If you haven’t heard the news yet, brace yourself—Are You Afraid of the Dark, the classic 90s Nickelodeon tweenaged horror show, is getting remade into a feature length film from Paramount. Of course, with everything nostalgically beloved that gets rebooted, there is the initial terror of WHAT IF THEY GET IT WRONG?! (I’m looking at you Goosebumps). Here’s a sliver of hope: The screenwriter is none other than Gary Dauberman, who saw enormous success last year with his screenplay for the IT remake.
This was, hands down, my most favorite show when I was a kid. As I got a little older, that favorite show naturally evolved into Buffy the Vampire Slayer (god I miss 90s TV), but I still sometimes watch episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark to this day because it truly does stand the test of time (as does Buffy). Sure, it’s full of Canada’s particular brand of cheesy dialogue (Degrassi anyone?) and bad teen acting, complete with the oversized shirts and ill-fitting jeans that defined the early to mid 90s. But everyone has that one episode they remember, the one that haunted them through their childhoods, still popping up in their minds even now; that’s how powerful it was.
To refresh your memory, each Saturday the ‘Midnight Society,’ a group of horror-loving teenagers, would meet at their spot in the woods (remember that amazing rock chair?) to sit around a roaring campfire. They were a ragtag, lovable group, awkwardly communicating their pre-teen and teenaged feelings through the telling of their original suburban legends (thanks Riverdale for bringing that term to my attention). More than once, a story was used to express a budding crush or to communicate a personal loss or lesson learned. The original cast included patriarch sweetheart Gary, the impossibly kind, blonde-haired Kristen (who also played Cher on the Clueless TV series), Kiki, the mean but undeniably rad tomboy in the denim vest and bandana, and her best friend, bad boy Frank, in flannel with the sleeves cut off, never cutting anyone any slack. Annoying, bratty Tucker played by Daniel DeSanto of Mean Girls fame, goody-two-shoes Betty Anne, and of course little David, the quiet boy with the heart of a poet who was in love with Kristen. The Midnight Society drama was the show within the show, and it was cute. All I wanted in the entire world was to be invited to this exclusive secret club that met in the woods at midnight. It was always the same: one of the members would introduce their story with a dramatic, inquiring flare, and they would all exchange uneasy, curious glances. Then the storyteller would grab the bag of mystery powder that made the fire flare up and crackle as they announced the title of the story as it flashed across the screen.
This show was kind of... beautiful. There are several episodes that still bring tears to my eyes, and the whole series was tinged with a kind of secret sweetness, one that tended toward empathy. Overlooked elderly folks often held stories of great love lost. What seemed to be a monster was nothing but a misunderstood, lonely thing. A vengeful ghost was truly the sad spirit of a child still missing her mother, a boy who was killed in the cold. And the teenagers in the stories would actually learn something, something about life and death, about loss, privilege, self-acceptance, fear, and love. It was a show that that gave kids the credit they deserve, believing they could handle something real. It wasn’t the cartoonish, slime-green horror of Goosebumps. Even my mother loved it.
The quality of this show was truly next level: the attention to detail, the way it was filmed, the sets, the characters, the plots, the incredible music score (Jeff Fisher and Raymond C. Fabi) that tended toward the manic and circus-like and the gentle and inquisitive.
"The show is about the shared experience of telling stories — especially scary ones. We're going to celebrate that with this movie and honor the darker, scarier tone of the show, which was really groundbreaking for Nickelodeon at the time. I hope the Midnight Society approves," Dauberman told The Hollywood Reporter.
Will we see some of our favorite stories from the original series remade for the movie, the way we saw in Goosebumps? Will it be a new Midnight Society for Generation Z, complete with some kind of Black Mirror-esque social media curses, possessed iPhones? Or, as I would have done it if it were up to me, the original cast all grown up, jaded as hell, telling truly terrifying horror stories for adults. Paging Paramount: HIRE ME.
Regardless, the nostalgia has definitely gotten to me this week, so I thought I’d share my three favorite episodes with you. Simply click the title of the episode to watch it on DailyMotion (they are about 23 minutes each).
As a kid my favorite place in the world was a carnival. I lived for the rides, games, lights and sounds, the general excitement of so many people I didn’t know. My dad would carry me on his shoulders through the crowd so I could see it all. I was also obsessed with the VHS cover of the 1990 IT; I would immediately run to the horror section every time my family went to Blockbuster just to stare at it. I was so afraid of and yet completely drawn to the clown on the cover, Tim Curry’s version, which will always be scarier. Of course I wasn’t allowed to watch it, but that only heightened my desire. I settled over and over for this episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark. Who could forget Zeebo the Clown, the terrifying funhouse prop, a full-sized clown come to life when tough-guy Josh is dared to steal his nose? The real Zeebo was a thieving clown that stole from the carnival in 1929, hiding in the funhouse and then dying in a fire caused by his own cigar. But you better believe he's still around, his mean old spirit living inside the clown prop. The real genius—you never see him after he comes to life; but hear him, see the smoke from his cigar, see the door handle rattle, see him blow up balloons from under the door as he stalks Josh, looking for his nose.
This is the episode that chokes me up every time I watch it. It asks us to remember that we don’t know what another person has been through until we ask. Amanda, a sweet, nerdy girl, goes to stay with her aunt and cool cousin Beth for the summer. Her cousin, played by Laura Levin, is a classic 90s mean girl who wants nothing to do with Amanda, complete with a scowl so good, hair teased so bad, and a biting, wonderfully campy sarcasm that I’ve never stopped quoting (see below):
An old woman also lives in the house who was once a caregiver to Beth, who she now treats horribly because she is "too old for a nanny." There is an abandoned house next door, one that Amanda is told to spend the night in as a right of passage, so she can hang out with Beth and her friends at a pool party (take me back to the 90s, I’m ready). Amanda enters the house and sees in a full-length mirror the ghost of a girl and runs out screaming. Her aunt takes them back in the house to show them there is nothing there, but they see the worlds HELP ME scrawled all over the walls backwards, as if written from the mirror. Turns out, it’s Nanny’s daughter who died many years before, who was asking for help so that they could finally be reunited. Amanda takes Nanny over to the house and she actually enters the mirror, leaving our world and reuniting with her daughter, finally, in the spirit world. NO YOU’RE CRYING.
This episode is a BANGER. It was filmed the way a comic book feels, bright colors, quick and wacky camera work, wild and disconcerting music, dramatic dialogue. Ethan is a comic artist and comic book junkie, even classically hiding one behind his book in science class. He is given a one-of-a-kind comic by a woman who owns a comic book store (leather jacket, slicked back hair), one that was never finished, as the artist disappeared before he could complete the work. When his science teacher catches Ethan reading the comic instead of paying attention, he drops it into a fish tank. When Ethan gets home, he tries to dry it out using his microwave, which creates an explosion and brings the Ghastly Grinner, a jester-like villain, to life. Ethan finds his parents, pale, eyes ringed in dark bags. They start to laugh a wild, unrestrained laugh, and blue slime drips out of their mouths. They’re no longer themselves, replaced with zombie-like maniacs, under the Grinner's spell. Ethan teams up with a darling nerd who has a crush on him, and best fake name ever created, Hooper Picalarro, to stop the Grinner’s reign of laughing insanity. The wind through a trail of blue-mouthed victims, dumb-struck and always laughing, and Ethan has to stop the villain by finishing the last issue with his own drawings, freeing the original artist from a different realm. Turns out, he was the father of woman from the comic book store, and they are reunited at last. How cool is that plot? Honestly.
The Are You Afraid of the Dark movie has a release date of October 2019, just in time for Halloween. We’ve got a long way to go folks, but why not revisit some of your favorite episodes? I’m willing to bet there is at least one that has stuck with you. You can find them all on DailyMotion if you search for the name of the episode. Enjoy this trip down memory’s strange, dark, sweet lane, and cross your fingers for a remake that captures at least some of the show’s original spirit.