Back in 2019, when the world felt more normal, Nickelodeon blessed us with a three-part limited series reboot treatment of ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?. The series, which is directed by Dean Israelite (Power Rangers movie, Project Almanac) and written by BenDavid Grabinski (Skiptrace, Happily), boasts a brand new Midnight Society featuring Lyliana Wray (Top Gun: Maverick), Sam Ashe (Best.Worst.Weekend.Ever), Miya Cech (Rim of the World, Always Be My Maybe), Jeremy Ray Taylor (IT Chapter Two, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween), and Tamara Smart (Artemis Fowl, The Worst With Witch), along with Rafael Casal (Blindspotting) as the Carnival of Doom’s ringmaster, Mr. Tophat.
What I really enjoy about this reboot was that instead of each episode being its own individual story, the series instead focuses on the newest member of the Midnight Society, Rachel (Lyliana Wray), who, upon her initiation into the society, must tell a scary story. Haunted by dreams of a mysterious figure known as Mr. Tophat (Rafael Casal), Rachel uses her nightmares to spin a tale about a young girl, a carnival, and a fearsome ringmaster. What was supposed to only be a fictional tale ends up unfolding into a real living, breathing nightmare as the Midnight Society finds themselves up against the Carnival of Doom and it’s evil ringmaster, Mr. Tophat.
I truly love that a new generation of horror kids are going to have the opportunity to experience ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?. Not only is this limited series a wonderful treat for us older fans who grew up on the show in the ’90s, but it’s also a perfect gateway to initiate younger fans into horror. Though it definitely caters to a younger audience, there is enough nostalgia pulling triggers that adult fans will be hard-pressed to not crack a smile at. However, what really makes this show work successfully is the chemistry between the new members of the Midnight Society; because if you don’t get that right, then you don’t have the heart of the show. Most will recognize Jeremy Ray Taylor from his role as young Ben Hanscom in IT, but in ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? he plays Graham, the horror-obsessed, germaphobic teen who loves Cronenberg and sees potential in Rachel as a new member of the Society. Lyliana Wray, who plays Rachel, balances that fine line of being shy due to a haunted past she doesn’t quite understand while also finding a sense of acceptance upon being initiated into the group.
Rounding out the rest of the Midnight Society are Akiko (played by Miya Cech) as the tough-as-nails, inspiring director who uses the Carnival of Doom as a backdrop to a future documentary. Gavin (played by Sam Ashe Arnold) who has a special connection with Rachel and supports her quest in uncovering the truth of the carnival and Mr. Tophat’s existence. Louise (played by Tamara Smart) is a fierce and popular cheerleader who is the proud leader of the Midnight Society. What’s so great about this cast is not only are these characters relatable and genuine, they are also diverse, allowing most anyone that views the show to find a character in which they see themselves in. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the villain himself, Mr. Tophat, the enigmatic ringmaster with a sinister undertone. I know we are supposed to fear him, especially since he eats live scorpions as if they were Doritos, but instead, I found myself completely mesmerized by the character and Casal’s performance. I don’t want to give too much away about his character but let’s just say that I fully believe Mr. Tophat will become an iconic horror figure in the years to come.
As for the horror itself, though the show may not be scary in terms of the definition imposed by die-hard horror fans, there are still enough creepy imagery and practical effects to make fans of the show, and genre, happy. One of my favorite scenes happens during Episode 2 where Rachel and Gavin find themselves on a Love Boat ride only to then encounter two terrifying skeletons in the water. This immediately reminded me of “The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float” episode from Season Five of the original Are You Afraid of the Dark?. That said, I appreciate how this series gave nods to its predecessor but also managed to be uniquely its own, allowing for that symbiotic relationship between new and old fans to form. Furthermore, I loved how the show relied heavily on practical effects instead of CGI as that helped in making the viewing experience feel much more grounded in reality.
Overall, ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? is one for the books. As a massive fan of the original series, I felt that this interpretation encompassed the spirit of the original while forming its own distinct path. Fans of the original series will be hit with a wave of nostalgia while newer one will have the chance to finally understand why the original was so important to many of us horror fans. ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? is now available to own on DVD.