Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

It’s not often these days that I find myself eagerly awaiting a film’s release– a few too many hype-amplified disappointments over the years. Part of me is in fact hesitant to invest too much emotionally in the expectation of an hour and half’s spectatorship, regardless ultimately of even liking the film or not– but the truth is, I’m hooked here, frankly. I’m barbed and wriggling and gluttonous for the sharpest tang in my gut, and come August 26, by golly, I’ll be hitting the multiplex to take in this summer’s release of Guillermo Del Toro’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.

Once upon a time I was a little sister– that is, a-lot-littler younger sibling to a couple of big brothers and one older sister, all of whom I gazed wide-eyed upon as very local celebrities.

The brothers early on marched off long-haired and guitar-playing to boarding school (an institution whose distance was marked indelibly by the elder, a cyclist of some long distance repute, who spent one endless summer vacation riding home across the states, sleeping in ditches en route).

The sister ohso-far-outpaced me in knowledge of grownup things, as evidenced by her flaunting of simultaneous 9th grade boyfriends, the dreamy dueling Dirk and Doug, unseen but imagined during eavesdropped telephone conversations from our parents’ bedroom phone extension (the trick of mute by pressing diagonal buttons gleaned off an elementary schoolmate with her own older sister).

These siblings ultimately served for me as the factotums of fashion, opinion, and an entire scope of worldly reference I could only most laggingly and hazily begin to grasp from five years’ trailing shadow.

My sister of the shiny silky turquoise-and-rust landscape-printed disco shirts with long pointy collars and pearlized buttons halfway-fastened typically ruled the central broadcast medium, a squat, olive-green-screened solid state megalith whose channels switched with an audible ker-thunk and before which I’d sit cross-legged afternoons after school, soaking up episodes of I Love Lucy and Gilligan’s Island. This same sophisticated sister was occasionally left in outright charge in the event of unavailable adult supervision–so it was doubtless under this babysitting regime that in the Halloween month of 1973 my psyche encountered and was forevermore seared by demons in the basement who target a family’s little daughter and drag her to hell in the middle of the night.

I must date to this cinematic event my lingering distaste for cellars. Sent on occasion by my mom to fetch some dinner fixin’ from the basement meat locker, I’d stand at the head of the stairs, switch on the overhead bulb via its stiff punch-button wallplate forged in a manual era, and teeter on the brink of descending those wooden steps so spookily illuminated, bracing myself. Finally, taking a long and fortifying breath, I’d plunge and clatter down, speedwalk across the green-glazed cement-floored laundry room, fumble for the slippery freezer key where it twisted on its hook, fit it into place with many mutters, casting all the while rapid glances toward the webby recesses of furnace gloom, grapple out whatever packet of peas or chops was required, re-lock the thing as fast as trembling digits would allow, and turn and race back up the stairs, convinced a hoard of dark-spawned demons trailed in swift pursuit.

Worse, my childhood bedroom featured a small storage closet beneath the eaves, which, due to some fluke of old house settling or cross-draft, tended to inch open incrementally in the night, however firmly I’d shut the thing at bedtime. Convinced small monsters had architected a secret passageway up from the basement through it, I finally thieved a minuscule padlock from my dad’s workbench and fastened it locked shut, empty and echoing my full panorama of fertile nightmares.

Why in the name of all things salutary, you may well ask, would I wish now to revisit the seed of all these lurking terrors? Some perversity no doubt compels me without rationality toward this newest installment of terror, wrought on the current occasion by a most devious wizard who gave us Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. In point of fact and on closer inspection I notice that Guillermo Del Toro’s film credit leaves out directing, is strictly for writing and producing, so I half expect the result to be some B-grade Katie Holmes goth grotesquerie– but if the possibility of revisiting the root of gripping childhood terror exists, I’m bound for the theater come August and may find there a final resting place for creeping, fabricated specters of a kid’s imagination. Or maybe I’ll only succeed in renewing my age-old fear of basements.

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