From out of the blue Warner Bros. sent over three titles from their recently launched Warner Archive collection, a program the studio began back in March of 2009 allowing consumers to purchase and/or watch on demand several previously unreleased movies on DVD for the first time. I have not heard anything recently on the program's successes, but I know when it first launched it was a huge hit and the studio was actually surprised by the demand.
Considering I have a limited knowledge when it comes to unreleased titles my excitement wasn't all that severe outside of an interest in purchasing Francis Ford Coppola's 1968 debut The Rain People (how about sending that one over Warner?). However, when films arrive unexpectedly I can't help but get look their way as my curiosity in the lesser seen films continues to rise in hopes of finding hidden gems outside the realms of the classics.
First on the docket was the 1973 made-for-TV feature Don't Be Afraid of the Dark directed by John Newland and happens to be a title Miramax and Guillermo del Toro are remaking with comic book artist and writer Troy Nixey making his directorial debut from a script co-written by Del Toro and Mimic co-writer Matthew Robbins. However, the remake is going to twist the plot of the original slightly.
The 1973 film centers on a young couple who inherit an old mansion and in the process of remodeling and piecing the place together Sally, played by True Grit stand-out Kim Darby, finds a cellar she believes would be a perfect place for a study. But her curiosity is piqued when she notices the fireplace has been bricked up four rows deep and the ash door has been bolted shut. Despite warnings from the longtime caretaker Sally is determined to get the fireplace back in working order, a decision that ends up releasing a trio of small shrunken head looking creatures determined to make Sally one of their own, sending her into fits of perceived insanity.
The performances are what they are. I can't say there is anything outstanding by the way of Darby's performance or that of Jim Hutton as her doubting husband Alex, but I will say for a made-for-TV horror it's a fun watch. Even though the mouths don't move on what are obviously little rubber masks for the creatures, they still have a couple of moments where you can get the chills if you are really getting into things and have a slightly more active imagination. One example would be a scene where one of the little deviants is messing with Sally by stealing her napkin off her lap during a dinner party. It sounds silly, but if you were to consider what you might do if a pair of dark black eyes were staring up at you from under the dinner table -- you might get a little freaked out.
Now, the previously mentioned remake is going to change this story from that of a married couple to a daughter moving in with her father and his girlfriend. The father will be played by Guy Pearce who gets frustrated at his daughter's stories of demons in the house, but things soon change when his girlfriend (Katie Holmes) backs up her story. Bailee Madison, who will be seen in Brothers this fall, will play the young girl.
I can see it working as a remake, especially with Del Toro involved, this is right up his alley and I can only presume he would choose someone in Nixey that would have a similar cinematic eye to his. The original is quite dark in fact as the demons (pictured above) respond negatively to any kind of light, a move that will allow for plenty of things to go bump in the night and if the creature effects are anything like what we have seen in Del Toro's Hellboy features it could be quite fun.
The original film only runs 74 minutes and Warner's Archive copies are burn-on-demand DVD-R copies said to be "manufactured from the best-quality video master currently available" and have "not been remastered or restored specifically for this DVD." It's definitely not the finest quality you will see if you begin comparing it to even some of your worst DVD copies, but considering what Warner Bros. is doing to make sure their endless catalog of titles from their archives don't die by allowing interested viewers the chance to revisit and now own, or see for the very first time, a series of classics it's certainly a cool setup. You can get an exact example of how the film looks by watching the clip just above.
These discs don't come with any special features and instead of chapter breaks the chapter skip buttons move the movie back-and-forth in ten minute increments. The packaging is as simple as they come as all the Warner Archive titles come in a standard keepcase, with a generic slipcover with the standard billing block and feature details on the back and a synopsis of the film.
If I were to have a complaint, I think the price on these things is too high, especially if Warner is trying to encourage people to blindly try a few of these titles without any prior advice. You can purchase Don't Be Afraid of the Dark for $14.95 or you can watch it online for the same price. I don't know about you, but I would only fork over that much dough if I actually knew the film I was getting, a fact I think the price will turn off several potential buyers that would be more likely to spend say $9.99 on a product if it were to get a good review, such as a title that will be remade with Guillermo del Toro producing said remake...
I would love to be able to recommend this title, and would be much quicker to do so if the price wasn't $14.95. Looking at Coppola's Rain People, that is priced at $19.95. At a minimum, shipping is $4.95 and taxes depend on what state you live in, but I already noticed Washington is one of those states. So for Rain People I'm looking at a minimum of $25 and it's a movie I have never seen. Is it worth the risk? Right now I can't necessarily say. On top of that, why does it cost so much for their On Demand service? If we were talking about $15 at a maximum per title I think we would really have something to talk about, but with prices like this they aren't going to be able to broaden their audience as much as I think would be valuable.
Hopefully they send a few more of these titles over and I can find a few to really tease your pocket books, but with Don't Be Afraid of the Dark I would recommend a pass for those that haven't seen, but for those that have or others that want to see what Del Toro and Nixey have up their sleeve, you could certainly do far worse. You can buy it from the WB Shop right here and browse the complete Warner Archive right here and you can stay up-to-date on the remake here.