Are You Afraid Of The Dark? was a children’s horror anthology series shot in Canada but co-created with American producers. A full seven seasons, the show was primarily Canadian in content: actors, sets, and crew were all based in Montreal, Quebec and areas around Vancouver, British Columbia. The show’s premise consisted of a group of storytellers called The Midnight Society, whom would meet at an undisclosed location in the woods and tell their new tales of terror to each other around a campfire. This continued for several years (with changes to the group as actors left) until 1996 when the show was canceled. Nickelodeon revamped the show in 1999 to include a few episodes based solely around the Midnight Society. After ending in 2000 with close to a hundred episodes, the series is now considered a classic in 90’s kid/teen television programming, with a respected legacy that includes an episode serving as inspiration for The Sixth Sense.
Tale Of The Midnight Madness is one of the series gems as it’s essentially a horror-buff’s fantasy: a magical-yet-haunted 16mm print of Nosferatu allows characters to walk on/off the screen à la Last Action Hero. Pete and Katie seem to be the only staff members, along with their manager Mr. Kristoph, in a troubled restoration theatre. With closure around the corner, Katie contemplates applying for a job at a chain theatre nearby while Pete goes out to raise public awareness and save the building. Handing out/posting flyers around town pays off and they are approached by Dr. Vink, a mysterious hobbit-like master of whimsy who comes off as a poor-man’s John Ries Davis. Vink claims to be a retired director who made films well before they contained sound and colour. While he doesn’t disclose his age, it’s hinted that he may be a warlock due to his magical abilities.
Vink (with a vuhh vuhh vuhhh) guarantees a quick return from customers if the theatre screens a film he made in the pioneer days of movie-making: Nosferatu: The Demon Vampire. Should the film be successful, he will be allowed one night a week to run a different film. Kristoph decides to humour the strange man and sure enough, Vink’s proposition delivers and the theatre begins to make money again. All seems well until Kristoph tries to cut a different deal with Vink: he’d rather give the weirdo a cut of the profits than schedule a showtime for Vink’s movies. Kristoph now has access to new Hollywood produced movies and would much rather run those than junky old silent movies. Offended, Vink decides to seek revenge on the theatre for breaking their part of the deal. What then entails is Count Orlok pulling a Purple Rose Of Cairo by walking off the screen and attacking the theatre staff.
The actor portraying Orlok does a solid job in the mannerisms that Max Schreck so perfectly displayed in the original 1922 film but he doesn’t completely look like Orlok. He’s missing the big, bushy eyebrows and his outfit is more of a cross between a judge-robe and Darkman’s coat. I’m not really going to comment on the acting of this show because it’s an early 90’s Canadian teen program; it does what it’s supposed to do. The spotlight is more on the location this episode is set in: an old opera-house cinema. The fictional Rialto Theatre is actually very real; it is still in operation in Montreal, Quebec but has seen many changes to its design. At the point in time when this episode was filmed, the theatre had been shut-down. I also believe there was never an actual screen on stage and it was instead an effect made for the show.
This episode hits Eddie Spaghetti on a personal note: Pete’s passion for the theatre to remain open very much reminds me of when I worked for an independent theatre. It’s very depressing to see a building of that sort in dire straits and especially one with such culture and history like the Rialto. Not to bash big-chain theatres too strongly (I did work for one as well and they do have some people who are just as passionate) but you won’t find an overall experience like that of what a restoration cinema can offer. If I were to explain it, you get this sort of prestigious aura in the air. Its a feeling that was captured quite well in films like Matinee and Popcorn.
While it’s often put side-by-side with Goosebumps, I tended to lean towards Are You Afraid Of The Dark? more. The big difference I noticed between both shows was that AYAOTD focused more on serious plots and conventional scares while Goosebumps tended to be a bit more goofy and slimy in tone. Original AYAOTD episodes didn’t really bare the Nickelodeon style as much as Goosebumps did and instead chose something a bit more similar to Tales From The Darkside. To put it in a nutshell, I knew kids who were allowed to watch AYATOD but not Goosebumps. Not to say R.L. Stein’s tales of terror were bad or anything; I just enjoy sharing a good story around a campfire instead.