Sunday, 9 October 2011

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark - Machen connections

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010).
Director: Troy Nixey Writers: Guillermo del Toro (screenplay), Matthew Robbins (screenplay). Stars: Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce and Bailee Madison
Producer - Guillermo del Toro
The recently released horror film a remake of an original TV movie Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark (1973) has an explicit Machen reference. You can see the trailer below.

Spoiler warning!
After moving into an old dark house it gradually becomes clear that an architect's family is facing something horrific focused on their child Sally. The film’s monsters it is later revealed are malevolent fairy creatures. In the virtually obligatory library research scene Kim, the Katie Holmes character, investigates the causes behind the supernatural activity her family are facing. The Librarian (James Mackay) hints that a fairy race mentioned by the “Welsh author Arthur Machen” lie behind her problems.
The house she lives in was formerly used by an artist Emerson Blackwood who was investigating these creatures - the name is a tribute to Machen's colleague and fellow writer of weird tales - Algernon Blackwood. Emerson Blackwood's art is used as a key background element in the film. You can see one of his pictures above - actually created by director Troy Nixey.
This mention of Machen obviously refers to such well known Machen stories with fairy references as “The Novel of the Black Seal”, "The Shining Pyramid”, "The White People" and “The Red Hand”. The faeries themselves are not the same as the atavistic Little People of Machen’s lore however. Del Toro has a long standing interest in Machen which has been frequently covered in Machenalia, including writing a foreword for the new Penguin Machen.
The idea of an artist drawing pictures of mythological creatures which turn out to be real also appears in The Great God Pan, where the artist is Arthur Meyrick, a doomed lover of the mysterious Helen Vaughan. Del Toro is more likely to be drawing on Lovecraft's later Machen influenced story "Pickman's Model". Del Toro has also mentioned the rat familiar Brown Jenkin from Lovecraft's Dreams in The Witch House as one influence on the film.
Del Toro in an online interview to Famous Monsters of Filmland in October 2010 said: “In the original story, they were creatures that nobody knew where they came from, nobody knew what they wanted and nobody knew what happened other than they absorbed the people in the house, and I loved that ambiguity, but I wanted to make them have a more Algernon Blackwood/Arthur Machen root, which is they are ancient fairy entities that predate mankind and that love dragging people down like the children in fairy tales. I always found the notion of the tooth fairies very creepy, so I thought it would be really interesting to let you come to the realization that these could be really nasty tooth fairies and that changes a lot of things.”
In another interview with Cineste magazine Del Toro said: "I love the Welsh author Arthur Machen and his idea that fairy lore comes from a dark place, that it’s derived from little, pre-human creatures who are really, really nasty vermin but are magical in a way, living as they do for hundreds of years. His books are what compelled me to do this." More at: "Dark Deeds: An Interview with Guillermo del Toro and Guy Pearce by Robert Cashill".
Bellow is a video of an New York Q&A panel, with Del Toro, the film’s director, Troy Nixey, and its stars Katie Holmes and Bailee Madison goes into the film in depth. Mention of Machen comes around 4.00 minutes in:

Del Toro talks further about the film here, but no mention of Machen:

A background documentary discusses the use of an Australian location for Blackwood Manor (which in the film is supposedly in New England).
While the film itself has had mixed reviews, some of the reviews do mention the Machen reference. One hopes the film might lead to a minor upsurge in Machen readership though this would be rather more likely if the film had been a smash hit. The film might have been rather better if Del Toro directed it himself - which he was reluctant to do despite his long standing involvement in the project. The film does not seem to be anywhere near the same level of brilliance as the excellent Pan's Labyrinth. However interestingly Del Toro has been working on the screenplay since 1993 so elements from the film's mythology actually went into the Oscar winning Pan's Labyrinth.
More background on the film can be found at the Internet Movie Database here.
For full information see the Review of the film in spring 2011 Machenalia which we were able publish many months before general release as our reviewer watched the World premier in November 2010. There is more coverage of the film in the forthcoming Machenalia.

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