newland was familiar with the trope of the disbelieved woman, as it was an element often featured in his classic anthology series One Step Beyond. He has no trouble handling it here, and although the movie shows its budget or lack thereof, he pulls it nimbly through its 75 minutes.

This TV movie arrived at last as a made-on-demand disc to cash in on its glossy 2011 remake. It even sports a bonus in the form of a jokey commentary by fans Steve Barton, Jeffrey Riddick and Sean Abley.

The remake, scripted by Guillermo del Toro and directed by Troy Nixey, bypasses the woman treated like a child and goes directly to having a child who feels unloved. It efficiently hits many of the same beats: gremlins under the house, handyman who knows too much, woman down the rabbit hole. Infected by Newland’s version as a boy, Del Toro had been trying to remake it for years and elements of it crop up in The Devil's Backbone (2001) and Pan's Labyrinth (2006).

I feel that the original film looks cheap and flat, yet it's socially relevant with an air of sick dread, while the remake looks rich and stylish and has sympathy for a child's fear, yet feels flat dramatically.

6

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image