Now, in my opinion, this is where things start to get really good. Are You Afraid of the Dark clearly knows what’s up because it only takes until the third episode for them to bust out creepy clowns. It won’t be the last time they do this, and it won’t even be the scariest time that they do this, but I feel it’s the first time the series really shows its true potential.
After a quick prologue where we learn that Clueless TV Show girl is deathly afraid of clowns (and we are also given further evidence that Kiki is kind of a bitch) the story begins and we meet our leads. We have main guy, Weegee (god I hope for his sake that’s a nickname), who is established as the coward of the group, his little sister Kathy , and their asshole friend Josh . They are spending their Friday night at Playland, aka the most boring name ever invented for an amusement park. Playland has a spookhouse called Laughing in the Dark which is rumoured to be haunted by a clown named Zeebo. At the end of the ride, you get to a room full of doors and they say if you pick the right door you can leave, but if you pick the wrong door a dummy of Zeebo comes out and laughs at you, and nobody wants that shit.
So Josh refuses to go into the funhouse after the man taking tickets talks like a maniac and acts as though murdering these people would be his favourite way to spend the evening. We find out the next day that Zeebo was in fact a real clown who stole a bunch of cash way back in the day. Cops chased him into a funhouse, where apparently Zeebo threw away a cigar and burnt the whole place down, killing himself in the process. It wasn’t intentional; Zeebo was clearly just really fucking dumb. I like that the articles with the information are clearly photocopies from the library. Pre-Internet y’all, these kids had to do some damn leg work. My favourite weird touch in this scene though is that the entire bedroom they are in (presumably Weegee’s) is painted to look like a hockey rink. There are red circles on the floor and even a crowd painted along the wall, which makes it look like a bunch of shadow people are watching you sleep. It’s creepy. It’s never even mentioned that the character likes hockey, and I never picked up on this until now, so good job set designer. Way to go above and beyond.
Also worth noting is that this scene ends with Josh chasing Kathy to try and tickle her, so she smashes him in the face with a trash can lid. Extreme, but satisfying because fuck Josh.
This scene also ends with one of my all-time personal favourite ways to transition a scene. It’s when a character asks a question or makes a statement, then it cuts to hours later, and the other character responds. Here, Weegee (fuuuuuck I hate that I have to keep writing that name) accuses Josh of being too scared to go into the funhouse. Josh grabs Weegee, then it cuts to that night in front of the funhouse and Josh says “you’re going to eat those words”. Wouldn’t Weegee be confused since he made that statement like 10 hours ago? Unless it was brought back up immediately before Josh made that statement. Either that or nobody has spoken a word to each other since Weegee made his initial accusation. Either way, I love when movies/shows do that, and it happens way more often than you would expect.
So Josh accepts the challenge and enters the funhouse. The deal is that he not only has to go in, but he has to steal Zeebo’s nose in order to prove that he made it all the way to the end. If he does it, Weegee has to wear the nose to school for a week, which would likely ruin the kid’s life for years to come so to me, this wager doesn’t seem worth it. Weegee is a spiteful guy though, so he accepts.
Josh does in fact make it through to the end, though he spends the whole time inside making unfunny jokes to himself and laughing. Also at one point in the ride, a giant dragon head comes out of a side wall, breathing actual fire! If a kid was moving a little too fast, they would be dead! Jesus Christ Laughing in the Dark, I applaud your commitment but you may want to ditch that part of the attraction.
Josh steals Zeebo’s nose and then spends the next chunk of the episode being a huge asshole to Weegee and Kathy. It’s at this point you realize just how much Josh sucks and how it might be kind of ok if Zeebo were to set him on fire. Josh does keep smelling cigar smoke, but he is not lit ablaze which is a little too bad.
That night Josh is home alone and this is where shit officially starts to get real. Things start off small, with noises of someone moving around inside the house, and a clear indication that someone was inside his closet. Then a minute later, Zeebo decides there’s no more time to fuck around and calls Josh, demanding “Give it back!” That’s creepy stuff right there man. But hey maybe it’s just Weegee messing with him right? Perhaps, but then holy shit why did the spaghetti he was microwaving turn into a bowl of cigars?! Ain’t no way Weegee did that shit! There’s a dead clown in that house! There’s also a giant footprint in some pudding he spilled earlier because clowns have no respect for pudding.
The creepiest part of the episode though, is right after that when Josh locks himself in his room and calls Weegee. Zeebo picks up the downstairs phone, and tells Josh he is on his way upstairs to get his nose. The idea of a ghost calling you to tell you they are on their way is something that has fucked with my head ever since a story I heard as a little kid about eating a monster’s tail or something, I forget the details now. It’s such an unsettling idea that a dead person would get a hold of you and say “well, I’m on my way!” How would you deal with that?! I would cry and roll around in a ball, which would likely not help things.
It’s worth noting that you never actually see Zeebo during this sequence, which I feel is for the best. It’s far scarier not getting a look at him since who knows, it could look really silly if he were actually on camera. Though this also leads to the theory that it’s not a dead clown, but instead the guy who runs the actual funhouse who is doing all this (he is shown smoking a cigar and laughing in the very final shot). It’s still pretty creepy to think that a middle aged man with a murderer face was running around in this kid’s house trying to get a fake nose back, but I still prefer clown ghost.
So Josh returns the nose and everything works out fine. Clueless TV Show girl was able to sit through the entire story, though at the end the prankster kid scares her by putting on a clown mask that she clearly must have watched him put on right in front of her, so there is no way that should have ever worked.
And thus concludes the first truly solid episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark. The middle is a little slow but Zeebo’s final assault on Josh at the end is still pretty creepy, even if the circus music that plays through most of it does take away from some of the tension. Good stuff and it only gets better from here!