VOD Spotlight: The lasting impact of “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” on Guillermo del Toro

In 1973, the made-for-TV film Don’t be Afraid of the Dark terrified filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. “For my generation it was the scariest TV movie we ever saw,” del Toro says of the film. “It creeped out my whole family and it stayed on my mind.” The future filmmaker and his siblings used to terrify each other by whispering lines from the movie. Memories of this childhood enthusiasm stayed with him, and one of the first things del Toro did when he arrived in America was to try to get rights to the film, a process that took four years to complete.

Once he had it, he started making it his own, using his signature touches as he cowrote the script and co-produced the film. Sally, the mother who is lured into setting the subterranean monsters free, becomes Sally the child in the remake, well in keeping with del Toro’s interest in the fantasies and fears of children. And in this version, the monsters are seeking teeth. “I’ve been obsessed with the tooth fairies since I was a kid. I wondered: Why do they want the teeth? Do they eat them; do they make little murals with them? What do they do with the teeth they have? I never got a satisfactory answer …”

Needless to say, this is not a film for children — but some child fantasies never leave us and, as he did with Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro knows how to terrify us with them.

With the creatures in Dark, the film begins with whispers, as not knowing the source of the sounds builds suspense. But eventually, del Toro says, “you’ve got to show the monsters.”

The homunculi, as they are called in the film, were crafted first in clay, which would be used as the model for the CGI creatures. On the set, puppets called “stuffies” — such a sweet name for the monsters they represent — were moved about to give the actors and cinematographers a feeling for where the creatures would be.

The film stars Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce — their star power an indication of del Toro’s own filmmaking status — and then-9-year-old Bailee Madison (Brothers) as Sally.

Pearce described his young costar as “9 going on 90” and adds, “Bailee has a remarkable amount of work to do and she is fantastic at it. She’s really lovely and just kind of gets on with it. Freaky, really.”

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is available starting Jan. 3 on Video On Demand. Check your cable system for availability.

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© 2011 Miramax Film Corp.

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