Nostalgia November: Are You Afraid Of The Dark?
By Pete Rogers
Submitted for the approval of the midnight society, I call this story the tale of the November Nostalgia. Every Nickelodeon-watching kid of the 90’s knows that opening lining means we were about to experience a spooky story from Are You Afraid of the Dark’s Midnight Society. Whether or not you were a fan of horror movies and ghost stories, there was always something for everyone in this Canadian series. Taking a trip back to the show reminds me of late nights with my brother where we would half laugh and half jump at some of the episodes. Just like my Batman The Animated Series article, I can’t see any better way to really get the feel and the essence of the show than by hitting on a few key episodes. So let’s all gather around the campfire, grab our bag of magical powder (which is actually just non-dairy creamer), and start some late night magic with a few good old fashioned ghost stories!
Tale Of The Midnight Madness
For fear of looking like a total wimp at the very beginning of the reviews, this episode legitimately scared me as a young boy. A regular character of the series Dr. Vink (Fink? VINK! With a Va Va Va!) stops by an old time theater where our protagonists work. The theater has not been doing well financially and the friendly Dr. has a proposition, and no its not turning the theater into one of “those” theaters. This is a kids show you weirdo! The theater will play an old copy of Nosferatu which will recapture the theater’s success, however Dr. Vink’s only stipulation is that once a week the theater has to screen one of his own movies.
Here is where the fun/horror aspect kicks in. The sleazy owner decides “screw that nutbag” and refuses to play Dr. Vink’s other movies. Since the deal was broken, the vampire actually walks out of the movie screen and starts hunting the kids throughout the theater. Basically it was The Ring nine years before that movie even came out. The final battle actually happens when the main character lures the vampire back into the movie screen where he…well maybe I’ll leave the finale for you to watch. If you have ever seen the original Nosferatu then you know how creepy that vampire looks, and to a kid, watching that monster stalk people around the cramped cinema was horrifying. This episode really captured the essence of safe yet spooky horror the show was gunning for. And so what if it still gives me chills. Shut up!
Tale Of The Curious Camera
I love this story because it is one of a regular guy given a power that he doesn’t really understand. Finch from American Pie plays the sad sack Matt who is the towel boy of the basketball team. During the team photo day the photographer takes everybody’s picture but for some odd reason Matt doesn’t appear in any of the photographs. Now already this seems like a lame episode with a pretty flimsy premise, but hold onto your butts because it gets good pretty quick. To atone for being just a poo poo photographer, he gives Matt an antique camera that comes with some unique properties. Anything that the camera takes a picture of is destroyed or damaged in some way.
So pretend you are a pre-teen boy with a destructo-camera. Sorry mailboxes and street signs of the neighborhood, but I now have a photo gun. And that’s pretty much what Matt does. He takes pics of stuff around his house and breaks things. Then he steps up his game and takes a photo of his a-hole classmate from the basketball team, and this results in that kid getting a free trip to the hospital. Matt then decides like a psychopath to make a list of fellow students who, and I quote, “deserves to get their pictures taken”. Holy crap kid, life gets better after middle school! You can drive a car, girls develop and you can go see R rated movies! Anyway, Matt eventually defeats the camera after accidentally shooting a pic of his own parents. It’s a pretty clever ending, but it also has one of the hallmark Are You Afraid of the Dark “dark endings” where the good guys don’t necessarily win.
Tale Of The Renegade Virus
Oh God how I love stuff from the 90’s when they are talking about computers and technology. All the virtual reality, cyberspace and “hacking” non-sense that it not even close to how computers actually work today. And boy howdy is this episode chalk full of that kind of jargon. The episode is about two buddies and it is very, very clearly established that they play pranks on each other. Pretty much the first 10 minutes is dedicated to setting this up. Then they switch things up and the two kids meet with their weird science teacher friend who is basically a science version of Kramer. He has been working on a top secret Virtual Reality program that the boys desperately want to try. Not all is well in cyberspace however, as the one boy has planted a virus in the game to prank the other kid and get him back. Did I mention they like to prank each other?
So in this virtual reality world, our hero is in his own home yet things are strange and out of place. He goes to his dad’s office and then…BOOM! The virus pops up, and by virus I mean a midget with circuit boards glued to a jumpsuit! He wants to jump from the computer game into the kid’s brain, the most powerful computer of all. After a series of non-sense happens the kid uses a computer in the virtual reality to escape the game. Whew that was close. I sure hope that the virus isn’t hiding in the janitor’s cart in the real worl…oh crap there he is! What a cliffhanger that turned out to be due to hacking and cyberspace and people slapping the keyboard like it does stuff!
Tale Of Ghastly Grinner
As a comic book fan, there was no way that I could skip this one. Some nerdy kid is dreaming of being a famous comic book artist and it is not going well. Mixed in and amongst the rejection letters is a mysterious letter from a new comic shop. Whether the shop offers Magic the Gathering tournaments is never clarified. Our plucky protagonist is given a rare comic book that stars the titular Ghastly Grinner, who is essentially a mock version of the Joker. He is so terrifying that the mere sight of him reduces his victims to a blubbering pile oozing blue sludge from their mouths.
So just like any kid would do, our boy Ethan is reading his comic in the middle of science class instead of learning from his dork teacher. The teacher throws the comic in the fish tank which prompts Ethan to nuke the book in the microwave to warm it back up. Big mistake! Now the Grinner is out on the prowl looking to cause mass chaos! This episode could fit right in with any superhero comic storyline and while the horror level is a little lacking it still holds up. Unless you are afraid of clowns that is. Then stay the heck away cause this is a clown fearing person’s worst nightmare.
Tale Of The Dead Man’s Float
This episode made the list solely based on the monster. For one, it’s a really cool idea and out of all 7 seasons of the show, nothing was as gruesome as this beast (although the quicksilver from the tale of the quicksilver or the vampire from tale of the night nurse were somewhat close). So the scrawny guy from She’s Out of My League and Knocked Up is a little kid and drowns under mysterious circumstances in a school’s swimming pool. Oh by the way this one starts on a real downer. The pool is then boarded up and goes unused for decades.
Enter our main character Zeke, who is yet again a dork that is a master in chemistry and doesn’t know how to swim. I’m starting to notice a pattern with these episodes, nerd kids using their talents to thwart other-worldly phenomena. Anyway, the pool is reopened and the invisible water monster reemerges. Zeke, using his chemical skills, pours some methyl orange into the pool to react to the monster, and then the horror takes shape; this gnarly red skeleton with decomposing flesh and rags hanging off of its body. Basically what you expect to see for your choice of hookups during last call in Resident Evil’s Raccoon City’s only bar. After a few chase scenes around the school, Zeke and his soon to be girlfriend throws some other chemicals at the monster, melting it! It’s overall an ok episode, but as a kid that water skeleton scared the piss out of me. Which I find appropriate because I was a little kid and it was a pool.
Tale Of Oblivion
For our final entry I absolutely had to include an episode with a series regular character Sardo. And that’s Sar-do, no Mr., accent on the DO! He appeared in about a dozen episodes and is always in possession of some sort of mystical artifact he has exactly zero knowledge about. Then some kid wanders into the shop and he pawns the item off to them thinking it is just a piece of junk, when in actuality it is a device with hidden powers. In this episode, the artifact is the “Tools of Oblivion” that is comprised of a piece of charcoal and a rubber eraser. These tools allow the possessor to create what they draw with the charcoal and destroy what they erase with the rubber eraser. What a flippin’ awesome idea!
Today our kiddo is a snotty jerk whose twin sister is the perfect child. She plays the piano, does her homework and cleans her roo…you know what I think we all know where this is going. The kid erases her sister. He sends her to oblivion after erasing a few other odds and ends. Kinda like the guy from the curious camera one there is a learning curve until the power threatens something he loves. Where this one flips the script is that the boy actually erases himself and the tools into oblivion to rescue her. It is a pretty cool idea and despite oblivion looking like your grandma’s cluttered attic, it really makes you feel like you are in a world of all the long lost items.
So what else can really be said about this series? What made the show special is that it was designed to be for a bit of an older audience, so you had to sneak around your parents to watch it. It had that feeling that put you on the edge of being an “older kid” and getting into things with a little more weight to its storytelling. Since November is the month for nostalgia, I highly recommend picking up a few old episodes of this show an falling into a time when sitting around a campfire and telling campy ghost stories was as good as it gets.