Fear inspiring: 'Don't be Afraid' a horror classic

Haunted house movies awaken within us the 5-year-old afraid to go down the stairs with the basement lights off. Sure, there's a light switch down at the bottom, but you never know. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark begins with an extraordinary house that should be haunted, even if it isn't. This is a mansion in Australia, I learn, much enhanced by art direction and set design, which I might be reluctant to occupy alone even with all the lights on.

Into this house move a 10-year-old girl named Sally, her father and her father's girlfriend. The movie depends so much on the little girl, played by Bailee Madison with pluck, intelligence and a righteous temper. When children are endangered in horror movies, it's no fun if they just scream and run away. That's taking a cheap shot. Sally is brave and determined, and Madison is an effective young actress.

Her father, Alex (Guy Pearce), loves her in a perfunctory and distant way. The girlfriend, Kim (Katie Holmes), is warmer and more sympathetic because it's always the men who are dolts in these matters. They hope she'll like living at Blackwood Manor, which her father has purchased. The plan is they'll renovate it and sell it at enough of a profit to put Alex's business back on its feet. I guess they bought it at a bargain price. The film begins with a creepy introduction in which crabby old Emerson Blackwood and his son come to terrifying ends years ago. Perhaps it has been empty ever since? My rule of thumb is, think twice about moving into any abandoned manor named Blackwood that has a history of mysterious deaths. Trust me on this. Full review.

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