Author: Krista Culbertson

Wicked (Wisconsin) Wednesday: Pt. 40 Lake Michigan Monster (2018)

A few weeks back, I went into a coffee shop. The two girls working there picked up on my accent, and enquired as to where I was from. Unusually, they wouldn’t just accept “the US” as an answer. And when I specified Wisconsin, the girls gleefully shouted, “HELLO WISONCONSIN” and proceeded to compliment our cheese.

And really, those are the two things we’re known for, I guess! Whether it be nationwide or the rare case anyone has heard of us outside of the US: it’s cheese and That 70s Show. There’s plenty worse things to be known for (err…McCarthy).

Beyond that, though, the state has a really weird, kooky soul. Think Violent Femmes, giant fish statues, hodags and Brady Street. It’s the part of Wisconsin that I always miss the most.

Lake Michigan Monster exemplifies exactly what I’m talking about. This movie is kooky as hell. It’s really incredible that Arrow picked this up for distribution, and I’m here for it.

The film follows the actually-not-a-sea-captain sea captain Seafield (played by writer and director
Ryland Brickson Cole Tews). Following the death of his father, Seafield assembles a team to help him kill the Lake Michigan Monster. Why? Well, the beast supposedly killed his father during a fishing trip.

Despite the team’s trust in Seafield, it’s quickly apparent that he’s not at all competent. Sailor Dick Flynn winds up becoming father to the monster’s baby. Sean Shaughnessy, weapons dealer, is killed off. All while Nudge the scientist unravels Seafield’s lies.

The later half of the movie veers from camp, low-budget fun to a wild turn involving ghost monks (?). It was at that point that I put down my pen and let the movie unfold without me taking notes. There’s no way for me to really describe the going-ons in the third act.

Its clear that inspiration was taken from many places, including other Midwestern weirdos like Sam Raimi and the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew. There’s certainly dashes of things much more psychedelic.

As always, it’s so good to see new regional movies being promoted, especially by a company like Arrow (see also, The Stylist, which loves highlighting its Kansas City local). I loved seeing iconic locations like the North Point Lighthouse and Street of Old Milwaukee making appearances.

Lake Michigan Monster is absolutely bizarre. It’s not going to be for every horror fan. But it’s creative, funny and has love bleeding out of each scene. Low-budget monster-movie lovers: this one is for us.

Wicked (Wisconsin) Wednesday: Pt. 39 Demon Possessed/The Chill Factor (1993)

Boy oh boy. It has been a long time since we’ve had an installment of Wicked Wisconsin Wednesday! To be precise: since January of 2018. And before that, there had been a dry spell between The Monster of Phantom Lake and the last WWW in 2016. To my surprise, there is still plenty to cover here.

Wicked Wisconsin Wednesday was a project I loved working on. I aimed to watch every horror movie either filmed in or set in Wisconsin (plus the occasional rule-bender). There are a number of newer movies that have come to my attention in the last couple years. But this gem… I’m annoyed that it somehow escaped my notice back in the day.

Demon Possessed (probably better known by it’s original title The Chill Factor) is an early 90s slasher film made in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Like many movies made in Wisconsin, there’s a lot of snow here – plenty for SNOWMOBILE RACES!

A group of friends all head up north to have a snowmobiling vacation. Cannot confirm whether or not this is something anyone would actually want to do.

While out having a race during the day, one of the friends, Tom, crashes into a tree and is badly injured. The remaining friends all get him to the ruins of a nearby camp, hoping that they can help him survive the night.

The friends soon gather that the camp used to be a religious camp of sorts. Lots of crucifixes and, of course, a Ouija board of sorts. Tom’s girlfriend, Jeannie, claims to have some experience with the mystics, so she’s hesitant to try the board. But of course they play around anyway, resulting in Tom being possessed – unbeknownst to the rest of the gang.

Throughout the night, the friends are all lured to their deaths. It isn’t until the morning that Jeannie realises that everyone is dead but her. Will she be able to escape the demon on the back of her snowmobile?

This movie is so 80s. Sure, I know it says 1993, but you can’t convince me that this wasn’t filmed years earlier. It’s pretty ridiculous in a way that many slashers were in the late part of the boom. The premise is certainly memorable, and some of the death scenes are pretty fun. But this probably won’t be a slasher to go down in history as one of the greats.

It’s trash, but if you know what you’re getting yourself into, you’ll probably find something fun in this short running time.

And also -“Stay cool, Karen!”

Arrow recently released a Blu-Ray of The Chill Factor. This plus the box set of Bill Rebane films has me suspicious that either someone at Arrow is from WI, or they just really love regional horror. And really, I hope it’s the latter (or both!). Regional US horror is pretty dead these days. But next week’s film is hopefully a sign that it’s not completely gone.

Wicked Wednesday: 100 Horror Films in 92 days, wrap-up #1

Earlier this month, I mentioned I was participating in the Letterboxd challenge “100 Horror Movies in 92 Days“, created by Sarah Stubbs. The premise is simple: watch 100 horror movies in the months of August, September and October that you’ve never seen before.

Now I am an outfit repeater. I’ll watch one or two new movies a week (if that), but I love rewatching old favourites more than anything. So watching 100 new-to-me movies is 100% a challenge for someone like me. So I’m pleased that I haven’t fallen at any hurdles yet! That being said, we’re only one month in…

So here is a list of the first films I’ve watched. We’ve hit the 33% mark, which I don’t think is too shabby. Though I have to admit a lot of these movies were shabby. But a small handful have become new favourites.

Are there any titles here that you’re surprised I’ve never seen before? I think most people would say #32 would be surprising. But shhhh… I’ve at least seen #4 multiple times over the last decade.

My goal is to watch more foreign films in September. I watched a small handful, but they were all European still. Let me know if you have any recommendations! Asian cinema (outside of the cornerstones) is always a blind spot for me.

Films #1-35

1 Horror Hotel (The City of the Dead) (1960) dir. by John Llewellyn Moxey

2 Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) dir. by Scott Glosserman

3 Freaky (2020) dir. by Christopher Landon

A hilarious and fun return to teen slashers. I love it and was so pleased that this finally got it’s UK release date!

4 Scare Me (2020) dir. by Josh Ruben

Easily one of my favourites. Was absolutely shocked how much I loved this one!

5 Llamageddon (2015) dir. by Howie Dewin

And this one… 0% shocked by how much I hated this one.

6 Attack the Block (2011) dir. by Joe Cornish

7 Four Flies on Grey Velvet (4 mosche di velluto grigio) (1971) dir. by Dario Argento

8 The Flesh and Blood Show (1972) dir. by Pete Walker

9 The Screaming Skull (1958) dir. by Alex Nicol

10 Macabre (1980) dir. by Lamberto Bava

Honestly, I hate myself for not having watched this batshit-crazy giallo earlier. A completely bonkers film worth going into blind.

11 Witchcraft II: The Temptress (1990) dir. by Mark Woods

12 C.H.U.D. (1984) dir. by Douglas Cheek

13 The Funhouse Massacre (2015) dir. by Andy Palmer

14 Fade to Black (1980) dir. by Vernon Zimmerman

15 X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963) dir. by Roger Corman

16 Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005) dir. by Mary Lambert

17 Verónica (2017) dir. by Paco Plaza

18 Eaten Alive (1976) dir. by Tobe Hooper

Another Hooper movie that will be added to my favourites list.

19 Dark Water (2005) dir. by Walter Salles

20 Invisible Ghost (1941) dir. by Joseph H. Lewis

21 Piranha (1978) dir. by Joe Dante

22 The Haunted Palace (1963) dir. by Roger Corman

23 Bowery at Midnight (1942) dir. by Wallace Fox

24 The Dead Pit (1989) dir. by Brett Leonard

25 The Reef (2010) dir. by Andrew Traucki

26 Friday the 13th (2009) dir. by Marcus Nispel

This one took me by complete surprise. As someone who was never a major fan of the originals, I think this is a fun addition.

27 Nightmare Beach (1989) dir. by Umberto Lenzi, James Justice

28 Phantom of the Megaplex (2000) dir. by Blair Treu

29 Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire (2019) dir. by Stephen Cognetti

30 The Raven (1963) dir. by Roger Corman

31 The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) dir. by Roger Corman

32 Scream 3 (2000) dir. by Wes Craven

33 Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire (2000) dir. by Steve Boyum

34 The Found Footage Phenomenon (2021) dir. by Phillip Escott, Sarah Appleton

This was the only film I went to see at FrightFest in person this year. This documentary is a fairly in-depth look at the found footage subgenre, filled with the directors who created the iconic titles like Deodato, Øvredal, Sánchez among others.

There will be a wider release in the future, and I think anyone who is a fan of the subgenre will take something away from it.

35 Wishmaster (1997) dir. by Robert Kurtzman

Wicked Wednesday: Summer 2021 Horror reads

Since the start of all this pandemic business, I’ve been reading less than I have in previous year. I have no motivation and no boring, 1-hour commute on the train. But I still tried to squeeze in some horror novels over the summer. Now that September is drawing ever closer (!), I’ve made a brief wrap-up of the horror titles (and true crime) I’ve read in the last three months.

Pleased to say that all of these are good enough to recommend!

Adult fiction:

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

Lynette Tarkington is a real-life final girl, a woman who survived a massacre over two decades ago. She and the other final girls make up a support group, relying on each other while trying to overcome their trauma. But when Lynette realises that a new killer is targeting the final girls, she must do everything she can to keep them all alive.

It’s no secret that Hendrix is one of my favourite authors of all time. He writes with a beautiful balance of humour and scares that I love – all with great poignancy. Alas, this might be one of the weaker titles from him. I think that for me, it’s because this is more of a thriller than true horror – no supernatural elements this time. It clips along at a great pace with great characters, but the plot was lacking in some respects. Namely in the relationship-building of the support group.

But that being said, there’s still great messaging about survival and trauma. Everything Hendrix writes is gold. Seek out interviews with him about the origins of this story idea if you’re in the mood for a cry.

Bonus points that the audiobook is narrated by final girl Adrienne King!

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

Part fantasy. Part horror. This novella is a supernatural twist on American history during the height of the KKK’s reign. Maryse Boudreaux is a smuggler and fighter with a magical sword. With that sword, she can kill the “Ku Kluxes”, a type of demon. The demons are a creation of a hexed version of the film Birth of a Nation.

Clark fills a lot of action, folklore and mythos into the short page count. Easily a book you could consume in one night. One worth going into without knowing too much!

Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin

This was my first foray into Martin’s work. Incredible, really, considering just how prolific this man is. Fevre Dream is what happens when you mix Dracula with Mark Twain.

A steamboat captain and his unusual new business partner begin travelling down the Mississippi River in a steam boat in the year 1857. Unbeknownst to the captain, his new partner is on the look out for vampires.

This is a great, atmospheric version of the vampire story. It’s heavy and full of gothic air. Martin is terrific at building suspense, I was pleasantly surprised! Will certainly be looking at which horror novel (or short story) to read by him next.

Children’s

Hide and Seeker by Daka Hermon

Daka Hermon’s novel is one of the best children’s books I’ve read in a long while. She manages to perfectly encapsulate children’s imaginations when they become a little dark and twisted.

When Justin’s friend Zee returns after going missing for a year, he knows something isn’t right. Zee isn’t himself. At Zee’s welcome home party, the children all play hide-and-seek. Only the game isn’t as innocent as they may think, especially when one of them breaks the rules.

This book reminded me of playing games with my multitude of cousins when I was younger. The games were always a bit morbid. It’s certainly a creepy story, though, about abductions and missing children. Thrilling, but within the comfort zone for Middle Grade readers.

One Day at HorrorLand by R.L. Stine

A classic in Stine’s repertoire. I decided this summer to revisit some classic children’s horror, and where better to start than with the master himself?

When a family accidentally wind up at the HorrorLand theme park, they decide to try out a few of the rides. But not everything is as it seems in the park.

This is some classic Goosebumps. There’s a twist…then another twist! Gleeful and quick to read. There are more in a spin-off series to read that I might get to…one day. There’s also an adaption for the original Goosebumps TV show that I’ll need to hunt down ASAP!

DeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele

Rarely do I get to read “nice” things at work. But this graphic novel written and illustrated by Hamish Steele was an absolute treat.

When Barney gets a job at the Dead End theme park, he’s in for more supernatural hijinks than he expects! His dog gets possessed, he meets plenty of ghosts, and he faces literal demons.

This is a really fun LGBTQ+ graphic novel with rep that feels natural. I really want to visit Dead End one day. Even if there is a chance my soul will be sucked by a Dolly Parton knock off.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

A classic of children’s horror fiction. This collection of short stories, urban legends and poems has been haunting children since it was first published in 1981. My eldest sister had copies of all three collections, and my sisters and I would always look at the haunting illustrations like they were taboo.

These stories are meant for very young children, so don’t expect to be terrified by them as an adult. But Stephen Gammell’s illustrations are still perfection. I recommend reading these aloud at story time, as they were meant to be told.

Don’t Turn Out the Lights: A Tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark edited by Jonathan Maberry

This is a collection of short stories inspired by Alvin Schwartz’s books. While many of these stories were good at the time, I can’t say I recall any of them now. It was also difficult to tell what age group this was aiming for. Some were very dark, while others were silly enough for 9-year-olds. But there are so great names attached, and well worth seeking out if you love an old-school spook tale.

True crime:

Chase Darkness With Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders by Billy Jensen

Deep down, many true crime fans think they have what it takes to solve an unsolved mystery. Billy Jensen has proved that you can.

Jensen takes readers through his career from a small-time reporter at the New York Times to piecing together evidence with Michelle McNamara to his innovative way of using social media to solve crimes. It’s a fascinating and quick read. And if you’re really interested, he also provides a guide on how to solve mysteries yourself on the internet.

Green River, Running Red: the Real Story of the Green River Killer – America’s Deadliest Serial Murderer by Ann Rule

My first-ever book from the master of true crime herself, Ann Rule.

I have to admit, I didn’t really know much about the Green River Killer before going into this book. As far as serial killers go, he lacks “pizzazz”. And as Rule points out, it’s because he largely targeted sex workers – making his victims nearly invisible outside of those who loved them or were working to solve the case.

Rule gives a lot of the spotlight to Gary Ridgway’s 49 victims and beyond. She clearly is passionate about the case, but she does sometimes get a bit redundant in the way that she tells the stories of the victims. I did enjoy this one, even if it did feel dated already. And will gladly pick up more of the master’s work.

Wicked Wednesday: Eaten Alive (1970)

This month, I’ve opted myself into a Letterboxd challenge to watch 100 new-to-me horror movies by the end of October. Now, even though I mostly write about movies these days…I don’t actually watch that many movies. (I have other hobbies, you know!) But even though I’m only two and a half weeks in, the challenge has me getting to movies that I’ve been putting off for too long.

Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive has called out to me many times and for many reasons. But biggest of all? Killer crocodiles!

Eaten Alive was released between not only what are two of my favourite Hooper movies but two of my most favourite horror movies ever: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Funhouse. So there was certainly a bit of anticipation going into this one for the first time.

Thankfully, for me, this scuzzy little movie didn’t disappoint.

Judd is a lonely old man who runs a rundown hotel in the swamps of Texas. One night, his peace is disturbed by Clara, a sex worker who has been kicked out of the town brothel for refusing to have sex with a client. While he takes her up to her room, he decides to attack her.

Clara tries to protect herself, but she’s soon killed by Judd and is fed to his crocodile.

Days later, Judd’s peace is disturbed yet again by the arrival of a rather-whacky family. Shortly after the family’s arrival, their dog Snoopy is eaten by the croc. The young daughter, Angie, begins to have a meltdown. It doesn’t help that her parents begin to argue in the meantime.

To make Judd’s situation even worse, his other new guests are the father and sister of a missing young woman…who just happens to be the sex worker he fed to a crocodile.

The story alternates between the young family being attacked and chased by Judd, Clara’s family’s attempts to find her, and Robert Englund generally being a creep.

I seem to have the opposite opinion to many people. Some of the criticisms of the film include the lighting. But for me, I adore the red-saturated Argento-style lights. It feels so seedy and gross. Really, I loved the way everything looked. Unlike The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which has the vast emptiness of Texas, Eaten Alive feels very closed in. A very 1960s shot on-sets kind of vibe. It’s difficult to see what’s going on beyond the mists. And for me, that makes everything all the more unsettling.

There’s also a very good cast in this. Ranging from Hollywood icons like Neville Brand, Carolyn Jones and Mel Ferrer to future-icons of the genre like Englund, Marilyn Burns and William Finley (“SWAAAAAAN!!!”). Everyone is seemingly loosing their minds to perfection. It’s a joy to watch. I particularly enjoyed Brand’s performance as Judd. Completely unhinged, yet was pathetic enough to almost make you feel sorry for him.

Almost.

But even more, Eaten Alive was loosely based around the true story and myths of Joe Ball. In Texas folklore, Ball fed his enemies and ex-wives to his gator. In reality, most of this is probably not true – as there was never any evidence of it. Though I do think Hooper does a great job of spinning this tall tale into a truly horrific story.

I’m so glad I finally took the plunge and watched Eaten Alive. A fun movie that I can’t wait to watch again.

Wicked Wednesday: Ghosts of Fear Street Pilot (1998)

If there’s anything I love more than a made-for-TV movie, it’s lost TV pilots (or even better -TV movies that double as pilots). While reading up on the Fear Street movies on Netflix, I read about the mostly-forgotten pilot of the Ghosts of Fear Street show.

The TV show was meant to be based on R.L. Stine’s Ghosts of Fear Street series, a spin-off of the Fear Street series that was meant for younger readers. But in both series, the books take place in the town of Shadyside.

The pilot starts off with a classic twist: a story within the story. Author father PJ Murphy tests out his latest story on his children. The kids are unenthusiastic about his story of the bug people living next door (and if they’re bored – so are we!).

They three children learn that they are to help move their Grandpa out of his B&B in Shadyside. When they arrive, the family find the house full of quirky objects and ghosts. Each of the children set off to explore. Mickey meets an invisible dog. Kit meets the neighborhood goth, Kit. And Joe gets the fright of his life when he meets a bug man.

After Joe steals a car battery with the plans to “zap” the bug man, PJ stops him. He tells the children that things on Fear Street aren’t exactly normal.

But while moving out, mother Anne realises that she didn’t like the idea of her father leaving his home. So the parents announce that the kids will be staying on Fear Street for the rest of the summer.

The pilot for Ghosts of Fear Street was aired in 1998, apparently to some abysmal ratings. It’s strange to think of anything that Stine touched not being extremely popular – particularly in this era. Perhaps too much of a good thing? Or maybe this was the time when horror on children’s TV was declining?

If the Fear Street series was adapted initially, perhaps it would have found an audience that wasn’t already distracted by the original Goosebumps show. A teen Scream (as the Netflix trilogy feels like). Ghosts is a lot goofier than Goosebumps. More like a zany toothpaste ad. Not exactly something that would scare most children, unless they were really young.

The story itself isn’t strong. Especially for a pilot. While I’m always a champion for children’s horror, this felt flat. But with plenty of adaptions with Stine’s name on them, it’s not like we’re ever feeling cheated!

Wicked Wednesday (yet another late one): Horror Hotel (1960)

So I missed…two Wednesdays. Oops?

I’ve been away visiting my family in the States for the last month and have since returned to London. Only now I’m stuck in a 10-day quarantine from hell. Every day has been remarkably like the last, which is my only excuse as to how I’ve forgotten that it was Wednesday. Twice.

But when I go home, my dad and I usually have time to watch older Universal horror movies or monster flicks by Roger Corman and the likes. This visit was a bit light on that, so I took it upon myself to squeeze in something with the legend Christopher Lee himself.

In 1692, the settlement of Whitewood burn the witch Elizabeth Selwyn. And if we’ve learned anything from the Fear Street movies, this is supposed to be the right way to rid yourself of witches. Only with her last living breath, Elizabeth announces the pact she’d made with the devil.

Three hundred years later, college student Nan develops an interest in Whitewood. With the encouragement of her professor, Alan Driscoll, she decides to travel to Whitewood on her own to do some research on primary resources. Her brother and boyfriend find it all a joke, insisting that she stay with them during her vacation, but the woman goes off to her doom alone.

Nan drives to the Raven Inn in Whitewood, an accommodation recommended to her by Driscoll, and learns that the inn was the site of Elizabeth’s burning.

While exploring Whitewood, Nan meets Pat – another young woman who lends her an old book about witchcraft. The two women hit it off immediately. You must in order to lend a rando your old ass books.

But that night – the night of Candlemass – while taking notes on the book, Nan is lured down into the tunnels below her room. She’s killed off by a cult in hoods.

The weeks go by, and both Nan’s fiancé and brother, Dick, become increasingly worried about her absence. Pat goes to see the me and explains she’s also concerned about Nan’s disappearance. She did, after all, lend her that book! The group each go out to Whitewood on their own to search for Nan themselves.

That night, the night of the Witches’ Sabbath, Pat goes to see her grandfather, the local priest. He tells Pat that Elizabeth Selwyn is still alive as the owner of the Raven Inn. She needs two sacrifices a year in order to live forever. After learning the story, Pat is attacked and kidnapped by the cult.

But thanks to Dick’s help (as well as that brother who didn’t die in a car crash), the cult are all set on fire and seemingly all’s well that ends well! Minus the charred corpse in the chair, of course.

Horror Hotel (called The City of the Dead in the UK) is delightful. It’s well made. Well acted. It just doesn’t age as well when it comes to the content. Perhaps I’m spoiled with the modern-day assessment of wronged women burned as witches. But if that is, then let it be so!

I liked Nan as a character a lot. As she initially pulls up to the Raven Inn, she declares that she loves how picturesque the place is. Complete with its own cemetery! A girl after my own heart. It was a shame she didn’t make it to be the final girl. RIP Nan!

There are some wonderfully 1960s bits in this: the town that’s contained to a studio lot, the endlessly-rolling fog and the entirely inappropriate music. It’s, yes, cheesy at times because it is 60+ years old. But it also pack a wallop of dark atmosphere. And Christopher Lee is, as ever, brooding perfection.

Wicked Wednesday: Are You Afraid of the Dark? “Part Three: Destroy All Tophats” (2019)

All good things must come to a end. And with Part Three of this Are You Afraid of the Dark? reboot, all things conclude in a very satisfying way.

Rachel gets the gang together to talk to the gang (minus the missing Gavin) to have an emergency meeting. She has them all realise that they can’t remember her story or the Carnival of Doom. But the remaining three all agree to follow Rachel as she tries to solve the mystery of the missing boys.

They track Akiko’s phone, which the creepy clowns had taken from her. They trace it back to Idaho, where Rachel was from before she moved with her mom…and where the Carnival of Doom had stopped before. Akiko’s brother, Officer Hideo, agrees to drive them to Idaho. And he’s especially convinced after watching the strange footage from the carnival.

On the journey, the group go to a rest stop, where Officer Hideo is attacked by Mr Tophat’s scorpions. When Akiko goes to get him, she realises that he’s seemingly vanished without a trace. She finds a single gold coin by the drain…and her brother trapped in the mirrors.

Alone without an adult, the kids realise they’re on their own. Thanks to Graham’s (very slow) driving skills, TMS make it to the carnival. They bump into Bartholomew, a man also from Rachel’s dreams, who tells them the story of Mr Tophat…a man who was also alive in 1944 as Mr Cochran. He was so desperate to make money, that he opened his carnival before it was ready or properly tested. When a bunch of guests die in an accident on the ride, Mr Cochran is approached by the Devil.

Cochran accepts an offer that he will live forever with his successful carnival. No one will remember his deeds…until one day a child will come along and end his reign. That child is, of course, Rachel.

Bartholomew then explains how to defeat Mr Tophat: destroy his hat. They are given a golden coin to enter the secret room. With the knowledge at their disposal, the group make a plan to distractions at the carnival while Rachel takes the coin to the secret room.

As Rachel gets into the secret room, the others are attacked by Adam and a clown-ified Officer Hideo. Without her friends to come to her help, Rachel enters the room and finds herself on the stage of the big tent, having been tricked by Bartholomew.

Rachel is tied up to be sawn in half for the show (really giving me Leprechaun 3 flashbacks). But our Rachel manages to cut free of her bonds and wake the friends up from their trances, as well as taking Mr Tophat’s cane – the true source of his power not the hat.

United again (with Gavin!), TMS set off to destroy his top hat. All while walking through a rather creepy-looking and smoky ride – with plenty of flashing lights! One by one, the kids are grabbed and pulled into the water. All on her own, Rachel is threatened by Mr Tophat. He tries to barter with her, but the girl doesn’t fall for it.

With her prophecy-given powers, Rachel destroys that and ends the Carnival of Doom.

And all’s well that ends well. Rachel goes to her next Midnight Society meeting and everyone votes for her to stay on. But there’s always time for a few more little twists. And Gavin begins his tale – “The Return of the Ghastly Grinner”

And yes, this literally made me gasp.

It’s almost sad that this was a miniseries, with the next series being with a different cast of characters. These kids are cute, and a group to really love. I find that many of these series don’t spend the time to make the characters well-rounded, but you certainly get that for most of them.

There are some brilliant sets in this episode (as with the previous one) as well as some cool effects for a children’s TV show. But the story telling is a bit thin in places. Things get a bit convenient, especially towards the end. I suppose that’s why these stories were often better in their 30-minute format, there was only enough time to give a quick tale so plot holes were forgiven.

I’m pleased as punch that this series was so quality. I’m really looking forward to starting the second, which also has an impressive young cast. And no, I won’t wait until two years like I did this time. Though I do hope there is a bit more of the traditional storytelling in the future. It is, after all, everything that matters about the Midnight Society.

Wicked Wednesday: Are You Afraid of the Dark? “Part Two: Opening Night” (2019)

Following on Part One of the 2019 Are You Afraid of the Dark reboot, Part Two immediately jumps back into the drama.

Having learned that both their classmate Adam is missing and that a seemingly-evil carnival has come to town, the Midnight Society have an emergency meeting. Our girl Rachel tries to convince the others to go to the carnival with her to look for Adam, but no one takes the bait.

It’s following the meeting that Rachel overhears that Akiko wants Rachel out of the group. Which is a pretty quick change of heart, if you ask me. Gary would never!

Realising that she’s on her own, Rachel begins to make missing posters for Adam. The rest of TMS feel sorry for her, and then agree to go with her to the Midnight Carnival.

On arriving at the carnival, the kids realise that everything looks exactly how they imagined it as Rachel was telling her story around the fire.

They go to the Big Tent where they see Mr Tophat himself. He tells the audience that whoever finds the golden coin that night gains access to a secret part of the carnival. During the show, Rachel suddenly spots Adam, who is looking a bit like a creep. When Louise also sees him, the girls realise they both see him going in different directions. The gang decide to split up and look for him.

Akiko and her friend watch back the footage they filmed of Mr Tophat’s performance, only to learn that the man doesn’t appear on the camera. A group of clowns and circus performers begin to chase them, wanting the phone and the footage.

Meanwhile, the other four TMS members go on rides to look for Adam. But while they’re searching, things begin to go incredibly wrong. Rachel fends off some Zombies in the Tunnel of Love while trying to get the golden coin. As soon as she gets it, everything seemingly goes back to harmless fun. It is all part of the show, right?

The following morning, Rachel is no closer to finding Adam. When she waits to be picked up by Gavin, his dad comes to the door looking for him. She soon discovers that her worst nightmare has come true (maybe for a second time) and no one remembers the Carnival of Doom.

No one, but her.

Part Two is another solid part to the story. Again, the carnival setting is really incredible at setting an eerie setting. I’m genuinely excited for Part Three, just to see how Rachel pulls this off. The kids are pretty good actors as well, and really make the magic happen on screen.

What I’ve really appreciated about both parts one and two is that they feel like standalone stories. You could walk in just watching the second episode, and it could be a story within itself. It’s certainly a good way of making the show feel more modern. Not sure how well the 30-minute anthology format would work these days. Though, hell, I’d love to see how that would go, too!

The twists at the end of both first parts are gleefully classic Are You Afraid of the Dark? Something fun of the gentle suffering of these children, mostly because it’s playful and we all know it’s going to end well for everyone bar the baddies. That said, there are still some genuinely creepy moments in this. It feels me with so much love that children get to enjoy this.

Wicked Wednesday: Are You Afraid of the Dark? “Part One: Submitted for Approval” (2019)

I have been dying to watch the 2019 miniseries reboot of Are You Afraid of the Dark? for ages. Though apparently, time has flown since then. I didn’t realise the second season was already released! But we know at this point that being late to the party is my MO.

What can I say? It was well worth the wait. The first episode of this reboot did everything exactly as it should. From the subtly updated theme to the bright characters and fun storyline – it’s all true to the spirit of the original while very much being its own, relevant thing.

Rachel is the new girl at school. She’s decided that making friends is out of the question before she even arrives through the school doors. But there’s more to her than being meek and quiet; she’s being haunted in her dreams by a figure that she calls Mr Tophat.

At school, she’s distracted by her dreams and her fascination with scary stories. She soon catches the attention of several students around school. One boy, Graham spots her H.P. Lovecraft book and later fishes one of her sketches of Mr Tophat out of the bin.

Soon after, Rachel finds an envelope in her locker. On the note, a group called “TMS” ask Rachel a question: vampires or werewolves? After hiding her response for them in the school, she receives a series of these notes asking similar questions until she’s finally invited to a spot in the woods.

While visiting the woods, a group of masked children request she tell them a story for their next meeting. Rachel has a few days to come up with a tale, but she gets true inspiration from her nightmares of Mr Tophat.

Her tale, “Mr Tophat and the Carnival of Doom” tells the story of a little girl who goes to a carnival with her parents. While there, the girl sees horrific things like a man with no eyes and scorpions crawling out of his clothes. But her parents don’t believe her. Neither do the two girls that she tries to warn away from Mr Tophat.

The following day, the little girl sees on that news that the two older girls had disappeared. Only, her parents don’t remember the carnival. And soon, neither does the little girl.

Rachel’s story earns her a place with The Midnight Society. It’s a cute group of kids. I would have loved to have had these kids as friends when I was a child (or hell – even now!). But while everything seems to be all fun and games, the Mightnight Society soon learn that something sinister has come their way when their classmate disappears and a carnival comes to town.

Part One had everything I wanted. It’s very much in the spirit of the original show but forges its own path by creating lives for these characters outside of their stories. It kind of reminded me of “The Tale of the Silver Sight” (2000), which shows the members of the Midnight Society trying to find the original members of the society.

The writers did the right thing by choosing the carnival setting. It’s not only a classic scary setting, but it looks great on film. I can’t wait to watch the kids explore the reality of the carnival.

There are plenty of horror references that are probably meant for adults, but I think it’s done in a way that will intrigue children. Certainly 13-year-old me would have been lapping this up and taking notes. Hand down, I would have aspired to be Akiko, the aspiring zombie filmmaker.

It might have taken three years to get here, but I loved the first episode of this reboot. The carnival setting is fantastic and the baddie is really fun. Obviously a lot of love and care went into this. Can’t wait for episode two.