Apr 12, 2014


If you were a budding horror misanthrope in your early teens during the ‘90s, then you not only remember, but cherish, this long-running Nickelodeon series about a group of variously ethnic kids meeting in the woods at night to trade spooky tales. Perhaps you remember President Gary's opening remarks during the first episode: "We're called The Midnight Society. Separately, we're very different. ... But one thing draws us together: the dark! Each week, we gather around this fire to share our fears and our strange and scary tales." The stories were creepy, corny, fantastic, or pretty stupid, but we all remember that nervous knot in our stomachs beginning to tighten as the legitimately eerie opening title sequence began (which includes that awful clown-doll from which I used to avert my eyes). You didn’t know if the groundwork for nightmares was being laid, but you sat, rapt, waiting to see.  So grab your weird bag of magic dust and toss it in the fire. It’s time to see if you’re still afraid of the dark.

The Tale Submitted For Approval:

"The Tale of Laughing in the Dark"

The Submitter: Betty Ann

The Current Midnight Society Administration: Gary (President, Glasses); David (Vice-President, Administrator of the Useless); Kiki (Secretary of War/Ass-Kicker, Name-Taker); Eric (Director of the Office of Management and Budget/Minister of Looking Smarmy); Betty Ann (Ambassador to the United Nations/Gary’s Unspoken Mistress); Kristen (Trade Representative/Socialite); Frank (Intern/Socialite).

The Jist

A very red boy named Josh is having a wonderfully '90s time at a nearby carnival called Playland. He's there with his two friends, Weegee and Kathy, who appear to be brother and sister, and who appear to have been dressed by their parents. While there, Josh chides his two friends for not having the balls to go inside the Laughing in the Dark Spook House, which legend says is haunted, but the creepy pin-striped host manning the entrance of the place (Aron Trager, in a rare and beardless non-Dr. Vink appearance), attempts to shame Josh inside to prove he's not a puss.

He doesn't go in, though, and the kids piss off home, where Weegee does some digging and discovers that the Laughing in the Dark Spook House rests on top of a previous incarnation of a haunt, which burned down after a worker named Zeebo the clown stole the payroll in order to pay off clown college, but after being chased inside, he accidentally set the place on fire with one of his own cigars and killed himself because he was a real clown.

Weegee gets tired of Josh NOT believing in the spirits of dead clowns and officially dares Josh to go inside the Spook House, and Josh agrees, even saying he'll steal the nose off the clown dummy (that legend suggests is infested with the displaced spirit of Zeebo, I guess) to prove he made it all the way through. Well, he does, and Josh enjoys his triumph for about two seconds before the clown soon comes calling, eager to get his nose back. 

"Joke's over, Luke Perry. Take off my dad's church clothes."

The Reaction

Are You Afraid of the Dark? was still finding its footing here, so the episode begins right in the "tale," complemented by some Betty Ann voiceover, instead of the usual opening of the episode with the Midnight Society beginning to gather or already gathered around the camp fire. A quick interruption to the story occurs to establish member Kristen's immense fear of clowns before it's right back to the tale, complete with handful of magic sand.

Huge props to whomever named Josh's friend Weegee, as of all the possible references to real-life people (Weegee was a famed crime scene photographer, amongst other subjects), this was the most obscure to use. (Seriously, he took this.)

The episode uses the "less is more" approach, in that anything creepy is either suggested or occurs off-screen. There is no man in a clown costume chasing Josh around, and no bad pre-CGI special effects to bring to life a large clown monster.

As far as the tale itself, to me this is quintessential Are You Afraid of the Dark?. It's a well directed episode with a simple but interesting concept. It doesn't talk down to its kid audience like some of the other episodes soon will. Ultimately, this episode is a morality tale, and that's the most important thing, as that's a theme that Are You Afraid of the Dark? will explore again and again. These damn kids need to learn their lesson now and then.

(Last, am I nuts, or does anyone else remember this airing NOT as an Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode, but originally as a one-off Halloween special that Nickelodeon produced for the hell of it before co-opting it as an official episode? It's probably the first one: I'm nuts.)

Is It Scary?

It's certainly creepy. Laughing clowns, shady carnies. The established back history of dead Zeebo drapes the whole affair with a pleasant ominous feeling. The idea that this clown ghost is after Josh is more effective than there actually being one physically in frame with him. Plus I love that scene were Josh calls Weegee, thinking all the creepy stuff that's happening is because of him, when he hears a click on the phone line, and Weegee tells him, "We only have one phone. It's got to be at YOUR HOUSE."


Is It Corny?

Only a little. I mean, the episode ends with Josh returning the nose to the clown and apologizing. That's kinda cornball. (Plus how'd a kid manage to buy a whole box of cigars?)

Is It Stupid?

If you're on board with this show's concept, not at all.

How Bad Is The Acting?

Josh and Weegee do just fine. Less fine is Kathy, the little sister, but given her age, I'll let it slide. She doesn't have that many lines, anyway.

Do The Kids Deserve Their Terror?

Josh totally does. He's that snide, pompous, show-off friend every single one of us has, or once had. He's the kind of character you want to see cower in fear from a carnival clown because he's totally asking for it. Plus he steals a clown's nose, and from what I understand, that's like stealing an opera singer's larynx or a mime's self-loathing.  

Why Does That One Kid Look Familiar?

Christian Tessier as Josh has been acting forever. He made numerous appearances on another Nickelodeon show, You Can't Do That On Television, played on the original incarnation of The Tomorrow People, and even appeared in the haunted camera episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?'s inferior rival GoosebumpsAnd that motherfucker will next be seen in the mega-budgeted mega-casted Godzilla remake.

How Canadian Does Everyone Sound?

Josh sounds full-on Canuck. "There's no such thing as ghoosts!" "Is this a jooke?"

Final Thoughts

To me, this is what Are You Afraid of the Dark? is all about. A solid episode.

Also, I am very tickled that Josh learns his lesson about torturing his friends about being scared of something, but then the episode ends with the Midnight Society torturing Kristen for being scared of clowns.

That'd be called irony, folks.

You'll never see him coming.

On the Official Gary Creeper-Shot Rating Scale...

I Award "The Tale of Laughing in the Dark..."


5 Gary Creeper Shots


I declare this meeting of the Midnight Society closed. (Splash sound.)

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