From the not so obscure depths of the long lost era we call(ed), the nineteen-nineties… The Hidden Horrors’ sector of Terror TV has just unearthed quite the lively fossil this time around as its seasonal subject matter. We all know “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” as that one show that made us feel invincible at our then tender age. The scariest thing ever made, was finally made just for us. You, the viewer, were the privileged guest of THE Midnight Society, as they let us look and listen into their unbelievably terrifying tale of the night. For the next seven seasons(the final 2 featuring an updated cast), we’d be apart of this dialogue heavy version of campsite freemasonry, as their secret society was a group we actually felt apart of. Looking back now however, we actually know it as that Canadian show we all clamored about due to it being the closest thing to scary we had available to us. Or at least, the closest thing we had that was broadcast prior to our embarrassingly early bedtimes. School nights always sucked(Unless Snick was on of course!). This was just fine though. It was for most of us, a good start toward future involvement in our horror crazed appetites. A gateway drug into the world of anthology horror(Although, most of us graduated strait into Tales from the Crypt while AYAOTD? was still on the air). The show’s format was very neat and well-executed. A group of friends arrive at their campsite. A narrative will be brewing between them, usually addressing a social issue or a 1st world 90’s kid problem in the process. They will then settle in and begin that night’s spooky segment, which would conveniently provide an answer to that very same social conflict we entered on. So, in a way, the stories in Are You fraud of the Dark? are basically the horror themed versions of Uncle Reemus’ stories from Song of the South. With limited racism. And no log ride.
Well, time to move on with the episode review, and if there were a better episode to start on than this, I’d be a terrible liar. Or at least the most-misinformed old school Nickelodeon fan on the internet. And believe me, no body wants to be that in this day and age. The Tale of Laughing in the Dark(Season 1, Episode 2)opens to an upbeat carnival with a fantastically original name. “Play Land”. Our fearless young narrator explains to us that it is a pre-teen paradise, in which you can Laugh, Scream, Get scared to death on rides & ditch your parents. She focuses our attention on one single attraction. We zero in on what is described as a “spook house” by the young patrons. The name of this haunted house is “Laughing in the Dark”, which even by today’s standards is the coolest name for a haunted attraction I’ve ever heard. In this haunted house, we see animatronic Frankensteins, decapitated Uncle Fester lookalikes, and Vampires that sound like muskrats. Of course, this is just to get the taste buds active, as the main course of this self-guided tour is in the form of a final decision you must make. A large room, full of doors, all marked with a single number. The choice one makes on which door they’d open would decide the fate on which their pants stay dry or not. In the case of the episode’s opening monologue sequence, we learn not to choose door #6. We learn to choose any door, but #6. It’s here that we are introduced to our main characters. A teenaged douchebag named Josh, and the voice of reason he won’t listen to named “Weegee”(Wait, as in Oujia? Oh Nickelodeon, you sly fox, you…). Our metaphoric versions of Yin and Yang have a heated discussion on why they should or should not go into this actual(as well as allegedly) haunted funhouse. Before any decision is met on their own part, the owner of the attraction appears out of nowhere, complete with a southern accent and an outfit that just screams barber shop quartet. He quickly gives a Legend of Zelda-esque description of what’s to be expected in the house, including “Zeebo”, the most evil thing Viacom ever put on the air for children to see. Besides modern day MTV that is.
Once he finishes his reading off his job description to the young boys, they basically remember that they left the oven on at home as a way saying, “screw this, I wanna live.” The next day, the kids are researching the story of this Zeebo character, in which they find out that the haunted house they refused to enter, is actually a refurbished version. The original tourist trap burned down in the 1920’s when a greedy circus clown stole the entire circus’ budget and ran into their funhouse to seek refuge from the police. Upon doing so, he decided to light up a cigar in celebration of his acts. And celebrate he did, until he burned down the funhouse by accident and killed himself in the process. Instant karma at its best. Josh of course, laughs this off in a bout of tough guy elitism. After being called out by Weegee for refusing to enter the funhouse the night prior, Josh proclaims to prove his bravery by stealing the nose of Zeebo himself as a sort of hunting trophy. And because Josh is a dick, Weegee must wear the nose to school as his punishment for losing this bet. Josh then swallows whatever pride he somehow had on his person, and confidently decides, screw fear, I’m a television cliché! He then storms back to the theme park like the ginger badass he takes himself for. Once inside the attraction, he has some fun with all funky mirrors and animatronic horror icons, slowly losing his nerves as he progresses further. He eventually arrives within the room of doors, and luckily chooses the door that provides him a safe exit. However, he knows he must wait until he obtains the nose, or he’ll no longer be the pompous bully he’s known as. He then does the one thing we learned never to do. He chooses #6. After gaining some form of grip on reality while staring into the eyes of the clown, he takes the nose, fakes a tough guy attitude, and delivers the nose to his “best friend”. The following day for Josh is a day in which he learns the definition of the term retribution. We slowly begin witnessing Josh being haunted by this clown’s ghost. Fog appearing in his house, doors and cabinets moving on their own, prank phone calls from a disembodied voice with a smoker’s laugh… He realizes he may have just ruined his life. After a couple more gags, including a pot of spaghetti turning into a bowl of cigars, and the old “randomly appearing balloon that reads give it back trick”, Josh decides to take the balloon’s headful advice. He returns the nose to its rightful owner like it was the customer service counter at Wal-Mart. He also gives him a complimentary box of cigars, which is of course unexplained as to how the hell he obtained those in the first place. But alas, it is revealed to us that the ghost of Zeebo was the attraction’s owner himself, luring kids into his hell hole for kicks. Kind of expected, but surprisingly satisfying all the same.
The Tale of Laughing in the Dark is more or less, inspired by famous claims of haunted possessions and items. Stories are all over the internet discussing people being followed by poltergeist activity when they own an object that a spirit is supposedly attached to. The most famous of these cases is that of the Californian ghost town known as “Bodie”. From 1876 to 1915, Bodie was a booming mining town located in the Sierra Nevada. It’s a truly fascinating place, being that the whole town in a still life portrayal of pre-industrial revolution living. Everyone literally stopped what they were doing one fateful day after the town was declared dead and just left. The children’s toys, retailer’s money and local’s items were all left where they were on the last day they all lived there. To this day, everything remains just the same. It’s what makes it more special than the more popular ghost towns. Well, that and the curse of course. The curse states, if you were to take anything form Bodie’s city limits, whether it be a nail, brick, or anything intentionally taken, you’ll be followed and haunted until you return it to where you claimed it. There are tons of stories from people who have lived this curse and resolved it by returning their stolen swag back to the town. And to think that Nickelodeon paid a beautiful homage to this type of haunting is simply glorious. Although it inspired many age appropriate copycats(Goosebumps, So Weird, etc.)Are You Afraid of the Dark? is forever the one we will never forget and nowadays cannot, thanks to the 90’s Are All That television block airing episodes every October and Nickelodeon recently releasing every episode of the show for our viewing pleasure on Youtube. The time to re-experience this show is now. Just expect corny effects, bad acting and hilarious appearances by young A-list celebrities and you’re set. Oh, and the theme song that plays over the end credits. Super badass. Just saying’
– Sterling “The Spork Guy” Anno