Amazon is failing at marketing. They need to cut the crap about AmazonPantry and just tell people they’ve got this on Instant Video:
You KNOW you want to rewatch it.
Amazon doesn’t have all the episodes, probably because the show 1) isn’t important enough and 2) predates the whole entire-season-on-a-DVD thing. It’s just as well since a smattering of episodes from each season is probably the most that anyone can handle, anyway.
The Adult Perspective
I’m not gonna front — I watched Are You Afraid of the Dark back in the day with at least a small amount of enthusiasm. While it wasn’t perfect, It was clearly one of the better things on SNICK (even then I knew the proper reaction to Roundhouse was mortification).
That said, watching AYAOTD as an adult is at turns nostalgic, amusing, and horrifying. Certain facts are impossible to ignore:
1) The framing device — you know, the kids telling stories around the campfire — is dorkier than a No Fear sweatshirt. A bunch of creative writing nerds back-patting each other at 8:30 PM in what is clearly someone’s wooded suburban back yard is what we call the opposite of scary.
Also — and I know I’m ranting here but bear with me — why do they pretend that each story is under review (or “submitted for approval”)? They have the same exact reaction every single time: “Wooooah! AMAAZING story.” It’s like being trapped in a terrible, self-congratulatory creative writing workshop.
2) It’s a kiddie ripoff of Tales from the Crypt. Think about it.
But let’s get to important business of reviewing/capping some choice episodes.*
*Take note that these all feature classic AYAOTD “unhappy endings.” Life is too short for the sappy ghost stories. I skip right to the meat.
The Tale of the Pinball Wizard
In this one, slacker teen Ross blows off his responsibilities to play arcade games. In the first 15 minutes we’re treated to several not-so-subtle scenes establishing that Ross is a dick. He steals quarters from the mall’s wishing fountain, then gets into a tussle with a homeless beggar lady over a handful of them.
To pay for his somewhat obsessive hobby, Ross starts working part-time for the obviously creepy guy running the mall arcade. Creepy guy lets him man the shop, but makes him swear not to play the broken-looking pinball game in the back. And GUESS what he does in about 30 seconds?
When Ross finally calls it a night, he discovers he’s stayed past mall closing and all the doors are locked. Then he discovered he’s not just trapped in the mall, he’s trapped in the game itself!
Production note: It’s supposed to be a pinball game, but the game he’s trapped in resembles more of an early video game – like Ghouls ‘n Ghosts or something. But whatevs. I guess them both being arcade games is close enough for Canada.
After a bunch of twists and turns Slacker Ross manages to beat the game and rescue the princess, who is really just some cute girl from the mall.
(I should note that this whole episode plays like a bizarro version of that Scott Pilgrim movie, complete with the protagonist making a grand personal realization to beat the baddie at the end.)
Villain: You shouldn’t play the game, boy, if you don’t know the rules!
Ross: But this isn’t a game! It’s real! And when it’s real, you can make up your own rules!
Ross crowns the princess (in a way that made me feel somewhat uncomfortable) and BAM we get a happy ending complete with triumphant video game music. But wait! You hear creepy arcade guy’s booming voice and you know something’s about to go down.
Turns out that the whole thing was a scam and Ross is trapped in the game forever. And if that weren’t grim enough, here comes a giant pinball of DEATH!
Take that, quarter stealer!
The Tale of the Phone Police
I don’t actually remember seeing this one when it was on, but watching it as an adult is a wonderful, wonderful gift. And not just because the entire plot is based on a completely archaic childhood pastime (picking random names in a phonebook [what’s that?] in order to prank call strangers [but wouldn’t they just ring your number right back?]). It’s also because the plot involves something called the PHONE POLICE, a fiction I can’t imagine even the most gullible of children buying.
They come after you when you mess around with the phone. No, your parents didn’t just make it up!
Despite this silly, silly, concept, the notion of a dystopian police state run by a ruthless shadow organization is, well, kind of creepy. Jake, our rascal phone prankster, gets thrown in a windowless prison to rot, and even after he manages to escape the phone police have limitless resources to hunt him down. It’s like a kiddie version of Brazil.
A kiddie version of Brazil? That’s so wrong I can’t even.
The Tale of the Super Specs
My personal favorite. This one follows Weeds, a snotty little prankster who buys some X-ray glasses and mystery powder at the local magic shop. His bland girlfriend Marybeth tries on the goggles and starts seeing spooky faceless people everywhere.
And they’re actually scary! I’m a little scared right now.
It turns out that the creepy turtleneck no-face people belong to another dimension and the magic powder opened up a channel or something. This is – you guessed it – really, really bad.
They call on Sardo (no Mr., accent on the DO!), the recurring character no one asked for, to help them close the portal thing. Despite Sardo being a fraud, it seems to work and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. The turtleneck no-face lady even shows up looking like a harmless real estate agent.
However, the kid was kind of a bratty jerk and by the rules of AYAOTD you know this HAS to be an unhappy ending….
…..aaaaaaaaaaaaand the alternate dimension people take over the world and the protagonists are trapped in a crystal ball forever. Goodnight kiddies!
I’m going to bravely continue our epic rewatch into the questionable late-period episodes. But for now, I declare this meeting of the Midnight Society closed.