There is only so much you can show on TV in the US, and sometimes it is that very limitation that can result in something that truly rises above. Originally aired on October 10, 1973 – exactly one year before my birth – Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark tells the story of a woman who inherits a house from her grandmother, and in that house is a locked room, and in that locked room is a bricked up fireplace, and in that bricked up fireplace are a bunch of goblins.
Of course, she opens the fireplace and the goblins start to stalk her, hiding in the shadows and trying to bring her into their realm beyond the fireplace. And those little bastards are creepy looking.
Guillermo del Toro apparently saw this movie as a kid, and it stuck with him enough that he remade the film in 2011. His remake had a number of changes, introducing a child and revealing a lot more of the mystery behind the monsters than the original. And while I think those reveals are really cool, I do think that it also lost a lot of the creepiness and charm of the 1973 version by swapping out people in make-up for CGI goblins. The originals almost sad and forlorn, while the remakes are going directly for fright.
Both versions, in my opinion are worth watching, but I would probably suggest watching the original first and letting it sit a while before experiencing the remake.
Anyway, there are a lot of parallels between the two films, but for me I think the remake is less scary because it introduces the kid. Kids are supposed to see monsters in their closets and under their beds, so having the monsters be real for a kid is a tired trope of horror films. With the original, it’s all happening to an adult and so there is a bigger level of disbelief from the other characters. Grown ups aren’t supposed to see creatures in the shadows, so is she having a mental break-down? It would almost be acceptable if the movie ended with everything being in her head. That it doesn’t is a sharper twist than in the remake.
Along with the changes in look for the goblins, the original monsters – being people in costumes – move more regularly, and lend more credibility to the idea that these are all former humans who have been trapped and transformed. In the remake, the goblins bound around the room the way most CGI creatures do in films, which to me makes them so much more easy to disbelieve.
Both films end equally bleak, which is good for a horror film. Watch them both and judge for yourself which one is better.