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STUDIO: Warner Archive
RATED: Not rated
RUNNING TIME: 74 minutes
- Superfan commentary track
It’s People Under the Stairs, minus the people, and the stairs…and the fun.
Kim Darby, Jim Hutton, William Demarest, Barbara Anderson, Pedro Armendáriz, Jr., Lesley Woods, Robert Cleaves,
Sterling Swanson, J. H. Lawrence, William Sylvester, Don Mallon, Felix Silla, Tamara DeTreaux, Patty Maloney
Married couple Sally and Alex Farnham (Darby, Hutton) move into an old Victorian house that Sally inherited from her grandmother. The dream house soon becomes a nightmare when Sally starts experiencing strange occurrences after unsealing a fireplace in the den that her contractor, Mr. Harris (Demarest), warned her should stay locked up. Sally has unknowingly released strange and mischievous little creatures that dwell deep within the bowels of the house and are looking to add her to their ranks.
Guillermo Del Toro’s fascination with this film as a child directly led to his producing the recent Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce remake that some internet slob with whom we’re all familiar also had a hand in. In fact, of the film, GDT once said, “It was something close to my heart for a very long time…. We thought the movie was the most terrifying on Earth.” I know what it’s like to have a small, made-for-television film that frightened me as a kid: Dark Night of the Scarecrow. However, the difference between that movie and this one is I never saw DBAOTD in my youth. So seeing it for the first time just now, my reaction is quite a bit different than GDT’s: namely, I hated it. It’s plodding, claustrophobic (and not in a good way), cliche, dated and bereft of any kind of genuine chills or scares. The creatures are laughable; they look like munchkins who dressed up as gorillas for Halloween but didn’t have the masks, so they used homemade gourds for heads. The movie may have been endemic of the time, but it’s going to hold next to no dread for the newly-initiated.
The thing that surprises me about my take on this is that I’m a kid of the ’70s. A lot of the shows that originated in that decade I watched and enjoyed, even though I can now see the limitations in many of their productions. But I just found nothing to like about this movie. All I could see were the deficiencies in the logic that abounded and some of the production gaffes. For instance: why didn’t Sally’s grandmother ever tell her about the creatures, especially since she left her the house…and they took Sally’s grandfather? More importantly, why didn’t Mr. Harris? Generation gap / old fogey be damned, he knew about them, flat out. He knew about the reported fate of Sally’s grandfather. But he danced around the issue with both Sally and Alex. He even talked with them. He was afraid of them, sure, but maybe a “Hey, you might not want to live here because of the furry little oompa loompa bastards in your chimney” or something would have been nice. If I’m Alex Farnham, I’m kicking the shit out of Harris after Sally goes bye-bye.
You’ve also got to love the production goof when Joan Kahn (Anderson) goes out to check the fuse box and the dead of night turns into a daylight scene of her trying to get back in the house. And when she breaks the glass to one of the outside locked French doors, the other one swings open with nary a shove. Classic. The rest of the film is horror cliche: the wife in a creaky old house is the only one to see the strange goings-on and the husband thinks she’s losing her mind. Seen it a hundred times and this doesn’t do it anywhere near as good as others. I think a mistake that director John Newland ultimately made is showing too much of the creatures. Definitely something to be said about less being more. Because the Crites are scarier than these hairy little shits. Kim Darby is mostly fine as Sally, as is Jim Hutton as Alex. Rest of the performances are forgettable.
My opinion might have been different if I had seen it as a lad, but as it stands right now, I’m very happy that this clunker was only 74 minutes long. Probably one of the most overrated classic horror films in recent memory.
Despite the restoration, the film still shows its age, as the negative had plenty of scratches and marks. Sound is fine though in Dolby English Mono. There’s a commentary track from horror fans and pros Jeffrey Reddick, Steve Barton (“Uncle Creepy”) and Sean Abley.
Rating: Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Out of a Possible 5 Stars