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Sally Hurst (Bailee Madison) is a withdrawn child who moves in with her father Alex (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) in the 19th-century Rhode Island mansion they are restoring. While exploring the estate, Sally discovers a hidden basement, undisturbed since the strange disappearance of the mansion's builder a century ago. When Sally unwittingly lets loose a race of ancient, dark-dwelling creatures who conspire to drag her down in the mysterious house's bottomless depths, she must convince Alex and Kim that it's not a fantasy - before the evil lurking in the dark consumes them all.

Review by Louise Keller:
There are a few genuine scares in this fantasy horror movie produced and co-written by Guillermo del Toro, although it smacks of melodrama and manipulation. It will especially disappoint fans of del Toro's acclaimed works The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth, even though some of the elements are similar. This remake was inspired by the original 70s telemovie of the same name that haunted the then-9 year old del Toro after watching it with his family in Mexico.

After an eerie title credits sequence followed by a chilling prologue that graphically describes the evils in a Victorian Rhode Island mansion, the story jumps to the present day. Sally (Madison), a sad-eyed, disturbed, ten year old girl arrives to visit Alex (Guy Pearce), her architect father and his interior designer girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes), who are obsessively restoring Blackwood Mansion.

The rambling mansion, with its vast grounds and shadowy corridors, has a dark secret. There are evil little creatures locked behind a cobwebbed grate in a hidden basement waiting to gorge on children's teeth. Fee-fi-fo-fum... When Sally wanders down to the basement, the scene is set.

Director Troy Nixey uses the tricks of genre to unsettle his audience. Floor boards creak, lights are extinguished and whispering voices infiltrate. Bad things start to happen and rain teems down as the music levels rise. Initially, the creatures are kept as a tease: we only see glimpses of them as they scurry under the bed of the terrified youngster. The biggest scare comes when we clearly see one of the grotesque creatures for the first time; the visual effects are superb

Holmes, whose screen career began with such promise long before she married Tom Cruise, gets top billing, although it is the youngster Madison who gets the most screen time and makes the biggest impact. Pearce is wooden in a thankless role and accents waver somewhat. Watch out for Garry McDonald, who appears in a riveting cameo.

Shot in Melbourne, production values are excellent with editing by Jill Bilcock and a creepy production design by Roger Ford.
First published in the Sun-Herald

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
For me, straight horror is the least successful movie genre; there are very few horror films in which we can't see the artifice involved, from the extreme slo-mo walking of the characters in darkened mansions to the mandatory storm with lightning at the climactic scenes (at least) and an eerie sound scape with fright points.

This film (based on a 1973 telemovie) sticks to these genre conventions; genre conventions are good, but we don't want the conventions to slip into clichés.

The story of a child discovering scary creatures (and drawing them) while disbelieving stupid adults decorate the house is a tad tired, and I'm surprised that writer/producer Guillermo del Toro (maker of the wondrous Pan's Labyrinth) didn't kick up the stakes with some fresh twists. The formula is all too predictably followed.

All the same, there are a few (very few) good scares, notably when the creatures who are intent on kidnapping a human are first fully revealed. The production design by veteran Roger Ford is splendid and carefully avoids the obvious, and while Marco Beltrami's score doesn't quite manage the same feat, it's effective.

Performances are acceptable but strangely uninvolving (given the calibre), except for the outstanding work of Bailee Madison, the child actor whose crying face is a cinematic power tool. Perhaps the screenplay favours her, giving Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes little to work with.

My anti-horror bias was released at the opening scene set a century prior, when a maid is dusting books and objects one dark night in the grand library ... by candlelight. That's what I mean by artifice that's too visible.

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(US/Aust/Mexico, 2010)

CAST: Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Bailee Madison, Jack Thompson, Julia Blake, Garry McDonald

PRODUCER: Guillermo del Toro, Mark Johnson

DIRECTOR: Troy Nixey

SCRIPT: Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins (teleplay by Nigel McKeand)


EDITOR: Jill Bilcock

MUSIC: Marco Beltrami, Buck Sanders


RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 3, 2011

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