Are You Afraid Of The Dark? – The Tale Of The Laughing In The Dark

 Picture8

After a couple of okay episodes offering not a lot in the way of chills, we enter darker territory. For reasons no-one cares about, a lot of broken adults claim to be scared of clowns. In a world where spiders, crocodiles, giant freak show jellyfish, murderers – basically- in a world where Australia exists, clowns are of little consequence.

Australian clowns on the other hand….

Regardless, clowns have always been a staple of horror fiction, from Falstaff to Pennywise, so it seems reasonable to feature murderous undead clowns in a children’s television show. Lets see what Lovefilm has to say about the episode:

‘Two 12-year old boys, Josh and Weegee, and Kathy, 10, come upon a spook house, “Laughing in the Dark”, at an amusement park. Even though it is rumored to be haunted by Zeebo the clown, Josh declares he will go through the spook house and bring out Zeebo’s nose as proof that he completed the mission. Josh soon discovers for himself the truth about the mysterious Zeebo’

The first point to note for the more nerdy types in my audience is how the episode starts –

Yes, she’s a subscriber

Rather than opening with our campfire losers as usual, we start with the story first, panning around an Amusement Park and zooming into the maniacal face of a raving loon.

Too Easy

At this point we cut to the campfire where we learn that Kristen is freaked out by clowns which leads to considerable ribbing from the group. Kristen seems to be getting a lot of attention in these early episodes, maybe she will turn out to be a zombie FBI agent sent to infiltrate and eviscerate the gang for the safety of the nation.

That’s what the FBI does, right?

After this brief interlude, we return to the story. Josh, Kathy, and Weegie (America) are exploring an Amusement Park and stumble upon a Funhouse which is supposedly haunted by a dead, cigar smoking criminal clown. Weegie and Kathy are too scared to enter so Josh dutifully mocks them until the sinister owner pops out to spook shit up further. And lo and behold, it’s our old friend Arun Tager from the pilot episode. He’s playing another weirdo, but this time he is more convincing and subtle – a Carney who’d sooner steal your kidneys than your money.

At this point I must ask my American readers – do you all have bizarre themed bedrooms, and no parents? Weegie appears to sleep in an ice-hockey rink, and after 3 episodes we’ve only seen 1 parent (Aunt Dottie) who was completely oblivious to the devious antics of her spawn. Anyway, after we are treated to the ice-rink bedroom, we are sweetened by a scene more cringeworthy than walking in on your decrepid geography teacher fiddling with himself in the supply cupboard. Josh chases Kathy out of her house in his mocking way in a scene that belongs in Hades rather than in anything human eyes should ever have to witness.

Luckily, everything else in the episode is of better quality. There is a fair amount of tension and atmosphere once Josh enters the funhouse, and this develops well for the duration of the episode as Zeebo stalks the teenager. The section where Josh is at home at night (parents absent) is particularly strong and may scare younger viewers.

One thing to mention is the different take on the arrogant teen trope; in the pilot, the arrogant teen does nothing but moan and punch empty air, while in the second, the arrogant teen is a ringleading tossbag

Hiya!

In both episodes, it is the younger, nicer character who saves the day, but here Josh has to resolve the situation himself, using his owns smarts and bravery.
I’ve always loved Amusement Parks and have always envied people in the US for having such a readily available supply. Where I’m from we don’t have many, if any, but we do have other ways of amusing ourselves –

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Step right up!

Any Amusement Parks I visited in my youth consisted of insect infested candy floss (cotton candy), vomit swamped puddles, an as yet unaccounted for stench, tramps, and one of those virtual reality rocket ship rides which goes up, AND DOWN!

WOOOOOOOOWWW! It’s so real it’s unreal!

Any ghost train I’ve ever been on was a trip through darkness while hobos spat in my ear and cut-out cardboard skeletons tragically flopped forwards out of their cardboard box tombs. One particular ghost train consisted entirely of a man in plain clothes who wiggled the four rubber Witch fingers he was wearing at me – that was apparently enough to justify the £4 entrance fee. I never got near anything resembling a funhouse until I visited one in Scarborough in my early teens and loved every high budget second of it.

Maybe I am lenient on shows which feature funny mirrors, mazes, and other spooky family fun. We see a variety of these sorts of devices during the episode, including the final room of many doors, one of which is the exit, the others hiding toxic horrors

Still too easy

The scenes based in this room could have had a few jump scares, but instead they focus on lingering tension.

I have to say that I don’t remember ever seeing this episode, and I should add that it is the best out of the three I’ve reviewed so far. The series is getting better and hopefully this trend will continue. As always, I will conclude with a few comments on the cast. As already mentioned, Tager returns and does a good job in a couple of short scenes. He isn’t over the top, and is balanced enough that we are 50/50 on whether he’s involved with the evil clown, or just playing the part of a creepy carny. Christian Tessier, who plays Josh, has the most impressive resume of any guest star we’ve seen so far. Admittedly that isn’t saying a lot, but Tessier has been a consistent performer since his debut. Indeed, since 1988 there are only 2 years that don’t feature a credit to his name – 1997 and 2009. He has been an important fixture in many series – You Can’t Do That On Television, The Tomorrow People, and Battlestar Galactica to name a few. He can also claim some pretty big films to his fame – The A Team, The Day After Tomorrow, and Underworld: Awakening. Weegie, played by Daniel Finestone, only has 1 other credit to his name, appearing in a few episodes of the animated series For Better Or Worse, while Tamar Koslov (Kathy) has made a career out of voice work for the animated series Arthur, as well as popping up in a few small movies.

Next time round the campfire we’ll be facing a trio of spooky delights with Halloween, Witches, and wish-granting amputated limbs. Night night.

Ready for more terror? Here: https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/are-you-afraid-of-the-dark-the-tale-of-the-twisted-claw/

Are You Afraid Of The Dark – The Tale Of The Lonely Ghost

Should ghosts really be lonely? Think of all the perverted things they could be getting up to

After a shaky first episode, I was apprehensive about the next one; if this was dodgy too I’d probably give up on the series

Although some of us are addicted to punishment
Although some of us are addicted to punishment

For this to succeed, the acting needed to be greatly improved and there had to be an interesting story. This one again focussed on ghosts, but featured two female leads. Lets see what lovefilm has to say about the episode:

Everybody is psyched about summer vacation except Amanda Cameron, because she has to spend the entire summer with her obnoxious cousin, Beth. Amanda is willing to do anything to join Beth and her group of friends, including the initiation: Amanda must sleep all night in the haunted house across the street. Even though Amanda does not believe in ghosts, what she finds in the house changes the past and the future. She might be able to change her fate for the summer after all…

From reading that, I had vague recollections of a girly, ghostly attic, but I must have been thinking of another episode. After watching this, none of it sparked any memories so it’s possible I’d never seen it. The story was fine; girl goes to stay with her annoying cousin who wants nothing to do with her, cousin tasks girl with staying in a haunted house, cousin gets comeuppance. I was half prepared for a silly conciliatory ending where both girls learn to respect and love each other, but luckily things don’t go that way. The episode goes for the more honest approach of ‘once a twat, always a twat’

The episode does have a few missed opportunities though which would have made it more memorable, and perhaps powerful. Firstly, why didn’t cousin Beth and her cadre pull any stunts on Amanda when she was in the haunted house? Did Beth know it actually was haunted? Did she think Amanda suffered from some deep-seated psychological trauma and that a night in a new house would cause an immense shitstorm freakoutorama? No, they leave Amanda to her own devices, and she would have spent an easy, uneventful night in peace had it not been for the pesky appearance of a meddling ghost.

Secondly, the episode does a good job of building tension but the pay-off isn’t worthy. Amanda finally comes into contact with a spooky little girl ghost, she screams, cowers in the corner, and covers her eyes knowing that she’s seen something unspeakably awful.

When she looks, the girl is so tragic that Amanda takes pity on her and tries to help. They could have still followed the story in this way, but went for a big scare too; Amanda pulls away her hands and for a second we see that the room is empty. With the camera close on her face she begins to get up, but suddenly the ghost girl’s head pops into view from the side and we all scream. It may not have fit with the ghost’s desires, and it may have been an obvious, telegraphed scare, but it would have worked damn it.

The general tone of the episode is much improved over the Hilton-esque (bland, messed-up, sweaty in all the wrong places) ways of the pilot. I’m glad to say the cast is much better too. Laura Bertram, who plays Amanda, is a fine young lead, and just about balances the sensitivity and strength required without becoming too whiney or stupidly empowered. Laura Levin (Beth), on the other hand, is like Buzz Crocker all over again. Told that she has to be the grumpy, spoilt, bad-tempered, bossy cousin, she snarls inanely, pouts in an over-the-top fashion, and generally shows no tact or restraint. It’s not quite the unholy mess of the previous episode, but it’s not far away.

Jennie Levesque, who plays The Lonely Ghost, has little to do but is creepy when she needs to be, sympathetic when called to be, and overjoyed when reunited with her mother. The mother, or nanny, played by Sheena Larkin, gives the strongest performance, standing out as someone I’d like to see more of. Again it’s a small role with only a few lines, but she makes every second count. I’m used to well acted bit parts in similar shows such as the wonderful Eerie, Indiana and Larkin has given me hope that this series will deliver.

The final point to make on this episode concerns the wraparound. Yes, a couple of Midnight Society members get a little character growth of their own. It begins and ends with a tender, young teen romance moment with Dave offering Kristen a gift (not of the mouth variety). We have to wait until the end of the story to see her open it. Could there be love brewing in our little group of losers? I’m interested to see if this progresses and what else is in store for the rest of our group.

Before I douse the flames of today’s blog with the water of closing my Kindle, let’s have a glance at the careers of the guest stars. Laura Bertram played Amanda and is the only recognizable name on the roster, having already starred in such popular series as Ready Or Not and Andromeda. On the other end of the scale is Laura Levin as Beth. Levin is to acting what poverty is to a Wall Street Banker, so it’s hardly surprising that she only has a few more minor credits to her name (including a few episodes of Ready Or Not). Pauline Little as Aunt Dottie has had a long career in minor TV movies and series and has lent her voice to some classic cartoons like Sharky And George and Samurai Pizza Cats while Jennie Levesque as The Ghost has only shown up in a few roles in minor series and small movies. Sheena Larkin, as Nanny (who I’ve just found out hails from my very own Belfast – I normally hate people from here on the big screen (due to a crippling lack of talent)), has made appearances in the odd blockbuster such as The Sum Of All Fears and Affliction. Her mainstay though is in smaller movies, although she does pop up in the Are You Afraid Of The Dark movie.

Overall, this was a large improvement over the pilot and I have hope that this improvement will continue as the series progresses. Our next episode deals with one of those misunderstood painted freaks, The Clown. Sleep tight.

Thirsty for more? Look at this: https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/are-you-afraid-of-the-dark-the-tale-of-the-laughing-in-the-dark/

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/

Are You Afraid Of The Dark? Retro Review: An Introduction

January is popularly known as the most terrifying month of the year. Sure, October gets all the headlines thanks to Halloween, Mad Hatter’s Day, and everyone’s favourite – Moldy Cheese Day –

Feet
YEESSSSS!

April is a wasteland of existential despair, but January, is an icy Eternia of horrible beginnings and regret. After the joys of the holiday period, you will likely face the terror of returning to school, university, or work. For most , that means preparing for a new term of skiving followed by a few hours of frantic cramming, or having to speak with colleagues who you may or may not have made nude drunken advances towards during your extravagant solo rendition of Gangnam Style (I assume this is what happens during work parties – I never attend).

Luckily, you can rely on The Spac Hole to provide some much-needed steel against such unthinkable terrors (via a typically tenuous linking introduction) by offering you some thoughts on that fondly remembered anthology show from your youth – Are You Afraid Of The Dark. I’ve recently acquired one of these new fangled boxes of witchcraft, The Kindle, which enables me to watch my lovefilm choices on the train. As I, perhaps like you, am a broken hopeless man-child, much of my list consists of programmes devised for people one-third of my age.

The Rest Consists Of This
The Rest Consists Of This

Over the next few posts I’ll attempt to give my thoughts, rants, and imaginings each episode, while you can leave dick jokes in the comments.

Want to read the first episode review? Go here with your eyes: https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2013/01/29/are-you-afraid-of-the-dark-the-tale-of-the-phantom-cab/