On August 8, Guillermo del Toro made a special appearance at the Film Society of Lincoln Center with Film Comment Selects: “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” along with stars Katie Holmes and Bailee Madison, and director Troy Nixey. We’ve got the video from the evening (with big thanks to FSLC), and our coverage below.
In 1998, after Guillermo del Toro and screenwriter Matthew Robbins had finished their adaptation of the seminal TV-movie “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” they took the script to Miramax. “They changed it through the years, they had the creatures giant raping, flying monsters, and abducting women into the caverns,” del Toro said Aug. 8 at Lincoln Center, some 13 years after the project’s inception. However, he didn’t seem too upset about the time it took to get his original vision produced. “The draft that we shot is the first draft. There was no reason to change it.”
Del Toro, also the film’s producer, was the most active participant in the premiere’s Q&A panel, which included the film’s director, Troy Nixey, and its stars Katie Holmes and Bailee Madison. He was also the most off-the-cuff, letting his unmistakable enthusiasm carry his answers far beyond the typical Q&A response.
One of the more interesting questions involved the young protagonists placed in horrific situations, one of the trademarks of the Mexican auteur’s work: “For me, the seed of horror was childhood. As a kid I was absolutely terrified of everything. I was 17 years old at age 7 and now I’m 46 and I’m 7 years old in my heart.”
In the adaptation process, he made a few key changes to the horror classic that better suited his tradition of young but strong female protagonists. “In the first movie, the character was a powerless, almost pathologically abused, submissive woman and I hated that idea. What if, by circumstance, the girl is really resourceful, really smart, really powerful? But she’s 11 and nobody pays attention to her? That changes everything for me.”
He also explained his decision to add some historical depth to the film’s villainous creatures: “The origin of the creatures was in the dark fairy lore. I’m very influenced by a writer called Arthur Machen [who] explored the way fairies in pagan mythology are not blinky, shiny little fuckers. They are really nasty, dirty, ambivalent, [and] malevolent, and I like that. In Judeo-Christian mythology, when God and the Devil were at war the fairy folk declared their neutrality. They don’t belong to good or bad. They sometimes abduct children, and many times abduct them for decades and return them unchanged. There’s really interesting subtext in there.”
There was one thing about the classic film that del Toro refused to alter. His adaptation, like the original, keeps any overt violence and gore to a minimum, but regardless, the MPAA gave the film an “R” for “pervasive scariness.” However, del Toro wasn’t bothered by their controversial decision.
“I actually like that! Thankfully, we have Bob Berney at FilmDistrict saying, ‘Let’s do it as an R.’ Most other distributors would say ‘Let’s cut it, let’s go back to the PG-13.’ Everybody praises always how brave filmmakers are, but what’s great is when distributors are brave. I think this movie mutilated into a PG-13 would be a shame. It’s not overt, it’s not gory, and it has every right to be scary. And I think we need to make the scary pride parade and say ‘We want to be super scary and we don’t have to be ashamed of it!’ PG-13 is the refuge of many cowards.”
The main thing the audience walked away with was that for del Toro, adapting a famous horror story to suit an original, playful vision is a complicated and rewarding process. “Every story has been told but the why and the when and the who and the whats is what makes them interesting,” he said. “The idea for me was making it a fairy tale. I believe fairy tales are the cradle of horror tales.”
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