Last week I mentioned the episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? that managed to give a young-me endless nightmares.
Ladies and gentlemen: “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark.”
The clown episodes of AYAOTD have always been instrumental in scarring me for life. This episode and the Ghastly Grinner (which is technically more a jester) made sure that I would never be able to watch a clown movie without my hands over my eyes ever again.
This is all Betty Ann’s fault. Fellow midnight-society member Kristen hates clowns. And for some reason, this is hilarious to a lot of the kids around the fire, especially Kiki, who eggs Kristen on.
Eventually Betty Ann gets on with her tale. It centres around Playland, a park that has anything a child could want, including a spook house called Laughing in the Dark. At the end of the spook house is a room filled with doors. “Pick the right door and you’ll go free. Pick the wrong one and there he’ll be.”
“He” being Zeebo the clown. It’s a dummy that slides out of a door if picked.
Friends Weegee, Kathy and Josh are at Playland, and stand outside admiring it. Only all of them are too afraid to go inside, which isn’t exactly helped by the creepy carny waiting outside. Josh, being the cocky son-of-a-gun that he is, plays off his fear.
The next day, the kids read into what happened at Laughing in the Dark. They discover that there was an original spook house in the same place as Laughing in the Dark. Decades before, a clown named Zeebo ran off with money stolen from his circus or whatever. He hid from the police in the spook house, but one of the cigars he disposed of started a fire that burned down the spook house – with Zeebo inside.
After that fun and uplifting tale, Josh says that he doesn’t believe in the stories from other children that something weird is going on. He’s then dared to go into Laughing in the Dark by himself. He agrees, but only if Weegee (pronounced like a ouija board) wears the clown nose to school for a week. Josh will be stealing the dummy Zeebo’s nose himself.
Josh goes in and, while a bit frightened, manages to get to the room with the doors. He finds the exit almost immediately, but gathers the courage to keep looking for the dummy. He finally finds Zeebo and grabs the nose, but not without smelling the scent of cigars first.
Oh and he sees this shit in the hall of mirrors:
The next day, Josh keeps smelling cigar smoke in places. Unbeknownst to him, he’s being followed by a trail of smoke.
He goes home and finds that his parents are out, leaving him alone for the night. He hears a door creak, but believes its only objects moved in a closet. He then gets a call from Weegee, who apologises to his friend for being a bit of a dick to him earlier. When Josh gets a second phone call, it’s from our buddy the clown saying, “Give it back!”
Josh begins to panic. There’s a clown shoe-print in the chocolate pudding he dropped. Cigars in his bowl of pasta. The boy bolts himself in his bedroom before climbing out of the window. He runs back to Playland, offering up a nose and a box of cigars to the clown dummy.
After Josh leaves, the clown accepts the gifts, seemingly to leave Josh alone in the future.
But because the Midnight Society want to solidify that they can also be jerks, Kristen is scared away when one of them dons a clown mask. And that’s after she says she’s been able to handle Betty Ann’s stupid story.
Don’t worry, Kristen. We’re in this together. Ignore the haters. Because clowns are out there to get us.
Highlight quotes of the episode:
“Look at me! I’m Zeebo! Hey, hand over the dough! What do you think I am? Some kind of clown?” – Josh, who is lucky he didn’t die then