A Toothy Grin

Horror fans have good reason to smile at Darkness Falls

Jan 22, 2003 at 4:00 am
Once upon a time, in the town of Darkness Falls....

"Wait," you're probably saying to yourself, "Darkness Falls is the name of the town?"

Yes. Yes it is. And it's haunted by an evil Tooth Fairy. Are you sure you want to know more?

OK, good. Once you get past the inherent silliness of the premise, what we've got here is actually a deft little chiller, stylishly directed despite the so-so cast. Legally Blonde's Chaney Kley is Kyle (cleverly anagrammatized from his own last name, apparently), a grown man afraid of the dark, so afraid of the dark, in fact, that simply sleeping with the light on won't do -- he has to jerry-rig multiple David Fincher-esque industrial-spotlight contraptions to fill his cramped Las Vegas apartment. That's not to mention the multiple maximum-strength flashlights he needs to have at the ready (the possibility of moving to Alaska for half the year has apparently never occurred to him). Curiously, he's never managed to adapt to sleeping in the light and therefore doesn't sleep much at all, leading the public at large to imagine, quite rightly, that Kyle's a little nuts.

His madness isn't exactly unmotivated, though -- as a kid, it seems, he ignored the admonition not to peek when the Tooth Fairy came for his last baby tooth. Too bad this fairy turned out to be no ordinary dental sprite but, rather, the undead spirit of a hideously burned old lady unjustly lynched on suspicion of child murder some 150 years ago. And much like Martin Lawrence or J-Lo on a movie set, she goes ballistic if anyone dares look her in the eye. Do so, and she stalks you as long as is necessary until you're dead, her only weakness being that a sensitivity in life to heavy doses of sunshine has metastasized into a near-fatal allergy to light since she crossed over to the spirit world.

So Kyle's being stalked by said Blair Witch of Elm Street, but to make matters worse, the ghostly hag also killed his mom, leaving him to take the rap because cops tend not to believe tales of what appears to be a giant hovering Ringwraith in a porcelain mask. (Fans of McFarlane Toys may be disappointed -- the Tooth Fairy action figure that came out in early fall is based on a previous design that got scrapped. The new one, however, was created by Stan Winston, whose presence is always good news for movie monsters.)

Now Kyle's back in Darkness Falls -- which, by the way, is a great name for a town centered around a lighthouse! -- to counsel the little brother of his childhood flame Caitlin (Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Emma Caulfield). Young Michael (newcomer Lee Cormie) also has the specific phobia of darkness and floating witches in masks, though of course no one believes him, even though the wide-eyed kid in every contemporary horror movie is always right about these things.

You can pretty much guess what happens next, but first-time feature helmsman Jonathan Liebesman manages to juice up his nouveau-slasher with plenty of shocks, both cheap (cats jumping out suddenly -- you may startle, but you'll hate yourself, and the director, for resorting to that one) and not (the monster is wisely kept in shadow for most of the movie, making it more genuinely frightening when it does appear). After the pants-sniffing, exposed-zipper flying reptile of Jeepers Creepers and the similarly nocturnal yet uninspired "Night Terrors" of They, Darkness Falls feels like a breath of fresh air simply for pulling off a scary movie that legitimately offers some scares.

The screenplay has three writers, and it probably wouldn't be too hard to guess who came up with what. The main writer, comic-book scribe Joe Harris, is obviously the one behind the premise and basic story mechanics, given that it's all based on his own short film "The Tooth Fairy." John Fasano, whose credits boast a dubiously impressive list of awful sequels (Another 48 Hours, Megiddo: The Omega Code 2, Universal Soldier: The Return) is probably responsible for the cat thing and the town's "ironic" name, as well as other laughable lapses in logic (the hospital's idea of emergency treatment for Michael's fear of the dark is to put him in a sensory-deprivation chamber). As for third scribe James Vanderbilt, it's hard to say; this is his first produced feature, with Helldorado and Basic soon to follow later this year. Let's hope, for the sake of those movies, that he was the one to pen the movie's moments of genuine humor, such as when a local taunts Kyle by offering him a "light" beer.

As a possible franchise tentpole, the Tooth Fairy could become a tedious lady, but in her inaugural outing, she's a creepy villainess who may well linger in the memory after the rest of the movie has been forgotten. One can almost imagine director Liebesman walking out of the lackluster Blair Witch sequel going, "Screw this crap -- I could have done it better." And he did. Come to think of it, the cinematic Tooth Fairy does look more like McFarlane's Blair Witch action figure than the actual Tooth Fairy toy.