Are You Afraid Of The Dark? The Tale Of The Hungry Hounds

Reading the synopsis of this episode on Lovefilm (now Amazon Prime streaming) before watching, I remembered very clearly some pieces from when I first watched it many years ago. In fact, this is the episode I previously alluded to in a previous post as remembering. Having re-watched it now, I’m not certain why it had such an impact on me, especially when I’ve enjoyed some previous episodes more than I enjoyed this one – maybe it was the first I saw. It does have its merits, which we’ll get to, but overall it isn’t a particularly good show. Then again, when you’re a man of the world, they say you always remember your first, rather than all the hundreds which follow –

My first… the two beside her came soon after. Ahem.

A brief look online suggests that this is one of the most oft and fondly remembered episodes of the series, so it must come down to the performances, the atmosphere, and the visuals, because everything else is rather lackluster. But before we get down to business, lets see what the blurb has to offer:

‘During summer vacation, Amy visits her cousin Pam, who lives in the country. While rummaging through the old family possessions in the attic, they come across a picture of Aunt Dora, who died tragically at a very young age. To their amazement, she looks strikingly like Pam. The girls find a trunk from which a scratching sound emerges at the mention of Aunt Dora’s name’

So, as I mentioned above, the episode has some clear strengths – it has easily the best acting of the series so far, and it has a truly unique, unusual atmosphere – something more akin to Twin Peaks, Jacob’s Ladder, or a nightmare. There is a sadness ripe throughout, and this would have been a much more powerful episode had all the other vital elements been up to scratch. Sadly though, the story is a complete mess, with more hole than plot, and you’ll be left bewildered and frustrated by questions – it truly does seem to be a half-assed story which no-one understands, writers included. The basics are that Pam puts on her Aunt Dora’s old horse-riding jacket which simultaneously turns her into Dora, and opens a portal in the attic to the past/some other dimension, and the cousins/aunts/girls, try to right a past injustice before Al appears and makes some lurid wisecrack.

Horses eh? They used to say I was hung like a –

The whole thing seems to be about guilt, with Pam’s mother never forgiving herself for forgetting to feed the Hungry Hounds of the title – if this still doesn’t make sense, you should probably watch the episode (spoiler – it still won’t make sense). Just a note on that title – I used to live near a chippie called The Hungry Hound. Further up the road, there was a Hungry Hound II. Possibly there was some wacky inter-dimensional salt and vinegar goings on going on on that road. Regardless, both were tasty.

The episode starts with Kristen arriving late to the party, bringing her dog, Elvis, along for effect. This prompts some truly bizarre activity, including the completely absurd ‘my dad says Elvis is king’ comment, which arrives and leaves without prompting or follow-up. That was one of the most cringe-inducing moments of the series so far. Once the pleasantries are out-of-the-way, we meet Pam and Amy, cousins and friends. continuing the dual kid dynamic from previous episodes, this time the girls are actually good friends, and on a level with each other, though there is some basic city girl versus country gal fun early on which doesn’t lead anywhere. Pam loves to ride horses, but her mother tried to stop her at every turn, continuing the useless/absent parents theme of the series – early on Pam’s mother almost causes Pam to break her spine by honking on her horn as Pam is trying to mount a horse. When will these crazy parents learn that being overly cautious only leads inevitably to broken spines!?

Speaking of weird things – what’s with the weird midi file music? And why is the chest of riding gear in the attic covered by a shroud of smoke? Anyway, once the riding jacket goes on, the weird goes off, with a portal and stairs opening to another world and/or time. The image of those stairs was one which I could remember vividly, so kudos to the show for some brain-etching. The girls do a Red Riding Hood through a forest and end up in a graveyard, naturally. Pam goes for an Emmy with a lovely little speech about Foxes, hunger, and being ripped to shreds, and suddenly, a creepy old ghost appears – again, kudos for this startling and unsettling image. Unfortunately, his weird accent veers towards Irish and his voice has some cheesy vocal effect added, so the chills fade rapidly. So Giles had a heart-attack running away from the Hounds? Did Dora die when she fell off the horse? Was she eaten? The build-up to Pam/Dora opening the door is filled with tension for the young-hearted, but even the most timid child would laugh when we see the hungry hounds are a group of the least frightening, small, happy dogs you’re every likely to meet.

RIP THIS BITCH APART!

After somehow surviving this terrible onslaught, Amy makes it back to the attic, where it turns out Pam was hiding all along, behind a pile of jackets. Was it all a dream? Does Pam remember nothing? What was it all about? I’m still none the wiser about why Pam’s mother is so guilty and frightened of horses. Anyway, the curse is lifted and everyone lives happily ever after.

As I mentioned, the acting in this episode was the best so far, at least from the kids. Lets pay our respects. The eagle-eyed among you may have spotted that Pam is played by a young Mia Kirshner, known for her adult roles in a variety of TV shows and movies – Mandy from 24, Kenya from Defiance, Jenny from The L Word, and the titular Elizabeth Short from the poor Black Dahlia. Her successful career is unfortunately not matched by her cousin Amy, played by Jennifer Gula. Gula only has 3 other credits to her name, nothing of note. Equally short-lived is the mother of the piece, played by Ais Snyder who appeared in tiny roles in a handful of 90s films, while David Francis, who played the ghost has popped up in minor parts in big movies like 300 and in bigger parts in a number of notable TV Series like Fortier.  He even returns for 2 more episodes of AYAOTD.

A strange episode then which, though messy, manages to successfully stay with you. Don’t forget to share your memories in the comments and check out my other episode reviews. Next up, we go back to school with The Tale Of The Prom Queen. Sweet Dreams!

Ziggy!
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5 thoughts on “Are You Afraid Of The Dark? The Tale Of The Hungry Hounds

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