May 5, 2014

ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? 1x3: THE TALE OF THE LONELY GHOST

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 the Lonely Ghost"

The Submitter: David

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

Because her parents are forced to travel in support of their jobs, boy-clothes-wearing Amanda Cameron has no choice but to spend the summer with her goofy Aunt Dottie and her bitch cousin, Beth. Upon arriving at their house, Amanda hears eerie banging coming from the house next door, which, according to realtor Aunt Dottie, has been vacant for years. It's also immediately apparent, with Beth's first appearance, that she is a total asshole. She makes it pretty clear she's going to turn the cunt up to eleven and refuse to cut Amanda any breaks for the entire summer. She even forces upon her a bunch of bitch rules, like to literally clean up after Beth, making sure everything she touches ends up back in its original place, or to tie down Beth's gigantic elephant ears at night when the winds come, or else the sheer power of the storms will rip her entire head off. Last, if Amanda wants to be friends with Beth and her friends, she has to spend the night alone in the house next door which, oh yeah, is full-on haunted. Amanda agrees because she's desperate to put her hair in a side ponytail just like Beth and her turd friends. 

That night, Beth tells Amanda the entire story of the house next door: a young girl died there, accidentally, when a bunch of mean neighborhood kids chased her inside while she was on her way to stay with her grandmother. She'd apparently been mercilessly picked on because she was a deaf-mute, which I guess is enough of a reason to pick on a young girl.

Man, kids are dickheads.

Beth gives Amanda the house keys and dares her to go inside and shine a light in the dead girl's bedroom window to prove she'd made it all the way inside. She does, and while there she hears the sounds of disembodied laughter (which is weird, because, mute?) and mysterious banging noises. And then, in a nice nod to The Shining, she sees EMPLEH appear on the wall out of nowhere, just before the dead girl appears in the mirror.

And then countless twelve-year-olds shit, in brick form, their pants.

Amanda peaces out of that place pronto, taking off her suspenders and golf shoes and slipping into her favorite giant-necked flannel shirt.

Meanwhile you've got "Nanny" (Name? Title? Both?) walking around doing laundry and looking sad and old, and of course this pisses off Beth, because one day the devil sliced off some weird growth that was forming between his ass cheeks and it fell into a pile of red hair and he named it Beth. But it would seem Nanny isn't just sad and old because she's stuck working for Beth's family; turns out she's the mother of the girl next door who died long ago and who has been haunting her home ever since. That would ruin anyone's mood.

"(scoffs) EVERYONE knows the purpose of Kafka's Metamorphosis
is to shine a light on the absurdity of life as addressed by Gregor Samsa's
inability to co-exist peacefully with his family and friends, IDIOT."

 

The Reaction

Before I even begin to approach this tale, let me just say: I love that tale-teller David's justification for Amanda having to spend the summer with her cousin was because her traveling parents were "some kind of scientists." You know what, David, this is your story. You can make them any kind of scientists you want. Seriously, you could call them Pilate-Monkey scientists if you so chose. You just have to PICK ONE.

Anyway...

While not as good, creepy, or even well-directed as the previous episode, "The Tale of Laughing in the Dark," this first season of "AYAOTD" is still so-far/so-good. This episode is another iconic offering from our creative show runners, and I like that this time around it dials down the creepiness and ups the human emotion. Amanda remains a static character; there's really no lesson she ends up learning. She starts off the episode a good person, and ends it the same. Perhaps she learns to face her fears? Although that's kind of trite and lazy bullshit, because I face my fears every day when I head into my office job, and no one's putting me on a low-budget Canadian show.

Additionally, the framing device of the Midnight Society's David presenting Kristen with a gift for her birthday really eats into the episode's 30-minute block that would have been better spent on the actual tale David was telling. Unless this birthday gift ended with off-screen finger banging in the woods, I'd've rather spent more time with the ghost.

Is It Scary?

Mildly. The scene with the dead girl in the mirror holding out her hand toward Amanda is pretty creepy for a show geared toward kids still at mitten-wearing age. But that's really the only part that goes for scare. Halfway through the episode you find out that the ghost isn't really scary or angry at all, but instead just might be the saddest specter in the United States of America.

Is It Corny?

Not too corny, since I genuinely appreciate the intent of the episode. It's trying to be less scary and more emotional, and since I'm an emotionally unstable fool, I fall for this shit hardcore.

Is It Stupid?

Not especially.

How Bad Is The Acting?

Pretty bad. Young Amanda appears to be on lithium for her entire performance, while offering (either intentionally or unintentionally) a character tic in that she is constantly poking, pulling, and adjusting her clothes, as if she's uncomfortable in her own skin. Beth, however, simply comes off as being from North Jersey, which means she's full on obnoxious. In fact, the only person not filling the scenes with the smell of thespian excrement is Sheena Larkin as the very sad Nanny, who seems to be trying more than everyone else put together. In fact, she's so good that she makes appearances in three other "AYAOTD" episodes between now and Season 7.

Do The Kids Deserve Their Terror?

Amanda doesn't at all, but she's at least existentially rewarded by having freed the dead girl's trapped spirit while also getting the upper-hand on her a-hole cousin. Speaking of, Beth not only deserved her terror, but also deserved to be run over by ten Amtrak trains. 

Why Does That One Kid Look Familiar?

Laura Bertram as Amanda has had an okay career, though her most high-profile project may have been her appearance in the cancer-com 50/50, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but considering you have to "click more" on that film's IMDB main page to see her name, it probably wasn't a terribly large role.

If Laura Levin as Beth looks familiar, it's because she's actually Michael C. Maronna, aka Big Pete from "The Adventures of Pete & Pete."

How Canadian Does Everyone Sound?

Honestly, not that Canadian. It's a little disappointing. There's even a Brit! What gives!

Final Thoughts

At the end, when Amanda forces Nanny back into the house to prove the existence/presence of her long-dead daughter, and Nanny goes into the mirror with her, and, I guess, dies, and becomes reunited with her in death, I really hope Amanda gets to keep Nanny's purse, because with Nanny's regular salary plus the social security she MUST be collecting by that point, that could make for a decent chunk of change, and Amanda could use that money to hire someone to poke and pull at her clothes full-time, freeing her up to ingest more lithium.

Fearful symmetry.



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



I Award "The Tale of the Lonely Ghost:"

 

4 Gary Creeper Shots

 

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

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