Lessons Learned From Are You Afraid of the Dark, Season 1
Are You Afraid of the Dark? was a great fucking show. Cynics often point to it as nothing more than predictable rehashings of trite horror premises and while this criticism is not entirely baseless, it completely misses the point of the show. AYAOTD was a children's show, and it was intentionally built around trite horror premises in order to expose young, uncultured audiences to the basic conventions of the genre. In this endeavor, the show unquestionably succeeded. However few people realize that the program had a secondary goal, and a far more controversial one at that. See, Are You Afraid of the Dark? didn't just want to scare us; it wanted to scare us into being better people, not unlike the Catholic Church. Each and every episode of the show had one or two important lessons hidden in it, each one more important than the last. Since I'm a nice guy, and since I've got a little too much free time, I've decided to point out the things that the show's producers wanted to scare us into believing. Below you'll find synopses of the Season 1 episodes, along with the lessons to be learned from them. Enjoy.
Episode 1 - The Tale of the Phantom Cab
Synopsis: A tough kid named Denny and his dorky little brother Buzz go hiking in the woods and get lost. Night falls, and the pair become increasingly cold and scared. They meet a mysterious man named Flynn who offers to take them to a doctor who can help them. The doctor in question is Dr. Vink, an eccentric scientist who collects specimens for his research. Vink agrees to help the boys, but only if they can solve a riddle. When they fail, he kicks them out and tells them a cab will pick them up nearby, despite the fact they're in the middle of the fucking nowhere. The boys are surprised to find the cab waiting for them right where Vink said it would be, and even more surprised to find that Flynn is the cab driver. After the boys enter the cab, Flynn explains that Vink's riddle is cursed and anyone who fails to answer it is doomed to die in a horrible car crash in his cab. As the boys futilely struggle to open the car doors, Flynn reminds them they still have time to solve the riddle. At the last second, Buzz solves the riddle and saves the day.
Lesson #1: Playing outside is stupid and dangerous.
Lesson #2: Don't talk to strangers.
Episode 2 - The Tale of Laughing in the Dark
Synopsis: In 1924, a cigar-loving clown named Zeebo stole $4000 from the circus he worked for and made a run for it. When police chased him into a local amusement park, he hid in the Laughing in the Dark funhouse. Zeebo probably would have gotten away with too, but a cigar he discarded accidentally set the funhouse on fire and the place burned down with him inside. A few years later, a new funhouse was erected on the same spot and a dummy of Zeebo was placed inside to capitalize on the story. Rumors quickly spread that the new funhouse is haunted by Zeebo's ghost. Many years later, Josh (You Can't Do That On Television's Christian Tessier) is at the park with his friend Weegee. After Josh makes fun of Weegee one too many times for being a wuss, Weegee dares him to enter the haunted funhouse. Josh ups the dare: not only will he enter the funhouse, he'll rip the fucking nose off the Zeebo dummy and make Weegee wear it. Josh succeeds in stealing Zeebo's nose, but the clown's ghost torments him until he gives it back.
Lesson #1: Don't steal or otherwise deface someone else's property.
Lesson #2: Clowns are fucking creepy.
Episode 3 - The Tale of the Lonely Ghost
Synopsis: Amanda Cameron is a young girl who goes to stay with her aunt, her cousin, and their lonely elderly tenant for the summer while her parents are away on a research expedition. Almost immediately, she is tormented and teased by Beth, her antagonistic cousin. Beth eventually promises to be nice to Amanda, provided she's brave enough to spend a night in the abandoned house next door. Beth then tells her the story of a little girl who lived in the house. The girl's father was injured in World War II, and her mother went away to take care of him. The girl was supposed to go to her grandmother's house, but on the way there, she ran into some bullies who chased her back to her house and locked her in her room. Her grandmother didn't know her granddaughter was coming to stay with her, so she starved to death alone in her bedroom. To pass her initiation, Amanda must sleep in that very room. When Amanda enters the room, she finds backwards writing on the wall and sees the girl's ghost in a full length mirror. She freaks the fuck out and starts screaming, Amanda's aunt hears and both girls get in trouble. The next day, the aunt sends both girls back to the house to wash the writing off the wall, believing it to be a prank set up by one of the girls. When Amanda and Beth enter the room, they find it fucking covered in backwards writing. Beth then looks into the mirror and sees a beautiful doll collection. Without a second thought, she runs into the mirror after it and becomes trapped. The ghost then emerges from the mirror and gives Amanda a locket with a picture of her mother on it. Amanda recognizes the girl's mother as her aunt's elderly tenant and brings her to the girl's bedroom. The mother and daughter enter the mirror together and Beth is freed. Amanda feels good that she helped the ghost and Beth learns an important lesson about not being a bitch.
The Lesson: Don't be a cunt to your friends and family, or a ghost may trap you in a mirror for several hours.
Episode 4 - The Tale of the Twisted Claw
Synopsis: The nigh before Halloween, Dougie and Kevin terrorize an old Miss Clove by spraying shaving cream in her face and breaking her antique vase. The next night, they go trick-or-treating at her house, assuming she won't recognize them in their costumes. Instead of candy, she gives them a wooden vulture's claw which she claims can grant wishes. It turns out it does, but like every other evil wish granting object in the world, it completely fucks you over if you don't word your wish carefully. After making several wishes that turn out horribly, the boys wish they'd never harassed Miss Clove. Everything goes back to normal.
The Lesson: If you assault an elderly woman, don't go trick-or-treating at her house.
Episode 5 - The Tale of the Hungry Hounds
Synopsis: Amy is a city girl who spends the summer with her cousin Pam (Mia Kirshner) and her family on their farm. One day, Pam and Amy find a locked chest in the attic that belonged to their Aunt Dora, who died in a tragic riding accident while riding her horse and who conveniently looks exactly like Pam. The girls use a Ouija board to ask Dora for the combination to open the chest... and they get it. Inside the chest, they find Dora's old riding clothes. Pam puts on Dora's riding jacket and is suddenly possessed by her dead aunt. Suddenly the attic window swings open and there's a staircase leading down into the past or some shit like that. There's this whole thing where Dora talks about how she had a pet fox, then an undead farmhand yells at her because she forgot to feed the dogs in the barn, then sometime after that the dogs come after the two girls. Amy tries to feed the dogs, but they're not interested, then the fox shows up and lures them away. After that, Pam/Dora rides off on her horse. Somehow the spell is broken, even though the dogs never got fed. This episode kinda sucks.
The Lesson: Stay the fuck out of the attic, it's not safe.
Episode 6 - The Tale of the Super Specs
Synopsis: Weeds accidentally casts a spell on some novelty X-Ray Specs at Sardo's Magic Mansion, thus opening up a dimensional portal. When his girlfriend Marybeth puts on the glasses, she sees shadowy figures from a parallel universe and a mysterious hooded woman dressed all in black. She enlists the help of Sardo to close the portal between the universes, but unfortunately, Sardo is not a very experienced magician. He fails to seal the opposing universe, and the other universe's magician, The Lady in Black, seals their universe instead. The episode ends with Weeds, Marybeth, and Sardo trapped in darkness.
The Lesson: Don't pretend to cast magic spells; you might destroy the universe.
Episode 7 - The Tale of the Captured Souls
Synopsis: Danny and her parents take a trip to a rustic vacation resort run by a mysterious teenage boy named Peter. Peter tells them that he's running the resort while his parents are on a cruise, but in reality, his parents are long dead. Peter is actually a very old man, but he has wired all of the hotel's mirrors so that they produce magnetic fields that somehow allow him to drain the life out of others and keep himself forever young. He reveals his plan to Danny and implores her to join him, but instead she breaks the machine to reverse its flow and save her parents from death. Peter reverts to his actual age, apologizes to Danny, and crawls off to die.
The Lesson: If you have a machine that allows you to drain other people's lifeforce to extend your own, don't tell anyone.
Episode 8 - The Tale of the Nightly Neighbors
Synopsis: When a new family moves in across the street from Emma, everyone in the neighborhood begins getting sick and sporting band-aids in their necks. Emma becomes convinced that the new neighbors are vampires and enlists her brother Dayday's help to prove it. When they see parents out in daylight, they finally accept the fact that their neighbors are just eccentric, not vampires, and invite the son over to play video games that night. The twist is that Emma was partially right: the "son" is a vampire lord and his "parents" are his human servants. Emma and her family get added to his list of victims.
The Lesson: If you suspect that any of your neighbors are vampires, you're probably right. Kill them before it's too late!
Episode 9 - The Tale of the Sorcerer's Apprentice
Synopsis: Dean is an unpopular high school student who sucks at everything. When a visiting archeologist shows his World Cultures class an ancient Babylonian scepter that once belonged to an evil sorcerer named Goth, Dean becomes transfixed by it. He is so interested in it that he decides to stay after class and learn more about it. Dr. Oliver allows him to examine the artifact privately, and it hyponotizes him to serve Goth. After that, Dean starts wearing leather jackets and becomes one of the most powerful kids in school. He uses the dark powers granted to him by Goth to convert others to the cause and begins work on a spell to bring the evil sorcerer back to life so he can take over the world. Meanwhile Alix, Dean's only friend, grows concerned about his behavior and starts spying on him. She accidentally stumbles on the plot to resurrect Goth and is taken prisoner by Dean's henchmen who bring her to their school's abandoned swimming pool where Goth will be resurrected. As Dean dumps the spell components into the pool, Alix notices the sorcerer's scepter nearby and rushes for it. She pulls a power crystal out of its mouth and Dean's minions collapse, Goth's hold on them broken. Unfortunately, she's too late, Goth is almost fully resurrected and Dean is still under his power. Frustrated, she throws the power crystal at Goth. This finally breaks Goth's hold on Dean, but Goth quickly uses his magic to paralyze him; then he goes after Alix. As Goth tells her that she should be honored to be the first victim of his second coming, Dean tells her to dump some nearby chlorine into the pool. She does, and it interacts unfavorably with the other spell components, killing Goth once again. Dean and Alix leave the abandoned swimming pool and live happy ever after. Later on, Dr. Oliver is shown retrieving the scepter and musing to herself that there will always be other high schools. Guess Dean and Alix might still be fucked after all.
The Lesson: Learning about stuff is, like, um, gay... and stuff.
Episode 10 - The Tale of Jake and the Leprechaun
Synopsis: When Jake gets the lead role in a play called "Will O' The Wisp", he wishes he was as good an actor as Aaron, one of the adult leads. The stage manager gives Jake a recipe for a special tea that Aaron claims helps him concentrate and Jake decides to give it a try. He seeks out Sean O'Shaney, a pint-sized herbologist, to help him obtain the ingredients. When Sean sees the recipe, however, he angrily sends Jake away. Back at rehearsal, Jake gets freaked out when his voice drastically changes during a reading. He seeks out Sean again, this time for help with the weird transformation he feels himself undergoing, and Sean agrees to observe a rehearsal. After watching the dress rehearsal, Sean realizes that Aaron is really an evil banshee named Gort, and that the oath Jake is taking during the play is slowly turning him into a frog. Gort plans to transform Jake and steal his soul, but Sean, who is really a centuries-old leprechaun, defeats his ancient enemy, reverses the spell, and saves his young friend.
Lesson #1: Theater sucks. When someone tries to convince you to join drama club, they want to steal your soul... or sodomize you.
Lesson #2: All male midgets will eventually reveal themselves to be leprechauns.
Episode 11 - The Tale of the Dark Music
Synopsis: When Andy's single working mom inherits her dead uncle's house, she thinks that things are finally going to get better for her and her two children. But for Andy, things get worse. Not only does he accidentally piss off the local bully, Koda, and get his fucking ass kicked, but an evil presence in his new home's root cellar keeps trying to devour his soul. Eventually Andy figures out that the monster is summoned by music and he lures Koda down to the basement to scare him, locking him in there alone with the monster. However, Andy leaves the music on a few seconds too long and Koda is eaten by the monster. When Andy ventures into the basement, he find a brand new bicycle waiting for him. A voice from behind the root cellar door informs Andy that as long as he keeps feeding it, he can have anything he desires. An evil smile overtakes Andy's face, letting the viewers know that he has accepted the monster's offer.
Lesson #1: Stay the fuck out of the basement, it's not safe.
Lesson #2: Killing people is a great way to get free stuff.
Episode 12 - The Tale of the Prom Queen
Synopsis: It's prom season, so Greg and Jam go to a local graveyard to try and find the ghost of a girl who was killed in a hit and run accident while waiting for her boyfriend to pick her up for prom outside the graveyard one foggy night in May 1956. She was buried in her prom dress, and there's a local legend that she shows up at the graveyard gates every prom night, waiting for the boyfriend who never comes. Why was she waiting for her prom date outside of a cemetary? Who the fuck knows! While the boys are at the graveyard, they run into a girl named Dede who they quickly recruit for their ghosthunting mission. With Dede's enthusiatic help, the boys find the girl's obituary in their public library's microfilm collection and learn the details of the dead girl's story. Her name was Judy Larson, and her boyfriend Ricky didn't even know he was supposed to pick her up. When Ricky learned what happened, he felt so guilty that he drove his car off a bridge and killed himself. His body was never recovered. The trio decide to hold a seance at the lake and let Ricky know that Judy is still waiting for him. On prom night, they go to the graveyard to see if Ricky and Judy will finally be reunited. When Ricky (who was also Dean in The Tale of the Sorceror's Apprentice) shows up at the graveyard, it's revealed that Dede is really the ghost of Judy Larson. She thanks the boys for their help and rides off into the night with her boyfriend. Greg, who had developed a major crush on Dede, is completely dejected; he just got cockblocked by a fucking ghost.
The Lesson: If you meet a ghost, and she's fairly hot, don't set her free until she gives up her sweet, sweet ghost snatch.
Episode 13 - The Tale of the Pinball Wizard
Synopsis: When Ross finds out about the super secret pinball machine that Mr. Olson has hidden in the backroom of his mall storefront, he decides that he just has to play it. In order to do so, he convinces Olson to give him a part-time job at the store. The minute his boss leaves, Ross is out back playing the forbidden machine. Unfortunately for Ross, the machine he has been warned not to touch is a trap and Ross is sucked into an alternate version of the mall where he must rescue a princess from a one-eyed villain and his minions, a task which Ross completes. Ross is not freed by his victory though; the game resets and he realizes that he is trapped inside forever.
The Lesson: Stay the fuck away from pinball machines and video games, they're not safe.
So what have we learned today? Lots of stuff, actually. Don't talk to strangers. Don't play outside. Don't be a dick to your cousin. Stay out of basements and attics. Video games are evil. Magic is real. Learning is gay. Stealing is wrong, but killing bullies isn't. People who dress entirely in black are either vampires, servants of vampires, or apprentices of evil sorcerers. Clowns are creepy. Stay away from mirrors. The performing arts are stupid. Attacking old people is not without its disadvantages. And most importantly, ghosts make the best sex partners because the ectoplasm provides extra lubrication. So whenever you have an important decision to make, consider the lessons imparted to us by the first season of Are You Afraid of the Dark? and let your fear be your moral compass. So remember, don't steal, don't be a jerk, and don't ever go outside. Until next time, I'm Syd Lexia.
Posted by: Syd Lexia
IT'S THE MOST FUN IN THE PARK, WHEN YOU'RE LAUGHING IN THE DARK