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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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Darkness Falls is a B-list, mainstream horror movie. It has the usual cliches and logical inconsistencies you’d expect from such a film. But eventually, the movie hits its stride and the adrenalin pumps. With its above-average production values, Darkness Falls breaks even, at least for horror fans, if not for horror snobs.

A Case Against the Death Penalty

Sister and brother wait for the dawn
Sister and brother wait for the dawn

An introduction tells us about “The Tooth Fairy,” a kindly old lady in the town of Darkness Falls who gave children a gold coin (!) if they brought her a baby tooth. The town wrongly accused, condemned and executed the old lady, so she came back as a witch, killing the children of the town the night after they lost their last tooth, if they would dare to look at her. The only thing that can stop her is the light.

Kyle (Chaney Kley) lost his mother to the Tooth Fairy. He was accused killing her himself and has spent the intervening twelve years in an institution. Now he carries a dozen flashlights with him and saves hundreds of batteries for recycling.

His puppy love the night he lost his last tooth was Caitlin (the adult form played by Emma Caulfield). Her little brother now has night terrors and complains of a mysterious “her” coming to “get” him. Caitlin calls Kyle, asking how he outgrew his fears. “I didn’t,” he says, matter-of-factly.

Kyle returns to Darkness Falls to see if he can help little Michael (Lee Cormie, who is less cloying than many child actors). With both Michael and Kyle in town, the Tooth Fairy begins to appear more and more frequently. Kyle just wants to help Michael survive, although the audience knows there will be a final showdown by the end.

Chills and Sudden Frights

Darkness Falls is guilty of all sorts of horror movie crimes. The child touched by evil has some sort of metaphysical insight into the universe (even though Kyle never went through this phase). The Tooth Fairy can lift adults off the ground in mid-flight and break through closed and locked doors, but she can’t operate a light switch. She’s apparently repelled by a little glow stick, but she can travel in moonlight without shrieking in pain.

My horror-snob friends would probably fault the movie for not making any political or social commentary, and for resorting to the uninspired fear factors of darkness and witches.

But for this kind of movie you put these niggling complaints aside and hope to be scared once or twice. In fact, there are several moments where the hint of a form in a shadow sends chills down the spine. But more often the frights are sudden and violent, cued by a streak of blackness and a loud noise on the soundtrack.

The movie even has a sense of humor about the sudden nature of her appearances. I counted three or four times that she appeared, just before someone finished a sentence to the effect of “See? There’s nothing to be afraid of,” or “Nobody messes with me.”

The scene that starts the adrenalin pumping takes place in the police station one evening. Kyle is locked in a cell, unable to convince any of the half dozen cops that there is a real danger out there. Then the storm knocks out the power. One cop goes to investigate a noise (big mistake). Before you know it, the Tooth Fairy is picking off cops left and right, while Kyle desperately tries to stay in the beam of a flashlight left pointing at his cell.

Fated Heroes

My favorite horror-movie hero remains Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead 2. Campbell had a goofy, offbeat energy perfect for the movie. He seemed to actually live in the twisted universe of the Evil Dead. He felt destined to be haunted, terrorized, and tortured, and yet to survive to the end of the movie.

Kley doesn’t live up to that lofty standard but his character and his performance are at least on the right track. Kyle has lived with his demons for twelve years, and in that time, he has come to accept them, as unbelievable as they are. His collection of flashlights, dead batteries, and anti-psychotic prescriptions are a testament to a soul resigned to living a long, tortured life.

Some of the funniest lines come not from the writing but from Kley’s matter-of-fact, deadpan delivery. One of the doomed cops asks in a mocking sing-song voice “is she gonna get me?” “Yes,” says Kyle as though he had been asked to confirm his address. Later someone suggests calling the police. “The police are dead,” he says.

“All of them?”

“Pretty much.”

Good Enough

I’d be hard-pressed to say Darknes Falls is good, but it eventually succeeds at thrilling and entertaining. I wish it had done so sooner and more often, but considering the utter failure of another movie I saw this week, Darkness Falls is good enough.