I don't know what it says about the real estate market in the late 1960s and 1970s, but Hollywood couldn't stop moving people into haunted homes and buildings full of satanic neighbors, particularly after Roman Polanski's 1968 classic, Rosemary's Baby. The made-for-TV movie Don't Be Afraid of the Dark followed in 1973, and it was entertaining for the wrong reasons, like the horrifyingly stiff acting.
In Guillermo del Toro's remake, architect Alex (Guy Pearce) and girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) have borrowed a ton of money to renovate a Rhode Island mansion, hoping their work will land it on the cover of Architectural Digest and guarantee them a stream of new clients. But first, Alex's daughter Sally (Bailee Madison) arrives, and Alex and his ex-wife are still fighting over how to raise her. He thinks she has overmedicated the girl.
Sally wastes no time in discovering the mansion's secret basement and is tricked by conniving gremlins into unlocking the gate that confines them to a subterranean world. The vicious little beasts feast on human teeth and young children, but they fail to capture her immediately. As they pursue their hunt, all the damage they do is blamed on Sally, and Alex believes her warnings about strange creatures are symptomatic of whatever the girl was medicated for. He also thinks she's trying to wreck his relationship with Kim.
It has the makings of a good horror thriller, but the film's own premises suffer the most. There are thrills and chills watching the pack of supernatural vermin stalk the little girl, but horror film cliches get in the way. At times the beasts are ruthlessly efficient and at times bumbling, clearly to drag out the chase. A groundskeeper who knows the deadly secret of the home is all too silent until they attack him. Looking like he's been put through a food processor, he stumbles into the main hall, says he's had an "accident" and collapses in a bloody mess. Even with a troubled child in the house, there is almost no concern about what type of accident leaves a man sliced to bits. There are some loose ends, but the film offers up a horrifying pack of little monsters to creature-feature fans. The suspense of the chase is workable, but it's the same scene endlessly recreated. The tools and materials are there, but it could have built into something bigger and better. — Will Coviello
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (R)
Directed by Troy Nixey