Are You Afraid Of The Dark – The Tale Of The Pinball Wizard

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Greetings, Glancers! Since the series disappeared from Amazon Prime, I haven’t bothered trying to catch up on any more episodes. I see on the stats though that the old posts get a few views every so often so it’s time to kick off my ‘hilarious’ reviews once more. Looking at the title and the synposis, I have no memory of this episode. Does it feature a deaf, dumb, and blind kid who sure plays a mean pinball? I sure hope so. About that synopsis though:

Ross is a latchkey kid and spends his time after school playing pinball at the mall. Mr Ohlsen, manager of the arcade, leaves him there alone and warns him not to play the ‘Mystery Machine’. Temptation gets the best of Ross and he plays it anyway. He becomes absorbed in the game, loses track of time, and soon finds that he is locked inside the mall.

You see, this is promising. Malls and horror go hand in hand like zombies and chopper blades. And to that the fact (as I’ve probably mentioned here before) that I’ve always loved the idea of being trapped in a mall overnight – as a kid it was one of my dreams. It still kind of is. American Malls, I should add, are a hell of a lot different from the crap we have over here.

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All these are dead

While you have fountains and playing areas and multi-levels and hundreds of stores, all I had growing up was a large supermarket (or one on either end) with a few minor stores dotted around it. Everything would be on a single level, and instead of fountains we had tramps pissing in the corner. My favourite destinations were the Toy Store, naturally, and the doughnut joint where you could watch the doughnuts being made, splatting into the fryer, travelling up the belt, and being covered in sugar. For a while there things got better, with higher quality shops and better options – now though it’s just pound (dollar) shops and pointless clothes places. Who buys clothes, seriously?

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I rarely do

Regardless, who wouldn’t want to be stuck in a mall overnight. Ignoring being caught by the authorities, think of all the awesome antics you could get up to and all the food you could devour. If there was an arcade, of course you’d have to spend some time there. Which takes us back to the episode. We open as we generally do, with the campfire weirdos prepping for another night of just-pubescent terror. David is playing on his Gameboy (90s, yo) while Betty Anne watches, until Eric turns the game off. Shockingly, David does not use the Gameboy as truncheon to sprinkle shards of Eric’s skull into the fire. Fake Rufio (Frank), Kirsten, and Kiki all discuss videogames for a few moments until Gary shows up to tell his tale, reminding the viewer that in real life we can’t simply hit the reset button when shit goes south. And so, our Tale begins.

We get some nice opening shots of the mall which make 90s me jealous and angry about not living in America. Does anyone know what Mall this is and if it has appeared in any other media? It looks familiar. Ross is our (anti?) hero, hunting for quarters and dimes in the mall’s fountains and he is accosted by what appears to be a homeless person wrapped in luxury bedding. After being interrupted by an indoor-shades-wearing security chump, while sinister thumpy piano music plays, Ross checks out a super-soaker with two giant bronze dildos adorning its surface. Ross goes to speak to Mr Olsen, where we learn that Ross is doing an awful Sylvester Stallone impression. Is this supposed to make him look tough? Italian? It’s a very awkward performance. Olsen tells him to get out after he uncovers a mysterious new pinball machine. What the hell is this store? It looks like a Cobbler’s – there are no furnishings or paint on the walls or decorations of any type, just some old timey cash register and a fiery pinball machine.

Olsen has a change of heart and decides to leave Ross in charge for a while so that he can grab a late lunch. In true forbidden fruit style he reminds Ross not to touch anything, especially the new pinball machine. Can you see where this is going? In Ross’s defence, he does last about four seconds before abandoning his duties and going on a silver ball hunt. He appears to shove his hands down his pants to check his own balls are in place first. Note to employers – if this guy enters your offices, do not approach him or make contact in any way. The mystery machine has a cartoonish court jester as its central relief, surrounded by other regal emblazons. Inexplicably, Ross begins touching his genitals again while saying ‘wow’, and then sticks some money in the slot. As he plays, we get a shot of Olsen hanging around outside, listening and grinning. It’s all highly dubious and seemingly perverted.

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Any excuse

A hot girl enters the store looking for her music box to be returned and Ross thinks to himself I have some silver balls I’d like to return to your music box. This scene is very awkward too, at least this time it’s deliberate. She leaves and, you’ve guessed it, Ross rushes out back to touch himself again. After a brief montage of gaming cliches Ross realizes he has somehow been left in the store alone and the Mall has closed. Things take a creepy turn as Ross panics and receives mysterious, prophetic phone calls. Two Gestapo or MIB jump-scare into view and terrify Ross with their detachable limbs. A whole unit of these mindless fucks appear, but it seems they can’t pass over water – must be white-walkers or Baptists or something.

Hot girl appears once more, shrieking about keys and tiaras, while an extra from Prince Of Thieves struggles to hold her without touching her boobs. At least Ross appears to be somewhat resourceful, shoveling handfuls of water towards the MIB which makes them dance out of shot. Is Ross in the game? Has the game come to life? Nobody knows. Still, there’s some good jump-scares and weirdness and old school game noises to enjoy. The musical cues and music in general are pretty funny. He grabs a magical tiara then chases hot girl down a Workers Only entry, only to be jump-scared by Grotbags. That was actually a pretty effective and well timed scare – we’ve had a few of these in this episode, so kudos. I can imagine kids being freaked out by all this – on a personal note, I’ve always found high pitched cackling, the likes of which the witch emits here, to be deeply disturbing. You know those moments you have in the house in the dark where you think something is standing behind you or about to grab your foot as you tiptoe upstairs? It’s high-pitched wails that do it for me – I imagine myself entering a room and seeing a shadow figure rush towards me, wailing, and my sphincter sneezes.

Next up we have more awkward scenes with Ross and Sophie about keys, music boxes, tiaras, an executioner, the witch, thrones – Ross is as confused as us. Things get more confusing when Ross gently rolls a handful of marbles (clearly pinballs) towards the witch. The witch sees them coming but rather than step to the side, open her legs and let them roll through, or simply stand still and watch them bounce of her feet, she somehow does the whole Home Alone back flip onto her arse. There’s a torturous ‘chase the slow moving Tiara’ scene, more weird stuff happens, and just as it looks like the game has been won the bad guys come and send Ross back to the ground floor. Ross learns from his mistakes, grabs the supersoaker, and heads off to battle. After some furious squirting the enemy is vanquished and hot girl is crowned – yay! Just time for a twist ending and some more chatter from the campfire weirdos.

If there’s a message here, it seems to be that videogames are evil and for losers. Presumably as it’s the last episode of the season, Campfire Ross looks directly into the camera and says ’till next time’. Yeah, don’t push your luck, son. Some of the weirdos don’t even return for Season 2. Anyway, this was an inconsistent and weird episode that had good ideas and some good scares, but was let down my poor acting and too short a running time to really explore what they wanted to do. Still, for any kids watching this at the time it would have been a decent enough end to the season.

Lets take a look at the roster from today’s episode. Joe Posca starred as Ross and has some good, mostly bad moments, and according to IMDB he only managed two further credits – as Puerto Rican boy in some TV movie and Drew’s Teammate in some TV series. The hot girl – Sophie – on the other hand was played by Polly Shannon who has had a pretty bright career as writer, producer, and actress. She has been in a bunch of TV movies and series including Leap Years, La Femme Nikita, and The Girl Next Door. AJ Henderson (Olson) makes his second appearance in AYAOTD so we won’t talk about him again. One of the interesting things about the episode is that a few of the actors play dual roles – the bed mummy at the start is also the witch, the security guard is also the Sheriff, and the Wrestler, Nutcracker, and Executioner are all played by Normand James – he of the unnecessary D. He plays three roles here, but that’s all he ever did apparently. Tom Rack has had a long and varied career though, aside from his dual performance in this episode he has also been in many shorts, TV shows, done voice work and bigger movies such as The Human Stain and 300 albeit in minor roles. He also returns in a later AYAOTD episode. Finally, Witch/Mummy is played by Nathalie Gautier who performance her seemed to be her last, having previously been in a small number of unknown movies like Mind Benders and Night Of The Dribbler.

Let us know in the comments what you though of this one. Next time up, it’s The Tale Of….. Sweet Dreams!

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