Are You Afraid of the Dark reboot 1

Following the commercial boom of horror movies during the 1980s, the ‘90s are widely regarded as a bad decade for horror, being stuck between the golden age of the ‘80s and the reinvention during the 2000s that reflected the dark times the world was experiencing. But the 1990s was a great decade when it came to horror aimed at a younger audience. 

With Scholastic becoming a staple of horror literature, movies like The Witches and Hocus Pocus, and shows like Goosebumps, Courage the Cowardly Dog, the kid-friendly version of Tales from the Crypt flooding our TV sets, the decade turned millions of kids into horror fans. Arguably, the TV side of things started with the horror anthology Are You Afraid of the Dark? Nearly 30 years later, Nickelodeon just finished airing a revival of Are You Afraid of the Dark? and it not only succeeds at updating the scares of the original show while appealing to a new audience, but it serves as a great reminder of the importance of horror aimed at kids.

“We’re called The Midnight Society. Separately, we’re very different. We like different things; we go to different schools; and we have different friends. But one thing draws us together: the dark.” That’s how a group of teens introduce themselves in the first episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark in 1990. “Each week we gather around this fire to share our fears, and our strange and scary tales. It’s what got us together, and it’s what keeps bringing us back. This is a warning to all who join us: You’re going to leave the comfort of the light and step into the world of the supernatural.”

Each episode, the teens would gather around a campfire, throw something on the flames to make them shoot up, and trade scary stories. “Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society,” the storyteller would say before presenting a new spooky tale, which ranged from adaptations of public domain stories, to urban legends to original tales. The appeal of the show was that it terrified the audience but left them feeling braver after the story ended. The characters, and therefore the audience, remind themselves that it was just a story, allowing them to get through another school day or weekend a little less afraid.

Nearly 30 years after the original series, showrunner and writer BenDavid Grabinski and director Dean Israelite created an updated, yet equally creepy new story for approval. This three-part miniseries introduces us to the new Midnight Society – comprised of Gavin (Sam Ashe Arnold), Akiko (Miya Cech), Louise (Tamara Smart), Graham (Jeremy Ray Taylor), and, now, Rachel (Lyliana Wray). Before Rachel can join, she tells “The Tale of Mr. Tophat and the Carnival of Doom,” a story that ends up becoming real. 

More experienced horror fans will find the show familiar. Mr. Tophat’s Carnival of Doom resembles Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, while the concept of the Midnight Society finding themselves living one of their stories was told in season 7’s The Tale of the Silver Sight, the only arc from the original show where the story became real, also told in three parts. Indeed, Grabinski makes sure to include plenty of easter eggs and references not only to the original show, but to horror in general. The first episode features a steamy A Nightmare on Elm Street-like opening scene that has Rafael Casal giving a standout performance as the titular Tophat and ends on It-esque shots of missing child posters and rain-filled gutters. Likewise, the show is set in the town of Argento, Oregon while our protagonist’s last name is Carpenter. 

As Grabinski put it in an interview for Comicbook.com:

“If you don’t know any of them, you won’t know the references, but if you’re an adult who watches it, you’ll feel like there’s a love for the genre here. But also for kids, if this does become a gateway show to them where they start to love the genre and this is something they go back to over the years, they’ll start to pick up that there are all these things in it. If they’re looking for things to get into, they can begin to start seeing those things.”

While adults can enjoy the references to horror classics and the nods to the original series, the new show is still aimed towards a younger audience. Are You Afraid of the Dark? does something smart early on by bringing the story to life and making it real. It removes the safety net of being told a story with an ending. Where the original allowed the audience to get scared for a while before ultimately going back to their beds knowing it was “just a story,” Grabinski eliminates that layer of safety. Gone is the warmth and the cheese of the original classic. Instead, the revival presents its story as seriously as a Conjuring movie. The warm color palette is replaced with darker colors and grittier detail, placing a bigger importance on the Midnight Society and how they experience the story. It’s the same spirit as the original, but presented for an audience likely to be familiar with the Losers’ Club of It, and the kids from Stranger Things, resulting in a show that’s both an exciting adventure and a nightmare-inducing gateway to horror. 

Scaring children is a timeless tradition, going back to original fairy tales, which could often be brutal and devastating. It is a healthy way of both teaching kids to conquer their fears and be proactive, as well as a way for them to face the darkness they encounter in their daily lives. Our own Meredith Borders hit the nail on the head when she wrote about why kid-friendly horror matters, explaining the difference between adult horror and horror for kids:

“The best children’s horror films aren’t just watered-down, G-rated versions of grownup scary movies. They have that impossible-to-fake YA spirit, an air of adventure and rebellion, a youthful relevance and cheerful acceptance of all things out of the ordinary and unpopular.” 

Indeed, like the best kid-friendly scary movies, Are You Afraid of the Dark? doesn’t show a group of adults terrified that their routine is been disrupted, but instead follows a group of kids who want nothing more than for their ordinary lives to become extraordinary. The members of the Midnight Society know the value of a good scary story, and the revival finds horror in throwing them into a situation where the story becomes more than they first imagined. The show is full of horror-savvy characters who know better than to go straight into a creepy carnival from a girl’s nightmares. But the show still finds plausible ways for them to go against their instincts, finding horror in their mistakes.

The best horror movies for kids use everyday problems and worries and expands them. Kids often have no control over their lives and the world around them. They’re facing a world that seems to be against them at every turn. Are You Afraid of the Dark? explores the fear of isolation and of not belonging and presents them through a carnival of hell that kidnaps children. It’s equal parts emotional, relatable, and spooky.

Are You Afraid of the Dark? is clearly a love letter to horror movies and scary stories, made by horror-savvy filmmakers who want nothing more than to express their love of the genre through an accessible story that can serve as a gateway for a new generation of horror fans. This is a Midnight Society you instantly want to see tell new stories around the campfire. Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story, “The Man Who Asked Nickelodeon For More Episodes Of This Show.”

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