Are You Afraid of the Dark?

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.

Wicked Wednesday: Are You Afraid of the Dark? S3E7 “The Tale of the Carved Stone”

It’s difficult to believe by the dreary, rainy weather we’ve been having in Britain, but summer is inching closer and closer.

As always in the summer, I can’t get enough of spooky nostalgia. Sign me up for all the 90s horror and 80s slasher paperbacks – even if things have felt as far from summer as possible recently. And after a particularly hectic week, it was once again time to settle down with an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?

“The Tale of the Carved Stone” is campy fun, probably because it’s one of King Gary’s tales. He has his usual trick set up, this time tricking the other Midnight Society members into thinking that there’s a figure in a hat waiting for them by the fire.

It’s, of course, just a costume. But one that adds flair to his tale, as well as provides imagery for the tale’s main villain: a monk.

Alison is new in town. She’s desperate to make friends. So when she spots that a group of kids her age drop a pair of goofy glasses, she rushes to return them. But she quickly realises that the glasses are broken.

Wanting to find a new pair to replace the broken ones and impress the other kids, she goes to Sardo’s to shop. Once there, though, Sardo convinces her not to buy glasses, but to purchase a carved stone. He claims it’s an Egyptian friendship stone. He’s clearly making up nonsense, but Alison buys it anyway.

After returning home with the stone, Alison tests out the stone. When the other kids arrive at the door, they become angry that all she had was some broken glasses to return. So clearly, the stone has a much different power than promised.

Alison discovers the stone’s powers when she throws it at a mirror. She learns that the stone allows her to travel in time through mirrors. When in the past, she meets Thomas Jefferson Bradshaw, whose initials are carved on the bench in her bedroom.

The two become quick friends and agree to explore Alison’s present (TJB’s future) and go to the movies. But before you can say “It’s Sar-DOUGH!” the kids come face-to-face with a menacing monk, Brother Septimus, who demands the stone be returned to him. He’s a time traveller, and is really missing that time travel.

A chase back and forth through time ensues. But when the monk catches up to the two children, he reveals that he needs to take a life so he can travel again (I think). He pulls off his glove to show off his nasty long nail. Before he can even attack, Alison rushes at him, breaking the mirror and getting the monk stuck somewhere in time for good.

Back in her present, Alison sees her name now carved with TJB. Apparently those ten minutes together really made them besties. And somehow, for a young teenage girl this seems…swell? Glad she made a friend, but you probably want to focus on meeting someone born within at least the same decade as you.

This is one episode where I could find a few ways of improving things. For one, why couldn’t TJB be a teenager like Alison? It’s a bit weird that he’s so much younger than her. And why is Brother Septimus a monk? What sort of weird group of monks does this guy roll with? By making him an evil wizard or something, that back story is easily explained. Time travelling monks? Well, that I don’t quite get. And do kids find monks terrifying?

But this is a cool episode overall. When Are You Afraid of the Dark? captures the imagination (like with time-travel mirrors), is when it works best.

Also, Richard Dumont who plays Sardo? I hope wherever he is, he’s living his best and happiest life. That man is pure gold.

Wicked Wednesday: Are You Afraid of the Dark? S3E6 “The Tale of the Bookish Baby-Sitter”

Are You Afraid of the Dark is like balm for the soul. It’s always pure pleasure, even if it isn’t one of the more iconic episodes.

I sat infront of the TV this week and let episode after episode play. Season 3 really has some classics. But “The Tale of the Bookish Baby-Sitter” was one I had never seen before.

This episode features one of Betty Ann’s stories. As always, it’s full of fantasy and healthy doses of the supernatural. Her story this week is a story about stories.

Ricky is a 12-year-old pain-in-the-ass. He’s a brat that’s addicted to the television. When his mom prepares to go out one night, she tells him that he’s going to have a baby-sitter. He argues that he’s too told for one (I agree), but nevertheless, his baby sitter Belinda arrives.

Belinda comes off as a ~free spirit~, mystifying Ricky’s mother when she answers the door. Belinda is a new age sort of girl who wears a cloak unironically and forces children to read books. But as she’s highly recommended, Ricky’s mom leaves with a shrug.

It isn’t long before Ricky and Belinda clash. After she turns off the TV, she tells him he can do whatever he wants…so long as he reads 5 minutes of her book. Aloud.

But even five minutes is too long for Ricky. He immediately puts down the book, only to open it again and start reading another one. After that, he tosses the book aside to play video games in his room.

While minding his own business, Ricky is attacked by a knight in armour. Then a ghost. He soon finds ‘Belinda’ who encourages him to burn pages of the book. He does so eagerly, only to discover that ‘Belinda’ is really a witch, and the real Belinda is trying to save him.

The two kids manage to get away to the kitchen. There Belinda explains to him what’s going on. Ase he never finished any of his stories, they’ve all become mixed together. Burning the pages didn’t exactly help either. So to end the nightmare, he must finish the stories with his own imagination.

But a kid like Ricky has no imagination. Or so he thinks. He makes weak attempts at story telling while he and the baby-sitter are chased around the house. Eventually, Belinda hands him a red book. When he opens it, he finds himself in a dungeon…inside the story.

It’s up to Ricky to find it within himself to make up a story and save himself.

There are some Midnight Society tales that are more whimiscal than scary. This almost sounds like a story I’d want to be in. Maybe not being attacked by knights with axes, but I think I could have a fun time getting sucked into books. I actually enjoyed Betty Ann’s cute little joke with her book prop at the end. Imagine having the actual patience to make a prop just to mess with someone for two seconds?

Anyway. As always, I still think this show mostly holds up. Episodes like this might not be scary by today’s standards, but they still manage to capture the imagination. And perhaps it’s even a good cautionary tale for the recluctant reader in your life…