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Book Review: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: Blackwood’s Guide To Dangerous Fairies

Saturday, 5 November, 2011 1 comment

Three Stars: ***

An eerie Gothic tale, and not one to tell as a bed time story…

For centuries the ‘Hidden People’ were confined to fairy tale and legend, often told to entertain and scare children into obedience. But in this pseudo non-fictional prologue/field guide to the recent film release of the same name, the very origin of such stories is questioned. Based on the journal extracts of one Emerson Blackwood, we learn the fate of a man plunged into an increasingly insane world defiant of the rationale that he came to know as a naturalist, after he discovers an ancient link between science and folklore. Leading up to the chilling point which starts the movie, anyone who has watched it with a curious disposition towards the eerie ash pit the creatures spring from, would be well advised to indulge in this tale of obsession and destruction.

Guillermo Del Toro is a highly esteemed monster maker, and he has created a variety of hideous creations for the film industry, most notably in the Hellboy series and in Pans Labyrinth. Indeed, the child-eating ‘Pale Man’ from the latter, a demented figure with its eyes in its palms, is something from the worst of active imaginations. Here, his hungry horde of tooth guzzling goblins do not disappoint, although the pages of the guide itself conceal a whole host of horrific beings.

The bulk of the narrative is just as the title suggests, a guide cataloguing unpleasant creatures world-wide, in order to warn the unsuspecting of their dispositions. The names of these ghouls, such as Trolls, Pixies and Boggarts, will already be familiar to some, likely recalled from their own childhood or Harry Potter. Of course, the gruesome details of why these foul beasts should be avoided, are perhaps not. And some, like the French Croque-Mitaine and Chinese Xiang Yao, are even pictured, their spooky forms sketched in 19th Century style etchings. They are truely the stuff of nightmares and the images alone would be enough to deter any traveller!

It was a pleasure to find that the text mirrors a 19th Century format too, including traits such as a strong attention to detail, which helps build up a picture of the events going on around us. Of course, it is written in the first person perspective, but this only adds to the supposed authenticity. There is almost a Bram Stokeresque quality to it! The presentation is also to be applauded, the hardback cover adorned with the creepy mural of Emerson’s son being dragged to his horrific fate by the underground monsters. Such an image makes it look like a book you would expect to find only in the darkest corners of a library. It has a very Grimm feel to it indeed. Even the pages are pitch black.

While the back story of the Fairy Folk is explained in some detail, the narrative largely focuses on Emerson’s character and his mental status, as the years pass by and he inevitably arrives at his great tragedy, which is incidentally what this story is all about: a man succumbing to his own hubris, his thirst for knowledge. The field guide itself is really just an overview, and those who wish to know everything about the fairies and their Netherworld, might be a little disappointed to find that a lot is still left open to speculation! At the end of the day, we are limited to Blackwood’s own knowledge, and such questions can only be answered by his theories. For now.

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Film Review: Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark

Sunday, 23 October, 2011 5 comments

Fairy good creature feature: should be brought to light!

It is not unusual for an old house to make noises but eerie whispers are the last thing Sally, abandoned by her mother to the custody of her father and his new flame Kim (Katie Holmes), expects to hear coming from a vent in the basement of the 19th Century Blackwood Estate.

Angst: Sally (Bailee Madison) hears things that go bump in the night...

At first the voices seem playful and entice the girl’s curiosity, even encouraging her to remove the grill over the vent. But there are sinister motives at work in Guillermo del Toro’s latest monster mash, and when the owners of the voices reveal themselves in a terrifying encounter she sees them for what they are: homicidal fairy folk with a taste for children’s teeth!

Although it has been criticised for failing to work as a horror movie, Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark does very well in other ways. The main focus does revolve more around the strained relationship between the girl, her father (Guy Pearce) and her step-mother, but this allows the film to illuminate a key theme: the angst of a terrified little girl, left to face her fears in isolation while her father deems any disturbances as a by-product of her irrational childhood behaviour.

She could easily be saved and yet he is too wrapped up in his own life to stop and care. Kim appears to eventually get through to her and realises something ominous is going on, but even her efforts are limited. In short, Sally is doomed from the start.

Del Toro’s creatures, ugly little grey goblins, are certainly hideous to look at but they spend a lot of time in the limelight. While this means audiences can contemplate their mysterious origin all the more, it does, apart from a couple of jumpy moments, make it rather difficult for them to scare us.

We become accustomed to their odd appearances, to the point where some have even described them as “cute” (I do not share such sentiments). Their mischievous and skittish nature, involving botched attempts to capture their prey, makes it harder still, to take them seriously.

Then again, their terrifying motive generates a sinister atmosphere from the start. You certainly wouldn’t want your children playing with these beasts, no matter what they say.

Before long, their latent viciousness is revealed, and they up their game, raiding the groundskeeper’s tool box for sharp objects! Perhaps this isn’t a scary horror, but it is a disturbing supernatural thriller.

After watching this one, you might feel happy enough to sleep with the lights off, but don’t be surprised if you find the creepy notion of the ‘hidden people’ staying with you a little while longer.

Four Stars: ****