Are You Afraid Of The Dark – The Tale Of The Phantom Cab

The first episode in any tv series should introduce viewers to the central characters, tone, and ideas of the show. This way, prospective audiences can decide if it’s something they wish to continue with, or something they should avoid, like a spider shooting zombie

Something To Avoid
Something To Avoid

Ideally, the opening episode should kick so much ass that Jean Claude Van Damme would have a hard time dancing his way out of tuning in to the next one.

Awww, Yeaah
Awww, Yeaah

This being an anthology show of sorts, the usual rules may not apply – like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits etc before it, each episode features a standalone story with standalone characters. However, taking a cue from many anthology movies, each episode and indeed the show as a whole features wraparound characters and plot.

The first episode introduces us to our narrators and the premise of the series. A gang of friends, teens called the midnight society meet around a campfire in the woods to tell spooky stories. It’s not much of an idea, but it is the sort of thing I loved as a kid, and the sort of thing I wished I could have been part of.

I Just Wanted To Be Loved
I Just Wanted To Be Loved

We briefly meet the group, but don’t learn much about them except that they probably have a lot of experience with bullies

Why yes, you may rid me of my pecuniary funds for midday sustenence
Why yes, you may rid me of my pecuniary funds for midday sustenance

We learn that they have some archaic rituals, sprinkling sugar on fire, opening each tale with the same evocation, and most importantly, voting on the quality of any newcomer’s story in order to initiate them into the group. Our newcomer, Frank, at first glance appears to be a mole on behalf of the school bully initiative, possibly joining to gain some valuable ammunition in his war against the freaks and geeks

As if any was needed
As if any was needed

He is all hilarious teen macho posturing and has based his look off Rufio from Hook, but after some general male ball cuppage, his story begins.

I'm looking for a lady... with a hook
I’m looking for a lady… with a hook

Lets have a look at the episode blurb from lovefilm:

Two brothers, Buzz and Denny, get lost while hiking in the woods. As night falls, they are directed by a stranger to a cabin where they might seek help from old Dr. Vink. The strange Dr. Vink poses a riddle to them which they mus solve before he will let them phone their parents. The boys cannot solve it and he throws them out into the forest. The boys panic as they are left in the woods alone under Dr. Vink’s curse. Their only hope is the Phantom Cab.

Ignoring the myriad spoilers above, just from the title I remembered parts of this episode from my youth. Although the show came out in 92, it was probably 95 or 96 that I first saw it. Either way, it’s quite some time so it must have made some impact on me. Not that my 12-year-old self would have been scared by a show like this given that I was already well versed in King, Craven, Carpenter, and Romero by that age

Some pictures tell you all you need to know about a person
Some pictures tell you all you need to know about a person

I remembered a creepy fairy tale house in the forest, but not what was in it, and I remembered a taxi zooming through the forest towards a fiery crash unless a question was successfully answered. As I watched, more pieces came back to me, such as the jittery bushes and Dr. Vink (who would show up in subsequent episodes).

Unfortunately, what I didn’t remember (and if I’m honest, didn’t expect) was how terrifyingly bad the acting was. The story consists of five characters; the two brothers, Denny and Buzz Crocker (America), Dr. Vink, the cab driver Flynn, and a Park Ranger. The Park Ranger only has one line and can be dismissed, while that noted thespian Aron Tager hams it up more than a Vincent Price themed pig orgy. The cab driver (Brian Dooley) has a complex dual role to contend with so it is understandable that a lesser actor could get confused. He struggles to deftly manage the positions of potential saviour, weird wood walker, aggressor, lunatic ghost, cab driver, and more, never really convincing anyone that he is any of the aforementioned things. Like I said though, it takes a higher class of performer to traverse such varied characters

Hello Again!

That leaves us with our ‘heroes’, a term which I truly wish to never sully again in such a manner.

Wrong Sully
Wrong Sully

They have a typical older/younger brother dynamic going on, with all the clichés and none of the charms which come with such territory. I appreciate that both actors are young, but given that the series depends on upon child actors for its existence, you’d think the director would have tempted them with some candy or threatened them with death by shark to entice a better performance out of them. Their lines are blown away like a coke fiend furiously swiping his stash into the toilet as the Narc squad tears down the door. I’d call them wooden, but that wood be doing disservice to the best actor in the episode

I couldn't get an actual screen grab
I couldn’t get an actual screen grab of the ghost bush

They don’t convey any of the feelings that you would expect – annoyance, frustration, confusion, disgust, fear of an imminent explosive death – and to top it off they nonchalantly shrug off the whole affair by quipping with the person who saves them with the same thing that nearly got them killed in the first place. It’s enough to make you want to pull your own legs off

Last one, I promise

Luckily, The Midnight Society feature a more promising set of actors. Although their respective parts are small in each episode, each part adds up. I seem to remember that a few characters got more involved as the series proceeded, so hopefully this bunch of kids, as well as the cast of each story improves.

Finally, let’s do the cast some credit and cast a glance over their careers to date, as some of the guest stars on this show have become more famous since appearing. Most of the team on this episode have appeared on other Canadian and US TV shows and have done various pieces of voice work. Ted Dillon, who played The Ranger, has appeared in decent series such as The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Littlest Hobo, and has done voice work for the Rainbow 6 series. His shining honour in my book is landing the hallowed role of Commandant Lassard in the ill-fated animated Police Academy series. I’m sure he provided many, many laughs.

Jason Tremblay, who played the convincingly tough Buzz, shockingly has only 6 credits to his name. This raw talent’s career peaked with the respectable movie The Kid, but shock of shocks – IMDB says he will be back for another AYAOTD episode. Little brother Sean Ryan has actually appeared in some good movies such as To Die For  and In The Mouth Of Madness, while Brian Dooley (Flynn) has been in a large number of TV movies as actor, writer, and director. Aron Tager (Vink) waited until his 60s before embarking on his televisual conquest. Since his first taste, he has been a mainstay of lesser known TV series and movies, and occasionally pops up in more famous fare like Serendipity and X-Men.

Next time, we’ll be entering a haunted house in ‘The Tale Of The Lonely Ghost’, so until then….

Sweet Dreams
Sweet Dreams

For more retro bits, read all about episode 2 here: https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/are-you-afraid-of-the-dark-the-tale-of-the-lonely-ghost/

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