I hope your Halloween was fun and full of sugar-sweet candy or revealing costumes and poor decisions, depending on your age range. Did you happen to sit around a campfire telling scary stories? No? You’re not alone. No one seems to do that anymore. The recent spate of horror movies over the last few years has been dead-set on sticking to this “found-footage” gimmick as a way around good ol’ fashioned storytelling. Could you imagine telling a scary story at a campfire by passing your phone around the circle to play a video or flipping through a virtual photo album? Of course not, you’d appear as crazy as the escaped mental patient with hooks for hands from that totally true story that happened to a friend of a friend of your cousin’s. But did you know that there used to be a time when a group of kids, who called themselves the Midnight Society, would gather around a campfire and submit their best scary story for the club’s approval? Whether you remember it or not, hit the jump to find out more in our latest installment of Hollywood! Adapt this: Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Are You Afraid of the Dark? was a joint production of Canada’s Cinar and America’s Nickelodeon, horror/fantasy anthology series that ran for seven seasons and over 90 episodes. The show filmed in Canada, but aired both there and in the U.S. for most of the 90s, though at various times and with changing creative teams.
What It’s About:
The premise of Are You Afraid of the Dark? was incredibly simple, yet allowed for boundless creativity week to week. It was basically a toned down version of Tales from the Crypt or The Twilight Zone, as it was aimed towards children. Each episode centered on a group of kids who called themselves the Midnight Society, who would gather around a campfire to tell scary stories. Whoever that night’s storyteller happened to be would start out by saying, “Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story…” and would then throw “midnight dust” (fun fact: actually non-dairy creamer) onto the fire to make the flames flare skyward, before announcing their story’s title. Simple, right?
But the beauty of the series was its carte blanche platform for creativity. If a writer wanted to tell a creepy story about a clown at the local carnival? Go for it! Someone had a story about a desiccated monkey’s paw in their grandpa’s attic? Sold! The stories were often drawn from urban legends or focused on mythical and magical creatures. Occasionally they’d be related to “real life” events that occur in the margins of the episode, which allowed the writers to spoon-feed lessons to their young viewers.
The stories were often dark (or at least they seemed that way to the pre-teen me) as horror stories are wont to be, but most of them ended happily, so us little tykes could peacefully get to sleep. There was the occasional dark ending where a protagonist would be forced into eternal servitude or have to live out the rest of his days trapped in an enormous pinball game. Whenever the tale was done, the show would return to the fire pit and one of the kids would douse the flames with a bucket of water (fire safety, kids!), proclaiming, “I declare this meeting of the Midnight Society closed,” and then everyone would run home and do their homework or whatever nerd teens that told stories in the woods did on Saturday nights.
You may already have guessed my opinion of the found-footage films, but if not, here it is anyway. As a storytelling device, it began as a novelty in 1999 with the advent of The Blair Witch Project. Highly effective, easily marketable and able to make a big box office impact on a shoestring budget, found-footage quickly took over the horror genre. The problem with it today is that it’s overdone. No one believes that someone stumbled across some footage and then just happened to edit it together and form a movie around it. Even the recent horror anthology V/H/S had to explain why someone would take a digital recording of an event and then copy it onto an analog v/h/s tape…a stretch, but whatever. The point is, I’d love to see a return to good old fashioned horror mixed with our cultural mainstay of storytelling.
This property could work well as a revived series, but I think it would make a solid standalone feature or even launch a film franchise. As in the original series, the story possibilities are endless. A core cast of campers, with a flexible age range depending on the intended market, gather ‘round the fire and tell ghost stories. Boom. Sold. Split the film up into three unique tales, since our modern attention span is perilously short, and get yourself a talented writer who can somehow manage to string a common thruline through the whole thing. A fresh cast could star in the horror stories told in each film, or even multiple tales within the same film. Multiple directors could head each individual story with one director overseeing the feature. A team of multiple writers and directors isn’t unheard of; V/H/S did it and will do it again for the sequel. I just beg of you, Hollywood, please find another way of delivering us solid horror films without feeling the need to shove found-footage down our throats. We like stories, we will listen to them.
The Final Word:
Would I love to see Are You Afraid of the Dark? resurrected? Hell yes! I think a return to good, grounded storytelling is a proven way to win over audiences without relying on gimmicks that will inevitably run stale. Are You Afraid of the Dark? would give filmmakers the creative flexibility to produce multiple short films within the framework of a larger piece, and without constructing a false pretext just to assuage the “found footage” aficionados.
As a side note, you’d be amazed at the number of today’s stars who did guest spots on Are You Afraid of the Dark?, including Mia Kirshner, Neve Campbell, Will Friedle, Hayden Christensen, Laura Vandervoort, Tara Lipinski, Jay Baruchel (3x), Jewel Staite, Emmanuelle Chriqui and Elisha Cuthbert, who guest starred in 1996 and then joined the storytellers for the sixth and seventh seasons in 1999 and 2000. Basically, Are You Afraid of the Dark? was a bumper crop for budding Canadian stars. Even a young Ryan Gosling got his start in the biz back in 1995. Proof follows below if you don’t believe me:
Be sure to catch up on all of our previous installments of Hollywood! Adapt This and feel free to leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below! Tune in next week when we get geographical on you and try to educate dat ass! Where in the world could we be going?