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By Steve Anderson | June 21, 2004

One thing I can say right off the bat for “Fear of the Dark,” the opening menu is positively harrowing. There are all kinds of scenes rolling in the upper right hand corner of the menu, things appearing and disappearing at random. I haven’t seen a menu this well done since Jeepers Creepers 2.

Special features are simple–filmographies and cast interviews.

We kick things right into high gear with that grand old institution of Americana–kids playing baseball. Suddenly a ball smashes through a pane of glass and lands on the floor of a patently spooky room. One of the kids is sent down into the room to get it, and in a childish moment, the rest of the kids shut and lock the door behind him.

What happens next is not to be believed. A shadow sweeps the room, moving with a fluid grace from one end of the room to the other. The hapless boy in the room starts screaming. He’s seen something, and it’s got him in an utter panic.

Until he suddenly stops screaming….

We jump cut to a more modern institution–one latchkey kid enters his house, which he finds empty. Ah, but he’s not such a latchkey kid after all…his mother’s in the basement. Welding.

After some witty back-and-forth banter with mom, our boy goes back upstairs, but not before having some kind of sepia-toned psychic vision of himself blinking in and out of existance at the top of the stairs. Don’t ask me why…it’s just THERE.

We discover that our boy has a fear of the dark and all the tact of a water buffalo. Stemming from, apparently, his time chasing baseballs in the dark. And strangely, a pair of horrific cuts have appeared, suddenly, on his shoulder. Where they came from is anyone’s guess at this point, but it’s likely connected to the shadowy thing that’s been doggedly pursuing this kid since time out of mind.

Something’s playing games with our little buddy whilst he sits in the house, alone with his brother. He’s trying to watch cartoons when the TV suddenly changes channels of its own volition to Evil Dead 2. Which is interesting…Evil Dead 2 is widely regarded as a cult classic. I’m rather pleased with this homage slipped in.

For the next several minutes, things get surprisingly frightening. Strange sounds emerge from out of nowhere, the lights flicker in the force of a thunderstorm, and the music lends a note of added suspense to the proceedings.

And then things get worse. The lights suddenly go out. Our boy, whose name turns out to be Ryan, goes into a panic, screaming about how the dark is alive, and things are in it that are out to get him. His theory seems fairly well structured–a man in a black felt hat and trenchcoat similar to the ones in Ryan’s closet suddenly appears and disappears in the hallway.

Ryan’s brother’s girlfriend then shares some notes on the nature of fear…much in the way of “Freddy Vs. Jason.” Fear is power for the monster of choice.

The ending is a little anticlimactic, especially given how much buildup was put into the whole thing. It isn’t exactly the choicest of denouement. But, there’s a twist at the end that should give you a fright.

I’ve got to be honest here. This is truly a quality piece of suspenseful, dramatic work that knows how to use its atmosphere correctly. Fear of the Dark preys on childhood terrors to produce a direct-to-video horror movie that actually SCARES, without relying on buckets of blood or gore or mock Satanic rituals or any other such device. Just a whole lot of shadow and a few bumps in the night make Fear of the Dark one that’ll provide plenty of shock power.

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