Afraid of the Dark (1991) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)


It is my opinion that you will enjoy this psychological drama far more if you do not read my comments in advance, since it is one of those multi-layered films where the viewer sees everything afresh as each false layer is peeled away. If you know all the secrets in advance, you'll lose the emotional impact created by each of the epiphanies. On the other hand, if you have no taste for intellectualized, slow-paced psychological dramas or British arthouse fare, read on ...

If Hitchcock ever decided to make a movie script out of Freud's "The Interpretation of Dreams," it would be a lot like this. The first 42 minutes of the film and the final 49 minutes are essentially two separate movies, but they are connected in the same sense that Dorothy's Oz is connected to Dorothy's Kansas: one is the sub-conscious interpretation of the other.

Lucas is about ten years old and lives in a world of blind people. His mother is blind and teaches at a nearby institution that provides training and housing for the blind. The people in that institution are currently living in terror of a mad slasher who preys on the sightless. Lucas is aware of the slasher's activities, and is terrified of every unfamiliar face in his neighborhood. Every person's every act seems to be cast in a suspicious light through the boy's eyes. Is the mad slasher actually the local window washer, the locksmith, a local photographer? Finally, Lucas comes face to face with the slasher ...

Except he doesn't.

You see, Lucas imagined (or dreamt) the entire scenario in the first half of the movie. In reality, he is going blind and requires a delicate operation to have any chance to save his sight. He fears going blind. He fears the vulnerability of sightlessness. He fears the surgeon's knife. Lucas also must cope with the fact that his mother (who is not blind) is pregnant, and he fears the loss of her love to the new baby. He has stirred all these fears into a stew of paranoia, using the people and animals in his real life, as well as the toys in his toy box, as the characters in his fantasy life, but re-assigning them to different roles in certain Freudian ways.

I was impressed with the way the film pulled off that ninety degree turn in the center, and I was impressed with the way the director created tension in scene after scene, even though the scenes are not so logically connected, as expected in a dream-world. After the secret is revealed, however, the film has to struggle to stay comprehensible. Lucas continues to experience the delusions, but it is not always apparent which events in the second half are real and which are additional dreams or delusions.

In the film's final surprise, another critical moment switches from dream to reality; we see Lucas on the surgeon's table; and we wonder whether the entire second half has just been another layer to peel from the onion. Are we finally fully grounded in objective reality? If so, how much of what we saw in the second half really happened, and how much occurred in a dream under anesthesia? Those questions are left for the viewer to puzzle through.

Is the film maddening? A bit. Frustrating? Yes, somewhat, and confusing as well. It is also paced very deliberately, and the scenes don't always follow one from another, but all that is calculated. I think the great success of the film lies in the fact that it maintains a creepy atmosphere and a menacing tone. It's an unusual film, not for everyone, but perhaps a little treasure for the connoisseur of variety.



  • No features except the original trailer
  • Widescreen, anamorphically enhanced for 16x9, actual aspect ratio approximately 1.66:1


Clare Holman appears topless in excellent light in a scene where she poses for a professional photographer.

The Critics Vote ...

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C+, unusual film that messes with your head. A "love it or hate it" kind of experience which is much despised by some IMDb commenters, and praised effusively by others.

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