The last time we gathered around the fire we spoke of severed monkey paws, ravenous hounds and otherworldly specs that reminded us how inventively spooky ghost stories can be. This time we get our fair share of supernatural bumps in the night, from ageless caretakers, preying neighbors to hypnotic staffs. Can ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK’s first mid-season overcome the dreadful slump, or will it suffer at the hands of fatigue? Let’s see as we ignite the fire and dive into another frightful edition.
Submitted for approval…
The Tale of the Captured Souls
Season Number: 1
Episode number: 7
Air Date: October 3rd, 1992
Midnight Member: Kiki
Plot: What’s a sure fire way to ruin a family trip? How about a youth hungry caretaker with a penchant for mirrors? That’s what gets in the way when the Sellman’s and their daughter Danielle (Maria Taylor) – much to her chagrin – decide to stay at a seemingly cozy bed and breakfast for a summer vacation. The aforementioned caretaker is a peculiar young boy named Peter (Ethan Tobman), who clutters the guest bedrooms with mirrors and hates having his picture taken. After Danielle and her parents begin aging at a rapid rate (they become weak and grayed while she develops acne), she is forced to confront Peter and discover the timeless secret behind his mirrors.
Are You Afraid: In mid-season fashion, this is the slump ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK has been scared of, and boy does it plummet. For an episode about capturing souls, it feels beyond lifeless, presenting bizarre choices right from the beginning. Peter is nary charming nor eerie, coming off as a socially stunted boy while Danielle reads like a 13-year old going on 6. The shows writer Anne Appleton (whose short stint produced only 3 episodes) fills scenes with an air of awkwardness, one that borders on uncomfortable as our aging teen quickly and unsuspectedly develops certain attributes, a choice that feels more delicate than dreadful. It’s an entry that would achieve camp, if not for its deliberate choice to present every move as creepy, instead capturing the spot as one of the shows formatively bad episodes.
Horror Nod: The Tale of the Captured Souls plays most heavily off Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, a gothic yarn about a man who sells his soul in order to stay vibrant and youthful, only to have his spirit imprisoned in an oil painting where he ages rapidly. This theme further plays out (while loosely) in two films: 1988’s Poltergeist III, the third film of the paranormal trilogy featuring an old reverend using the mirrors of a luxury high-rise in order to possess their reflection, and a 1972 British film titled The Asphyx (a Greek mythological Grim Reaper) that features a man attempting to capture his Asphyx in order to obtain immortality.
The Tale of the Nightly Neighbors
Season Number: 1
Episode number: 8
Air Date: October 10th, 1992
Midnight Member: Betty-Ann
Plot: Late one night, Dayday (Nosh Godfrey) and his sister Emma (Suzanna Shebib) notice a young boy and his two parents moving in across the street. They’re pale, dressed all in black, from the Ukraine and their moving crates look like they could fit a coffin. Shortly after their arrival, everyone around town begins losing energy with bandages on their neck, which could mean only one thing: the neighbors are vampires! Suspecting the supernatural, Dayday and Emma investigate the basement of the Brauns, only to discover a fridge full of blood. To make matters worse, the new neighbors have been invited in by their mom, prompting the two kids to take matters into their own hands.
Are You Afraid: New neighbors can be a terrifying prospect; on one hand they can be their for you when your lawnmower kicks the bucket, and on the other they can be neighbors from hell (sometimes literally!) The Tale of the Nightly Neighbors knows this, and along the way subverts the idea by introducing the Brauns as both baleful and affable, playing off each in a mystery grab-bag of possibilities. They are the shows first real attempt at dread-next-door, and by placing us within the voyeurs chair of Dayday and Emma, it works! Watching neighbors already feels like a pastime that we know we shouldn’t partake in, yet when you throw in a mix of vampirism and a town on the brink of fatigue, you have a palpably distressing situation.
Horror Nods: While Mr. Braun is nowhere near toothsome as Jerry Dandrige (a seductively toothy Chris Sarandon), the possibility of the new neighbor being a fanged bloodsucker is direct from Tom Holland’s 1985 vampire scare-fare Fright Night, in which a teenage boy becomes convinced that his neighbor is imported from Transylvania. These are vampires who, like the energy sucking space creatures in Tobe Hooper’s 1985 sci-fi horror film Lifeforce, drain the energy of their victims rather than kill or convert them. Even the suspiciously large crates that the Braun’s move in with, as well as their son Lex (Johnny Morina) mirror yet another Tobe Hooper vampire flick, this time in the form of a TV mini-series and Stephen King adaptation, Salem’s Lot.
The Tale of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Season Number: 1
Episode number: 9
Air Date: October 17th, 1992
Midnight Member: Betty-Ann
Plot: Opening in 1966 at Lindin High School where a young woman stows a mysterious vile down a watery shaft, The Tale of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice begins in present day, introducing us to Dean (Mathew MacKay); a down on his luck student at Lindin High who just wants to fit in. His sole friend Alix (Staci Smith) is the only one who believes in him, until he learns about Goth, an ancient sorcerer who used a golden serpent staff – conveniently brought to the class as part of a lecture – to hypnotize people into doing his dark bidding. Intrigued, Dean becomes entranced by the staff, which gives him popularity and the power to enrapture those who stand in his way. It’s up to Alix and her friendship to put an end to Dean before he awakens an evil that could threaten the entire universe.
Are You Afraid: The story itself is not too frightening, posturing itself as more of a classic Universal Monster film (we’ll get to that in a minute), though the character of Dean and his inability to rise to educational expectations is a terrifyingly real portrayal of high school fear. And if you were anything like me, that fear still resonates. In the opening shot, Dean struggles to take a chemistry exam, his fellow students slowly fading away until he’s left all alone in the classroom. It’s a shot that captures the isolation and struggle that many grappled with in their high school days, proving that not all of ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK’s horror stems from the supernatural.
Horror Nods: Much of The Tale of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice gloms its atmosphere from the classic monster films that began piling up after the success of James Whales’ Frankenstein and Karl Freund’s The Mummy. Sure, the transformation of Dean and his hypnotized disciples feels very Sometimes They Come Back meets a Bauhaus music video – the sorcerer is called Goth after all – yet its evocative glows and enshrouding mist feels ripped from the backlot of Universal. Dean even uses Belladonna leaves during a full moon in order to raise his master from the dead, a plot point that’s reminiscent of the tana leaves used to restore life to a dead Princess during a full moon in the 1940 sequel, The Mummy’s Hand.
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