Are You Afraid of the Dark

Are You Afraid of the Dark S1E2 “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark”

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

Are You Afraid of the Dark S1E1 “The Tale of the Phantom Cab”

I owe a lot to Are You Afraid of the Dark. This twisted little Canadian show has a starring role in my childhood. For one, I had two older sister who loved to torment me.

Technically, this episode first aired in Canada in 1990, which means I was -months old at that point. When it aired in the US in August of 1992, I was just over a year old. But thank goodness for Nickelodeon’s constant reruns of older episodes. Though once I started having nightmares about the characters, I think my mom put a stop to my watching.

“The Tale of the Phantom Cab” is not on of the stronger episodes, but it is probably one of the more hilariously bad one. The 90’s were fantastic at making things spooky that look incredibly dated and silly decades later.

The Midnight Society are perhaps the coolest group of dorks around. For one, they have the sickest name ever. But they are just a gaggle of children who have nothing in common besides their love for telling weird stories around a campfire.

In the first episode (not the pilot), it’s newbie Frank’s turn to tell the story. The Midnight Society allow him to tell a story as a part of an initiation. If they like his story, he’s in.

Frank’s story is “The Tale of the Phantom Cab,” a rather urban-legend-esque story about two brothers, Denny and Buzz. The brothers are hiking in the woods, and are lost. Frank tells us in his voice-over that Denny is strong and smart while his young brother is a bit of a geek.

Speaking of geek, it’s Buzz’s fault that the brothers get lost as he’s holding his compass too close to his belt buckle. While you’d think that compass-usage 101 is what you have to learn before going hiking alone, I guess it’s not in Canada. But as dark falls, the brothers bump into a man who introduces himself as Flynn.

Flynn tells the boys to follow him, as he says that he knows the woods well. He leads them to a sort of hobbit hole/hermit’s den in a clearing. Once they arrive, Flynn tells the brothers that the doctor who lives there can help them, but he charges a steep price.

As the boys approach the cottage, the bushes begin to shake and laugh. So the boys run to the door and pound at it, begging to be let in. And it’s Doctor Vink, a series re-occurring character, who lets them in.

He agrees to allow the boys to use his phone, but only if they answer his riddle. Buzz becomes over-confident when he answers the warm-up straight away. But it’s the real riddle that stumps him. “What’s weightless, can be seen by the naked eye, and if put in a barrel, will make it lighter?”

For some reason, just because the kids (including the Midnight Society) can’t guess the answer straight away, they all assume that there is no answer. Which, in my opinion, a riddle without an answer is a pretty stupid riddle. It’s pretty tough watching this episode when you’re good at riddles. Or even vaguely familiar with answering them. I mean, this one is pretty easy, kids.

Since neither brother can answer, they are sent away to catch a cab. But before they leave, Doctor Vink does offer them the option of giving a specimen, namely a hand. Both boys opt out.

When the boys hop into the cab, they realise that Flynn is their driver. He begins to tell him his story. Years ago, he dropped Doctor Vink off in his cab. The doctor asked him the same riddle, and Flynn failed to answer it. He later had his hand taken from him after he crashed his cab in the woods.

For years Flynn has been driving those who also failed to answer the riddle to their certain death. The laughing heard earlier is in fact the trapped ghosts of the victims. The boys begin to panic when they realise that they will be the next victims. Just before they are about to crash, Buzz has a sudden revelation, and knows that the answer is “hole”.

The boys suddenly find themselves free from the cab, and know that they’ve freed all the spirits of those who died. A ranger pulls up and tells the boys that their parents are looking for them. Relieved, the boys hop into the ranger’s jeep.

Frank’s story gives him a round of unanimous thumbs up, allowing him into the Midnight Society. But I think the kids are mostly just in awe that that damn riddle could actually be solved.

They are idiots, but they’re so damn cute.

“The Tale of the Phantom Cab” certainly isn’t AYAOTD‘s most original tale, but it is worth remembering that many of these urban legends scared the pants off us as kids (for me it was always “Bloody Mary). There’s something great about recalling childhood scares because it’s a whole lot more innocent than the things we grow up to be frightened of.

Highlight quotes of the episode:

“Don’t worry, I’ll smack you when we get home.” – Denny

“Sounds like one of those riddles that can’t be solved.” – an idiot

“Nice going, but you’re still a loser.” – Denny