Are You Afraid of the Dark? Ep #11 - The Tale of the Dark Music

Here we have another episode that was on my aforementioned childhood VHS tape. I do remember this one being quite good although my primary memory is that this episode blew our minds originally because the main character looked EXACTLY like our friend and we used to give him a hard time about it which seems really stupid in retrospect but then so do most things I did at that age (except watch this show, that was a good move on my part). So anyway it’s time to see if this one holds up or is another episode to file in the disappointment column!

We begin with Frank screaming at Eric because they were supposed to come to the camp site together. Because Eric is a twat, he immediately reveals that the reason is because Frank lost his flashlight and is afraid of the dark (so the answer to the titular question is yes, yes he is). Eric is telling tonight’s story which is about a kid who is afraid of the dark so presumably he set all this up to have a lead in to his story. God, what an asshole. He also has the most painfully generic intro to his story you have ever heard. “Well we know there’s nothing in the dark to be scared of………………..most of the time.” Oooooo spooky. Fuck you Eric.

Let the tale begin!

Our hero is Andy and it’s quickly established his life is currently shit. His parents recently got divorced and they are poor, forcing him to take a paper route just to have money to buy lunch at school. Thankfully they live in a Scooby Doo cartoon and his Mom inherits a big house from an uncle that she doesn’t even remember existing. Situations like that always lead to terrific things.

Holy shit I remember the bully in this episode now! He’s one of those 90’s bullies who aren’t terrifying in the slightest, though perhaps a step above your normal fare. He’s supposed to be a metal guy I guess, sporting a black t-shirt with a flaming skull on it. The problem is that he’s super scrawny and has a baby smooth face. His idea of metal is probably Aerosmith so I’m not taking this guy too seriously. He tells Andy everyone hated his uncle and was glad when he died (harsh) but now he’s all pissed because his family is there? I don’t know, his reasoning is flimsy and his threats sound like they are coming from a 12 year old on Xbox Live. The music seems to think he’s pretty badass though, giving him some crunchy guitar riffs to walk off screen to. Man, in this moment I am now remembering a lot of what’s to come in this episode and I have to say I’m quite excited, and also stunned at just how well I remember this show.

Later that night, Andy is helping his Mom set-up the house while his younger sister sits by and watches like an asshole. His mother asks him to head down to the basement to try and find a ladder and Andy ain’t having it. His sister gives him shit though and off he goes. Slowly. Very slowly. Seriously like the next 2 minutes of the episode is just devoted to him walking down into the basement, which seems reasonably well lit to me.

He completely ignores the task his Mom gave him and instead of bringing up a ladder he starts messing around with an old radio he finds. When he starts to play music, an old wooden door behind him starts to rattle. The rattling stops whenever the music does. Andy finds some super generic rock and seems satisfied. The door eventually flies open though, where inside the darkness we see a pair of glowing red eyes and a deep voice tells Andy to “come on in.” No kid wants a glowy eyed low voiced dude in their basement so this is a pretty effective moment. Andy naturally freaks the fuck out and tears off out of the basement, knocking the radio to the floor in the process.

We cut back to the campfire so the characters can remind us about how scary the story we’re watching is. Also Frank has vanished and everyone assumes it’s because he’s a huge pussy.

Back in the actual story, Andy brings his family to the basement to show them what’s behind the door. Wouldn’t it be amazing if there actually was something there and Andy was immediately validated instead of the predictable route they will go instead where he looks crazy? It would be, but alas there is nothing there. It’s strange that before opening the door his mom suggests it might be a rat, a theory Andy immediately dismisses, only to have her open the door and again suggest it was maybe a rat as though this was the first time she was presenting that idea. So once again we have the tired old idea of a family not believing someone even though they have no history of lying and there is no clear reason to disbelieve them. His Mom finds the broken radio and concludes that’s what he heard and Andy seems to buy it, completely forgetting I guess that he also saw something, it happened away from the radio and also that there’s no chance it was the fucking radio.

The next morning we show the bully at home cleaning his front steps where his fat, shirtless asshole father who might be wearing a wig berates him. I guess this is supposed to make us feel bad for him? I don’t know, it never comes up again. Andy accidently knocks over the bully’s water bucket with a newspaper and the water defies the laws of physics, somehow rocketing up into the air and completely covering …Bully. I don’t know they haven’t given him an actual name yet. Bully chases him back to his house where the front door is locked and apparently Andy can’t be trusted with keys because he is unable to get in. He runs around back and opens a cellar door to get into the basement. The bully makes a few more unconvincing death threats and takes off.

Again we get about a minute of Andy looking around the basement which is almost completely lit as it’s the middle of the day, making his use of a flashlight completely redundant. His sister sneaks up on him and scares him and that’s that scene. *Shrug*

That night Andy is asking his Mom questions about his uncle who previously owned the house even though she has established at least twice at this point that she doesn’t remember anything about him. Something in her memory must have jostled loose however as she does have a few tidbits about him to pass along. Apparently he never left the house but was somehow still able to become rich. Andy is then sent back into the basement to get the laundry as his sister is busy poorly pretending to be playing a video game.

In the basement, Andy is listening to the exact same radio I used to have when I was 10 (no really, same exact one, maybe that’s why I liked this episode so much) when the door opens again and out steps…Jesus Christ!....out steps a fucking 6 foot tall doll with terrifying dead eyes and a menacing grin. Fuckin’ hell! At this point that kid is mentally destroyed. Even as a 29-year-old, if I saw that shit I would never be normal again. Man. I don’t like lookin’ at this fuckin’ thing at all. Anyway this thing asks Andy to come and play with it and reaches out its hand. Andy seems transfixed by it and is about to reach out when his Mom flicks the switch upstairs that is powering the radio. The music shuts off and the doll flies backwards screaming, going back the door which promptly shuts and locks. Man. Now THAT’S how you do creepy in a kid’s show. Normal sized dolls are scary but you make one of those fuckers 6 feet tall and it’s just nightmarish. Well done show!

Andy snaps back out of it and clearly doesn’t remember what just happened. Though in case we’re complete idiots, the show has Eric explain in narration that Andy snapped back out of it and clearly doesn’t remember what just happened. Thanks Eric, I have fucking eyes so I was able to piece that together already. This is their way of explaining why Andy would ever venture back down into the basement again instead of just setting the whole house on fire and fleeing off into the night.

He ends up back down there after school the next day where the door once again opens and this time nothing pops out, but instead inside Andy sees a carnival barker and a roller coaster. He seems pretty into the whole thing and starts to head towards the door. He hesitates before stepping through and that’s when the barker turns into a skeleton, grabs Andy’s arm and starts screaming about having fun and cackling. The skeleton looks too puppet-y to be freaky, though that same concept actually worked in the giant doll’s favour, with its unnatural movements making its presence more unsettling. Here you’re just looking at something you’d see in your biology class and the mouth just flaps randomly, not even matching what he’s saying. He tries sucking Andy inside the door but he is able to unplug the radio and make the whole thing stop. This time he remembers that this all just happened (and doesn’t seem phased in the slightest) and pieces together that it’s the music that causes the door to open. He heads off on his bike to “tell Mom”. Not sure why he can’t just wait until she gets home since showing up at her work and spouting this nonsense isn’t going to do him any favours where at least at home he has indisputable evidence.

None of that matters though as he is quickly stopped by 90’s Bully (how the fuck did he not notice him standing on the sidewalk waiting for him) who delivers the fakest fucking punch you will ever see in your life. Not only does he clearly miss Andy’s face by several inches, he delivers it slowly and it’s accompanied by a WHAP sound effect straight out of 60’s Batman. He delivers a second punch that’s slightly better only because they obscure it more. He then goes the extra mile and throws Andy’s bike under a moving truck. At this point I think Andy could call the cops on him but what the dude does is actually way better. We see him setting a bunch of stuff up in the basement and then he caps the whole thing off by delivering a one-liner (“Howdy neighbor”) to nobody. Not really how one-liners work kid.

He throws a piece of wood wrapped in newspaper at the bully’s head (which hardly phases him at all when it should probably knock him out cold) and provokes him into giving chase. He leads him back to the house where 90’s Bully finds the cellar door open and heads inside presuming that’s where Andy went. That’s a pretty big assumption that he can just enter the kid’s house and beat the shit out of him without anyone else being home. Seriously that’s what, 3 or 4 felonies he’s committed this morning? But again that doesn’t matter as Andy locks him inside the basement and starts taunting him through the door. Turns out Andy has set up a crazy speaker system in the basement so he flicks the switch and turns it all on. Eventually the door flies open where we see nothing but a glowing red light. We hear growls, the bully screams, we cut.

Apparently the bully’s name is Coda? No wonder they weren’t flaunting that one.

Andy heads down and instead of 90’s Bully (I refuse to call him Coda) he finds a new, shiny bike. This does reveal his plan isn’t as cool as I thought as he didn’t know the door would do anything too severe. He just figured the loud music would bug him I guess. The door starts glowing blue and a voice tells Andy he will give him anything he wants, just as it was for his Uncle. All he has to say in return is feed the thing. I like how when the door says “feed me” there’s an echo that had never been there before, which I have to believe the door did itself for dramatic effect. At this point his sister comes home and starts giving him shit upstairs. The door starts cackling and Andy looks at the camera (how does he know we’re here?!) and gives an evil smirk.  Boom! Done!

The impact of that potentially dark ending is lessened when Eric confirms that Andy in fact did not feed his sister to the door, he just made sure she didn’t bother him again. So presumably he did spread the word about the door and mentally scar his sister for life, so that’s something. Frank still hasn’t returned with Eric’s flashlight so after the fire is put out, Eric sticks around and waits for him. But Eric is totally scared of the dark too! Oh irony, you cruel bitch. Frank grabs Eric and scares the shit out of him, he too looking directly at the camera (seriously how do they all know we’re watching this?!) and saying paybacks are sweet.

End of episode!

While this one may not have been the classic episode I remembered it being, it’s definitely still a solid one and easily one of the best up until this point in the show’s run. It’s got a good set-up and a couple of genuinely creepy moments, mixed it up with a few misguided elements, such as the not at all intimidating Bully with the not at all intimidating name. I’m glad to say that for the most part, this one holds up well!