SDCC 2010: DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK Panel

     July 23, 2010

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The panel for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was one of the best of this year’s San Diego Comic-Con.  I know there are hundreds of panels over the four days of the convention.  I know we’re only one day two.  It doesn’t matter: this panel succeeded on every level.  The footage they showed was incredible.  The panelists were charming and funny.  Most shocking: every question asked by an audience member was terrific.  Comic-Con provides the first looks at some of the biggest Hollywood movies.  But what can make the presentations in Hall H more than just a marketing onslaught are panels like this one: an effective attempt at building word-of-mouth on a film that doesn’t have a gigantic marketing budget.

Hit the jump to find out how everything went right for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.

Moderated by CHUD.com owner/editor-in-chief/co-producer Nick Nunziata, the panel featured co-writer and producer Guillermo del Toro and director Troy Nixey.  I’ll just say up front that while I knew that del Toro was talented as hell, I wasn’t aware of how fucking funny the guy is.  There were Hershey kisses on the stage table and the first thing del Toro (who is a large man) says is, “That’s how they get fat people to come up here.”

Then we’re treated a teaser trailer for the film.  It’s damn effective.  Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark looks like an old-fashioned, scary-as-hell haunted house movie.  The audience loved it.  After it was finished and the lights came back up, del Toro exclaimed, “What the fuck was that!  I shit my pants! (Before I came to the stage)”.

Del Toro told use that the original movie was one of the scariest movies he saw as a kid, but he couldn’t find anyone other than his brothers who had seen it.  He was eventually able to buy the rights.  He wrote the screenplay with Matthew Robbins in 1997-98.  It was a tough journey because he wanted to re-invent the story, but make it equally as effective as the original and not cut out what made it work.  Said Del Toro: “It’s scary, it’s classical, but the ending hits you like a motherfucker…If there are children in the audience, it’s too late.  It’s Sesame Street and the word of the day is ‘motherfucker.'” ( I told you: the guy is one funny motherfucker).  But back to the movie, he wanted the look of the film and the freedom to do it their way.

When it comes to Nixey, this is his debut feature but he’s been working in comics since 1990 and always had the desire to make movies.  It wasn’t until 2000 that he finally had his chance and made the short film Latchkey’s Lament.  Del Toro was already aware of Nixey’s work from his comic Jenny Finn, but Nixey sent del Toro pictures of the short at del Toro’s public e-mail (abe_sapien@hotmail.com).  Del Toro says that he can’t take pitches or screenplays but he’s happy to let people accost him on the floor with drawings and short films.  I find that astounding and wonderful.

Del Toro explains that very few people have been able to see the original and the remake is intended to honor and reformulate that movie.  They are not chickening out although though they originally tthought could make it PG-13 without compromising the scares.  But the MPAA came back to them and said they got an R for “pervasive scariness”.  And when asked if they could do anything, the MPAA said “Why ruin a perfectly scary movie?”  Miramax is backing up the movie and del Toro says it’s like a pirate ship: The more ‘R’ the better.  A horror film has to have a balls and they have to be sweaty and ripe.”

Del Toro explained the premise: it’s about an ancient ash-pit in an old house and a girl who moves in with her father and his girlfriend and the monsters who want to drag the girl down.  Del Toro finds this kind of fairy tale one of the scariest ones out there .

We then get a look at the film’s prologue and this is where the film really blew me away.  Even though the film is primarily set in contemporary times, the prologue takes place in 1918 and it was one of the first things del Toro wrote.  Like the teaser, the clip had a strong, gothic atmosphere.  The scene had a father smashing out the teeth of his innocent maid in order to appease the monsters who have dragged his child down the ash-pit.  After seeing this scene, I have a feeling I’ll be covering my eyes for long stretches of the film.

Even better for horror fans, del Toro says he’s about to announce that he’s doing a horror film that is 100% horror.  He said that he’s never really done anything like it before.  He says that he’ll soon be announcing the project and that he’s planning to shoot in May.  (Also, be sure to check out Steve’s interview with del Toro at the Saturn Awards).  Also, in case you missed it, yesterday del Toro announced that he would be writing and producing an adaptation of Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride.

This panel was fantastic and did everything right.  Obviously, people will be talking about the panels for movies like Thor, Captain America, Harry Potter, etc.  But a smaller movie that you need to be talking about is this amazing-looking horror flick.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark hits theaters on January 21, 2011.

For more Comic-Con coverage, click here.

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