The last time we had a new Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode was on June 11, 2000, the air date of the final episode of the series until it was announced it was going to be revived as a limited event. The episode was titled “The Night Nurse” and saw the ghost of a murderous nurse haunting two girls staying at their grandpa’s. It was to be the last time anyone from the Midnight Society would tell a story around the campfire for nearly 20 years.
Now, thanks to Nickelodeon releasing the first episode of the new series online for free in anticipation of the October 11th premiere, the Society’s back and I’m happy to say their return makes for one sharp and scary trip down memory lane but with new horrors in mind driving it towards its final destination. The series will consist of 3 episodes telling a self-contained story throughout it with what appears to be mini horror segments that tie into the larger narrative.
The show does away with some of the elements from the original series. It doesn’t start with the Midnight Society primed and ready for scary stories. Instead, we’re treated to a kind of origin story where one of the series’ main characters stumbles upon and is tested by the Society for the privilege of telling scary stories around the campfire. It’s a very clever setup that both honors the original show and updates it for a more interwoven type of narrative newer audiences tend to be hungrier for.
The story focuses on Rachel, played by Lyliana Wray. She’s the new girl in school and she feels isolated and out of place, that is until her love of horror captures the attention of a group of friends who come up with a series of trials to see of she’s worthy of joining their group.
Afraid of the Dark goes lengths to show just how in love it is with horror by peppering the first episode with so many well-placed nods to horror movies and even directors. I won’t reveal all of them, as part of the fun is finding them throughout the episode by yourself, but one such nod made me jump out of my seat. It’s in the name of the town the series takes place in: Argento, Oregon. For those unfamiliar with the name, it belongs to Italian master of horror Dario Argento, director of Suspiria (1977). In another instance we hear mention of a horror movie called The Changeling (1980), a deep cut for some but a favorite among fans of haunted house stories.
These shout-outs to classic horror make fans feel right at home. It’s a show of respect to the many inspirations that helped shape the original show and the new limited series. But the show knows not to allow nostalgia and horror references to get in the way of telling a new story. The thing that’s supposed to make audiences afraid of the dark this time around revolves around a Creepypasta/Channel Zero-like scenario involving a mysterious carnival and its enigmatic ringleader. It carries with it a very fresh sense of terror that, again, deftly balances nostalgia and new ideas.
The performances truly elevate this first episode, with each member of the Midnight Society coming off as realistic, grounded, and well-developed. Their personalities are gloriously YA but are written well enough to avoid falling into clichés. It makes you feel sad the series is only three episodes long. Wray’s Rachel is a strong lead, but Jeremy Ray Taylor as Graham Raimi (another horror nod!) is a highlight. Taylor’s in familiar territory here being that he’s dealt in horror before in the recent It movies, playing the role of Ben Hanscome.
On the technical side, the first episode feels ready-made for the big screen. It’s always good getting these kinds of treatments on the small screen, which makes it easy to immerse one’s self into the tone and mood of the story. The horror set-pieces, of which we only get teases of, are creepy and do a lot without being explicit. The carnival setting is shrouded in darkness and it resorts to muted reds and blues to make everything seem haunted. It sets the stage beautifully for the arrival of Mr. Tophat, the revival’s “monster.” Just how much of a monster he is remains to be seen.
The Are You Afraid of the Dark? revival invites audiences to indulge their love of horror for a new tale hopes to break new ground. It looks like it’s not interested in pulling any punches and feels like it really wants its audience to gain a new nightmare a two. With two episodes remaining, all signs point to the new series becoming worthy of the campfire so many of us wanted to see alight once more.
Here’s the first full episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark: