‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’ Is Being Made Into A Movie, But Can They Pull It Off?

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If you grew up in the 90s, like me, you probably spent some time in front of the tube enraptured by the lite horror-fantasy of Nickelodeon’s anthology series Are You Afraid of the Dark? 

Maybe you stayed up until 9:30 on Saturday nights for SNICK, scared to death by the likes of Zebo the Clown or the Ghastly Grinner. Or perhaps you caught the episodes as re-runs after school, hunkered down on the couch with your Ecto Cooler and Bagel Bites, ready to revel in the spooky stories. I watched the show as much as I could, and I still very much enjoy it, even some of the 1999-2000 reboot.

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Don’t take this dude’s nose. Seriously.

I’ve wondered throughout the years if the series could ever be adapted into a movie. When news broke that Guillermo del Toro was directing a Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark flick, I thought, ‘Well, if they could turn that into a movie…” But when I interviewed AYAOTD co-creator D.J. MacHale last year, I asked him if another reboot of the series or a movie adaption of the series was in the works, and he said there was nothing in development. He doesn’t own any rights to the series, anyway.

Well, apparently someone at Paramount decided that it would be a good idea to adapt this beloved show into a movie. Paramount Players, a new division at Paramount Pictures, is taking existing Viacom property (AYAOTD being one of them) and rebooting them to appeal to younger audiences. The guy set to write the script is Gary Dauberman, who penned the screenplays for this year’s mega-successful IT, as well as Annabelle: Creation.

Premiere Of New Line Cinema's "Annabelle: Creation" - Arrivals

Could this guy turn “The Tale of Train Magic” into a blockbuster film?

Why I’m worried 

As a huge fan of AYAOTD, this news intrigued me, to say the least. I mean, how often do you see publications like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter talking about the freaking Midnight Society? Millions of kids watched the show back in the day, but it’s not like there is some huge cult fandom out there (Definitely check out the You Scared Of This? podcast, though, for insight from other geeky fans). It’s definitely cool to think about kids today discovering the “franchise,” but could a modern-day full-length film really capture the essence of what made the show so great?

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Like The Twilight Zone before it, Are You Afraid of the Dark? offered a new story, with new characters and locations, each week. You might have a vampire episode one week, and the following week an episode with aliens or water demons or 50s dream girls searching for their lost love. It was the variety and the short, concise storytelling that made this show something to keep coming back to.

When they tried to make hour-long episodes of The Twilight Zone, the results were mixed. And while the 1983 movie had its moments, it certainly didn’t live up to the appeal of the original half-hour concept. This show was best as a half-hour anthology, hands down.

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Maybe just watch the show instead. Yeah, do that.

More pressing is how does Dauberman plan on incorporating The Midnight Society into the film? The group opened, closed, and narrated each episode, and only had their own actual storyline in the three-parter “The Tale of the Silver Sight.” Will the movie feature the Midnight Society as the show did, as mere storytellers introducing each episode — or will they be direct players, experiencing spooky situations themselves?

The film version of Goosebumps, that other popular 90s series, went with the latter option. Rather than focus on one existing story, they turned R.L. Stine into an actual character, and made Goosebumps an actual in-universe book series. I actually enjoyed this movie more than I had expected, and I thought the concept worked well enough, but AYAOTD is different. Goosebumps had dozens of well-known titles to play off of — Monster Blood, Night of the Living Dummy, Say Cheese and Die. It’s a much more popular series than AYAOTD — kids still read these books a ton today. I can’t see a movie where monsters from the show, like the Crimson Clown or the aliens from “The Tale of the Hatching,” all come to life, and where the show exists in their universe. 

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It’s fine.

Maybe it will work, though. Paramount is clearly trying to play off the popularity of other nostalgia-driven properties featuring kids, such as IT and Stranger Things.  Those two properties have shown that it’s possible to tell interesting horror-esque stories with child actors. My first instinct, though, is that this will be an Are You Afraid of the Dark? adaptation in name only. 

What are your thoughts? Tell us if you think this movie will be as awesome as “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark” or as terrible as “The Tale of the Virtual Pets.”

John Brhel is the author of spook books, available on Amazon, and a fully illustrated book of horror tales inspired by Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, which was 968% funded on Kickstarter.

 

You Know ‘A Christmas Carol,’ But What About the Forgotten Christmas Stories of Charles Dickens?

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Most everyone has read, seen, or experienced Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in some form or another since childhood. The tale will likely remain a cultural touchstone in the English-speaking world for centuries. Any further discussion of Carol serves little purpose at this point (it must be read and reread, often) but I believe many well-read people, who may even know of the existence of the other Dickensian Christmas works, may come to appreciate one or more of these unloved Christmas novellas, as much as another turn through a Skipping Christmas or Little Women.

“The Chimes”

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The year following the release of Carol, 1844, saw the release of The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In. While The Chimes begins on New Year’s Eve, the moral themes and rich vs. poor dynamics from Carol are very much in play. The book was well-received, but it was perceived as a much more radical expression of Dickens’ message, as he really leaned in on the immorality of inequality at the time.

The Chimes is a story of an elderly man, Trotty, who is ultimately unsure of whether or not mankind is inherently beastial in nature, and undeserving of salvation. He is drawn to a church tower and comes into contact with the spirits and goblins of the bellchamber, who inform him that he is already dead, having fallen from the tower. The spirits admonish him for losing faith in mankind’s inherent drive toward moral and ethical nobility, and Trotty is shown visions of his children and niece suffering through life to the point that his daughter considers killing herself and her daughter to end her suffering. At which point, Trotty begs for release, and is able to touch his daughter and prevent her from plunging herself and her child into the river.

Unlike Carol, The Chimes ends with questions regarding the future of Trotty and his lineage. The reader is left imagining that the family must still likely suffer dearly, if they’re to make it through the tough times of life, although they now have a spiritually stronger patriarch to guide them.

“The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home”

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1845 saw the release of The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home. This novella is a departure from the sermonizing of its predecessors, focusing more on sentimentality and the Victorian domestic ideal of home.

The Cricket is a proper fantasy story, with a cricket who acts as a guardian angel to John and his young family. An elderly stranger comes to stay with John and his family, and the antagonist, Tackleton, a Scrooge-like miser, is bent on convincing John that his wife has cheated on him with his mysterious lodger. Meanwhile, Tackleton has pressured a girl to marry him while she loves another. John is pushed to the brink by Tackleton’s accusations, and even asks his wife for a divorce. The conflicts resolve with the unmasking of the mysterious lodger, while Tackleton has a Scrooge-like turn of character and assists in the resetting of John’s happy home.

“The Battle of Life: A Love Story”

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The following year, 1846, saw yet another holiday release from Dickens: The Battle of Life: A Love Story. The Battle is the only of the five Christmas books that has no supernatural elements. The tale follows the romantic relationships of two sisters, and is likely Dickens’ most Austenian work. The end twist is reminiscent of the reveal from The Cricket.

I would not recommend The Battle for Christmas reading, as it’s the furthest of the five from my own sentiments of what constitutes a ‘Christmas story.’

“The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain, A Fancy for Christmas-Time”

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Dickens’ final Christmas book was released a full two years following The Battle, in 1848. The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain, A Fancy for Christmas-Time is a return to the form and formula of the first two novellas. Redlaw is a teacher who can’t help but pore over the past, continuously contemplating his griefs and regrets, and cursing all of the people who’ve wronged him in his life. He infects his students and friends with his bitter, angry character, and is an all-around nasty man.

A spirit visits Redlaw in an attempt at stemming the tide of Redlaw’s intense angst and rage over the loss of his sister, and other woes. The ghost is his proper spiritual double, or the higher, more virtuous version of himself which he has long neglected. The pair converse and the apparition asks Redlaw if he’ll let the ghost help him forget his most painful memories. Redlaw agrees, and is cured of the memories, and is also given the gift of helping his friends and students forget the past. However, while Redlaw and the people whom he ‘treats’ have forgotten specific painful incidents in their lives, they now feel a misplaced, unjustifiable anger, as if Redlaw’s anger had really been a sickness.

Redlaw realizes the damage he has wrought and attempts to pray it away on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day sees Redlaw’s prayers answered, as he and even people who have wronged him ask each other’s forgiveness.

My recommendations

I’d recommend reading The Chimes and then The Haunted Man this Christmas season, and if you enjoy those stories, to move onto The Cricket. However, I’d read Little Women again before I’d read The Battle.

haunted-man-coverIf you’ve gotten your fill of Dickens and are looking for something more contemporary, I’ve written a short Christmas book called Carol for a Haunted Man. It is very much in the spirit of Dickens’ Christmas tales, and something I’d describe as a new Dickensian-style Christmas story, filled with nostalgia, moral sentiment, and an erudite apparition.

Here’s the description from the back cover:

“As some authors dream into the history of their town or city, Jacob Martin sought to reestablish the comforts of his childhood by moving back to the street where he grew up. Lost in life, newly divorced, and separated from his three young kids, Jacob is driven to write a book worth remembering, as a way of giving his life a new lasting purpose and meaning.

“Finding himself at a standstill on the novel, a lonely recluse during the holidays, Jacob manages to connect with an attractive woman, and befriend an older man from his distant past, an author like himself. As Jacob soon discovers, nostalgia can be a healthy distraction, or it can be the noose by which one hangs.

“CAROL FOR A HAUNTED MAN is the tale of a daunted man’s will to succeed in the face of despair. It is a novella inspired by, and in homage to, the Christmas stories of Charles Dickens.”

Carol for a Haunted Man can be purchased at Amazon, along with Cemetery Gates Media’s other works of paranormal fiction.

A Look Back at the 1999-2000 Reboot of ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’

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Most fans who remember the Are You Afraid of the Dark? Nickelodeon TV series think fondly of the early Nineties Midnight Society. Gary, Frank, Kiki, Betty Ann, and an ever-changing crew of friends sitting around a campfire telling memorable tales like “Old Man Corcoran,” “Watcher’s Woods,” “Laughing in the Dark,” and “Crimson Clown.” There are at least half-a-dozen stories from the original run of the series (1992-1996) that I would argue as ‘the best’ episode, while there is perhaps one story from the 1999-2000 run which I might consider in my personal top ten.

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Are You Afraid of the Dark?: The New Class

The series was revived with an original member of the Midnight Society, Tucker, taking his brother’s place as leader of a new group of kids. Andy, Megan, Vange, Quinn are, most often, pale imitations of the original Midnight Society (Frank, Kristen, Kiki, Betty Ann?), with Quinn perhaps being the only new archetype, although he seems to fill Betty Ann’s role of quiet peacekeeper nicely. Frank really felt like an over-the-top asshole, but it still made sense that he was friends with these people and really enjoyed telling stories; Sam was a tomboyish heartthrob for both Gary and young, male viewer alike. The New Midnight Society had little to offer regarding the stories of the storytellers themselves.

There are a number of good episodes from seasons 6 and 7, episodes that meet the standard set by the original run. There are even a few exceptional episodes that any serious fan of the original series should not miss out on. Unfortunately, many episodes attempted to draw interest by focusing on trends like Giga Pets, lazer tag, computer games, sports, and one even made an Olympic champion figure skater into a pregnant alien. It’s really about what the later seasons seem to be missing. Seasons 1-5 built their success on retelling timeless stories and re-purposing urban legends – the kinds of tales which would’ve appealed to both our parents and grandparents when they were kids.

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Cause virtual pets are scary AF.

The following are my recommendations for revival episodes of AYAOTD? that one should watch, if they enjoyed the original series and don’t want to sort through the chaff that is the majority of the 1999-2000 series. There are certainly episodes worth watching in addition to these six, but these are the stories I believe will feel most similar to the original run of the series.

Season 6

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Like Jumanji, but spooky.

“The Tale of the Forever Game” is a good restart to the series. Tucker tells the story about two friends, Mark and Peter, and Peter’s little sister, Monica, who get lost in the woods while biking. It has the feeling and tone of a story like “Whispering Walls,” while full of moral dilemma for Peter. The trio is hopelessly stuck, and the kids are being hunted down by a beast, while Peter plays a game reminiscent of Jumanji with a boy, Nathaniel, who occupies a tree.

 

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Hunting = bad apparently.

“The Tale of the Hunted” deals with the moral debate over hunting. It’s well-done for a kid’s show, and doesn’t really pick sides at the end. The female protagonist hunts with her father, and one morning she wakes up and discovers what it’s like to be the one who is hunted.

 

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This hip dude liked vampires way before “Twilight.”

“The Tale of Vampire Town” is wacky, a callback to the richness of character from a Season 1 tale. A boy, Adder, believes himself to be a great vampire hunter and convinces his parents to take him on vacation to a town with history and lore tied to vampires, specifically a series of catacombs which lie underneath the inn where the family is staying.

 

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Featuring a pre-Star Wars Hayden Christiansen.

“The Tale of Bigfoot Ridge” is the tale I teased as a ‘Top Ten’ AYAOTD? episode. It would fit nicely in seasons 1-4. A boy and his sister are trying to get over the disappearance of their friend, who went off the backside of a mountain while snowboarding. The brother and sister end up searching for her, and get lost themselves during a snowstorm. They find an abandoned cabin and attempt to survive the night, while the storm is the least of their worries. Many of the other episodes focus too heavily on the trendy sport, activity, or product of the time. This episode has snowboarding in it, but, thankfully, doesn’t try to tell a story about snowboarding.

Season 7

“The Tale of Highway 13” is the story of a repetitive haunting, where a truck races a haunted car, driven by two friends who rebuilt the car, to a one-lane bridge. The boys must continually race the truck until they either die trying to win, or solve the mystery and take a different action. This is a timeless tale, really well done.

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Don’t try this at home.

 

“The Tale of the Reanimator” is perhaps only the second time that zombies were done well by AYAOTD?, the first being “Water Demons.” It has some of the flavor of the Reanimator movies, but it feels more like the mad-scientist experiments of Goosebumps: Stay Out of the Basement.

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Like “The Reanimator,” minus the decapitations.

So, if you’re a fan of the original AYAOTD? series and have never seen an episode of the two revival seasons, I believe you’ll enjoy queuing up these six episodes and watching them back to back. Perhaps you’ll even delve deeper into seasons 6 and 7, and catch me up on a gem I overlooked.

Addendum:

I can’t imagine I’ll ever write an episode guide for the first five seasons of AYAOTD? since so much has been written and said about it already. So, I’ll just give my picks for best episodes – in no particular order: “Midnight Madness,” “Old Man Corcoran,” “Dead Man’s Float,” “Laughing in the Dark,” “Water Demons,” “Silent Servant,” “Crimson Clown,” “Dark Music,” “Super Specs,” and “Lonely Ghost.”

Joe Sullivan is the author of spook books, available on Amazon, and a fully illustrated book of horror tales inspired by Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, currently live on Kickstarter.

Stranger Things 2: An Entertaining, Soft-Remake of the Original?

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The first portion of this review contains no major spoilers, while my comments on the individual episodes in the second half, will.

The first two episodes, or ‘chapters,’ of Stranger Things 2 unequivocally remind us that we identify ourselves by the media we choose to consume. When the characters are reintroduced, we’re nearly nostalgic for the first run of the series, which only aired a little over a year ago. The first series created an environment reminiscent of many of our childhood brushes with pop culture, adventure, the awkwardness of navigating puberty, etc. The second run nearly doubles down on recreating that environment from the get-go, and then as the series progresses the Duffer Brothers deftly ease off that particular pedal, and let us settle back into the day-to-day troubles of Hawkins without the distraction of a constant barrage of ancient product labels, toys, fashion, and music to take note of.

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Stranger Things 2 is nearly a remake of the first series. Our heroes reemerge to once again take on the government lab baddies and its out-of-control science experiment, although this time the threat looms even larger over Hawkins. One would assume that replaying the same plot points might mark this series as stale, from the third or so chapter on, but the characters do grow, and there are enough mini-arcs involving our favorite returning heroes to maintain interest. For me, the first run of Stranger Things often dragged, while the characters did keep me watching. Stranger Things 2 certainly kept up the pace of the story, and only hit a road bump with Eleven’s side-story in the big city.

Speaking of which, I do have to address the opening chase scene, with the cast of characters we’ll only come to again in Chapter 7. There seems to be no purpose for introducing these folks here. The van chase should probably begin the fifth chapter, where the lead, Kali, is hinted at in a flashback. For me, Kali and her gang is the one glaring misstep of Stranger Things 2. Her Eleven-like powers are introduced in the first few minutes of the series, and the viewer is left waiting for some sort of explanation, or purpose for her in the story arc, yet the distraction has little to no payoff.

Before I get to comments on individual chapters, I must say that Stranger Things 2 is well done, a superior product to the original, if you don’t detest, or fixate on, the fact that this second series is nearly a soft remake. I’d recommend Stranger Things 2 to anyone who broadly enjoys sci-fi or horror.

The following portion has spoilers and should serve as a brief episode guide, so here’s your warning if you haven’t seen the complete series.

Chapter 1: Madmax (Rating: 4/5)

Max is a redheaded girl who is always at the arcade, the boys are instantly enamored of her and stalk her. Her older brother, Billy, quickly becomes the new, even more narcissistic and nasty version of series 1 Steve, now that Steve is a sweetheart, older brother archetype to the boys.

Barb’s family has hired a private investigator and are selling their house to pay for it, although Nancy and Steve know she’s dead, but won’t say. It’s a real moral dilemma for Nancy, as it should be. We figure out quickly that most of the characters have kept quiet about what occurred at Hawkins National Lab.

Paul Reiser is Will’s psychiatrist, Dr. Owens. Dr. Owens is the a more sympathetic version of Dr. Brenner, although he still represents faceless, uncaring bureaucracy that manufactures horrible weapons and wants to treat special kids like guinea pigs.

Eleven is living with Hopper in a cabin deep in the woods.

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Chapter 2: Trick or Treat, Freak (4/5)

Eleven is still having visions, mainly to let the viewer in on the fallout from the previous season.

Hopper begins investigating poison pumpkins and vegetation. First major, “Come on, dude” moment. Hopper is only a year away from dealing with plant issues. The first thing he should think when he sees a field full of rotted vegetation is Inter-dimensional Plant Monster.

The boys go trick or treating with Max and have a great time until Will has a vision of a menacing behemoth in the sky. This is such a rich, nostalgic episode, although it doesn’t quite have enough trick or treating scenes as one might hope.

Chapter 3: The Pollywog (3/5)

Dusty finds creature in trash can outside his house. The creature transforms and Dusty is a dummy who will smack himself (again) when he sees Life (2017).

El wants to leave cabin and see Mike, but Hopper wants to keep her his secret. This was probably a missed opportunity to have an ultimate Halloween episode with Mike and El’s reunion. She already had the ghost sheet made, there’s no real reason why she can’t just interact with Mike and have him keep her secret.

Steve’s hair is out of control. It’s distracting by this point.

Hopper figures out the lab is the cause of the plant decaying poison…duh.

Joyce finally gets back to her paranormal investigating and uses camcorder footage from Halloween Night to see Will’s behemoth in the sky.

El goes to the middle school just to knock Max off her skateboard out of jealousy. It’s not a good look, or a good scene.

Will stands his ground against the behemoth, taking Bob’s advice to heart, after he’s thrust back into the Upside Down, and gets consumed by the monster.

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Chapter 4: Will the Wise (4/5)

They find will nearly catatonic in the parking lot of school. Will is now possessed by the entity from his visions and begins coloring a ton of pictures.

El returns home and has teen tantrum, destroys the cabin and Hopper leaves. She then finds a box with Hopper’s notes on Hawkin’s Lab under cabin and gets ideas.

Joyce and Hopper put Will’s picture together and decide they represent destroying vines.

Nancy records Dr. Owens admitting to Barb’s death. She and Steve want to burn the lab to ground, which is silly at the point, because they already knew Hawkins National Lab was most responsible for Barb’s death.

Dusty’s creature has escaped, and is found eating his cat. The creature now looks like the monster from the first season.

Hopper discovers the vast root system and tunnels under the poisoned fields.

Chapter 5: Dig Dug (4/5)

Hopper is investigating underground and gets blasted in face by sporing vine, and is trapped. Will has visions of Hopper in trouble.

Nancy and Jonathan meet up with conspiracy nut/the private investigator who was investigating Barb’s death and let him listen to Dr. Owens’ confession.

Bob walks in and solves Will’s drawings, deciphering them as a map of Hawkins, almost instantly.

El communicates with her Mom, finds out her Mom went into Hawkins Lab to try and rescue El aka Jane, and another girl, whom we can assume is the chick from first episode. El/Jane’s mom is caught, and Dr. Brenner fries her brain with some intense ECT.

Joyce and Bob manage to find, and free, Hopper. Hawkins Lab people also discover the underground tunnel system and they torch the labyrinths, which makes Will freaks out.

Chapter 6: The Spy (4/5)

Dusty and Steve discover that the creature has escaped from Dusty’s bomb shelter.

Will gets amnesia, and the episode begins feeling like It (2017) with the way everything leads back to one, evil wellspring which must be approached underground and conquered.

At this point the show begins feeling more like a horror movie than a sci-fi adventure. The kids battle monsters in a blockaded bus, while Hawkins Lab is overrun by the demadogs and the adults must fight their way out of the building.

Chapter 7: The Lost Sister (2/5)

Eleven finds Kali, her lost ‘sister’ from Hawkins lab, in Chicago. They share information and decide they’re going to track bad guys. Their first target states that Dr. Brenner is still alive, Kali seems to believe him. This bit of incredibly important information is quickly forgotten.

Cops bust Kali’s gang, while El has a vision of Mike in trouble, and parts ways with Kali and her gang. There was no reason that Eleven had to meet Kali or take part in any of Kali’s vendettas. It cheapened the overall story and was a distracting element from the first episode onward.

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Chapter 8: The Mind Flayer (4/5)

The adults are still trying to escape Hawkins Lab, which is overrun by monsters. Bob’s going to reprogram some computers on the fly and save everyone.

This is the episode where we go full horror movie, fun clichés spawning left and right. Bob dies, brutally to save Joyce and the others.

The group plan to kill the underground behemoth, in order to destroy the hivemind, it generates.

They need to get information out of Will, but he’s possessed by the behemoth. Will’s friends and family tell him loving stories and anecdotes, and he ultimately gives them no new information.

El returns in time to save everyone from demadogs at Joyce’s house. She took a bus home using the money which she and Kali’s gang stole, apparently.

Chapter 9: The Gate (5/5)

Comedy finally returns to the series in the beginning of this episode! Yes, levity gives perspective, and character, to heavy drama.

The group separates to burn the entity that has possessed Will, and to take on the behemoth underground.

“I shouldn’t have left.” – Eleven. Exactly, she shouldn’t have had a side story about meeting her mom and sister, as they ultimately told her nothing about herself or gave her meaningful direction to overcome her demons.

El and Hopper go into lab and run into Dr. Owens, who’s given a tourniquet and pistol by Hopper. No real reason for this run-in to occur here.

Entity/behemoth ultimately leaves Will when Steve and his gang of kids start fire in the underground hub. While El defeats the behemoth and pushes it back through the gate.

Epilogue: There’s justice for Barb and Hawkins Lab gets shut down for good. Which is really a no-brainer as the entire structure and everyone in it got destroyed.

Hopper gets Eleven/Jane’s birth certificate from Dr. Owens, and she is now his daughter. The kids have a winter dance and hook up with each other. Final moments show Hawkins Middle School in the Upside Down.

Joe Sullivan is the author of spook books, available on Amazon, and a fully illustrated book of horror tales inspired by Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, currently live on Kickstarter.

8 Things That I Loved About Halloween When I Was a Kid

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By John Brhel

Halloween was the best thing ever when I was growing up, right up there with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and playing “the floor is lava” with my sisters. I was ecstatic in the weeks leading up to Oct. 31, daydreaming of that crisp October night, the smell of pumpkin guts, the crunch of dried leaves beneath my BK Knights. It was an event; it was magical. And while I still love the heck out of the holiday, nothing can replace the joy that I experienced during Halloween as a kid. Here are just a few of the many things I loved about Halloween when I was growing up in the 80s and early 90s.

Cheap licensed costumes

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If you wanted to dress up like Hulk Hogan or Batman, or whatever character you were obsessed with that month, for Halloween, you got yourself a cheap plastic costume with an uncomfortable mask, with a rubber band that could dig a permanent scar into the back of your head. I sure did. The costumes rarely looked like the actual characters, but you didn’t mind. That night, you were Hulk Hogan, you were Batman. And I’ll be damned if I wasn’t as cool a Beetlejuice as Michael Keaton that one magical Halloween back in third grade.

McDonald’s Halloween buckets

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These little, plastic pails practically embody Halloween for me. What could be cooler then, instead of taking home your garbage burgers and fries in a cardboard box, like you’d normally get with a Happy Meal, you got a little ghost bucket that you could trick-or-treat with? I’m not sure I even used them very often (they couldn’t really accommodate the massive amounts of candy that I so longed for), but they were still so cool to collect and fill with LEGOs and various bric-a-brac.

Glow sticks

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Things that glow are awesome when you’re a kid, right up there with holograms and light-up shoes. While these sticks were mainly meant to keep us safe while we roamed the streets at night, encumbered my masks we could barely see out of, for me they were just cool to stick in my trick-or-treat bag/bucket and add to the spooky ambiance. “Oooh, they glow.” Yeah, I was dumb.

TV specials

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What’s better than an episode Garfield when you’re a kid? Why a spooky episode of Garfield, of course! There’s something special (and totally not gimmicky) when your favorite TV show takes a shot at horror/scary for an episode or special. Garfield’s Halloween Adventure scared the crap out of me when I was little (that pirate scene still gives me the shivers) and I ate up spooky episodes of shows like Hey Dude! and Salute Your Shorts (Zeke the plumber, anyone?), even if they didn’t originally air on Halloween. And let us not forget the most nostalgic Halloween TV special of all: It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I literally just carved a Great Pumpkin jack-o-lantern before writing this; it’s that good.

Treat bags

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Who cares if they were usually stuffed with the candy that you didn’t really want (e.g. Tootsie Rolls, those little peanut chews in the orange and black wrappers). These little bags take me back, especially this specific design with the scarecrow on it. The feeeeels.

Mystery boxes

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I can remember quite vividly walking through a makeshift “haunted house” on the stage inside my elementary school gymnasium and sticking my hand into these weird “feel boxes,” which were full of food meant to emulate creepy, crawly things. Are those real eyeballs?! Nah, just peeled grapes. Brains? Spaghetti. Teeth? Popcorn kernels. You knew they weren’t real, but it still felt pretty gross, nonetheless. And when you’re 8 years old, gross = awesome.

Radio stations playing “spooky” songs

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I haven’t listened to pop radio much in the last few years, so I’m not sure if this still happens, but I remember being so excited when FM stations started playing “scary” songs on Halloween. Where you might normally hear nothing but Paula Abdul or Boyz II Men, all of a sudden the radio stations were playing stuff like the “Ghostbusters” theme, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising.” It was a little thing, really, but it helped get me even more amped up for the day.

Endless gobs of candy

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Sure, I could go out right now and buy one of those $20 mixed bags of candy — I’m a grown-ass adult, sort of — but it’s not the same thing. There was something special about coming home from trick-or-treating with what seemed like two million pounds of candy, and sorting through the treasure trove. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Kit Kats were like gold, with raisins and pennies (yes, people seriously gave us pennies) earning nothing but disdain.

What did you love about Halloween when you were a kid? Leave a comment and let us know!

John Brhel is the author of paranormal and fantasy books, available on Amazon, and a fully illustrated book of horror tales inspired by Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, currently live on Kickstarter. Follow him on Twitter at @johnbrhel.

Upstate Oddities: A Forgotten Mausoleum on School Grounds

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By Daniel Robert

Nearly fifteen years ago they cleared the forest behind the bus garage at my old high school to make room for new sports fields. My dad said they found the mausoleum on the hill when they were building the road and didn’t really know what to do about it. You drive right past the vault when you go to the football field, and most people I’ve asked about it, from my town, seem to either not know it’s there, or aren’t curious about it.

I haven’t lived in town since the year 2000. I finally climbed the hill one afternoon last year and took some photos. I was surprised that the door was unlocked and also cracked open, maybe three inches. I didn’t go in, just stuck my iPhone through the opening and took a few pictures.

It’s one of the strangest things, and no one seems to find it creepy. It’s on a steep, mostly forested hill that meets the road, and I think they put a partial gate around the front, back when they uncovered it, but it doesn’t look like the structure or immediate grounds get any type of routine maintenance. There’s a family name attached to the vault itself, and I’ve looked up the name in the county records. I believe they were wealthy landowners from the 19th century who ran a profitable tin mill.

My little brother was in high school when they found the mausoleum, and he said the kids had stories about it, and that he knew a few guys that would go inside the mausoleum at night and drink, trying and scare each other with scary stories. I guess they got in trouble at one point, and the school put an end to it. Yet, it still sits on that lonely hillside, its door cracked open, and inside things are a real mess. I imagine opossums and skunks are in there all the time, chewing on anything they can find. To me it’s doubly sad, to think that there are likely people’s remains still inside, and also that tons of folks drive past it every weekend, and to them it’s just part of the landscape.

Who Murdered Ichabod Crane? Solving the Mystery of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

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By Joe Sullivan

For most readers and critics of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” there are only two possibilities regarding Ichabod Crane’s fate: either he was murdered by a ghastly, galloping Hessian soldier, or he was disposed of by Brom Bones. While the narrator, Mr. Diedrich Knickerbocker, goes to great pains to create an either/or binary between the two possible suspects, there has long been evidence that there is a third suspect, whom is given motive, but never explained away.

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The narrator describes Ichabod as a teller, and consumer, of fantastic tales.

“His appetite for the marvelous, and his powers of digesting it, were equally extraordinary; and both had been increased by his residence in this spell-bound region. No tale was too gross or monstrous for his capacious swallow.”

And more importantly, regarding the galloping Hessian and Ichabod’s penchant for seeking out frightful moments in the everyday:

“What fearful shapes and shadows beset his path, amidst the dim and ghastly glare of a snowy night! With what wistful look did he eye every trembling ray of light streaming across the waste fields from some distant window! How often was he appalled by some shrub covered with snow, which, like a sheeted specter, beset his very path! How often did he shrink with curdling awe at the sound of his own steps on the frosty crust beneath his feet; and dread to look over his shoulder, lest he should behold some uncouth being tramping close behind him! And how often was he thrown into complete dismay by some rushing blast, howling among the trees, in the idea that it was the Galloping Hessian on one of his nightly scourings!”

Here Mr. Knickerbocker begins to undermine the argument, regarding the Headless Horseman as prime suspect in the disappearance of Ichabod Crane. Sure, the Horseman has motive for killing Ichabod as he made his lonely trek that evening; the phantom Hessian takes heads, and that is what he does. But the Horseman is always a red herring, and Mr. Knickerbocker soon introduces a mortal suspect.

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Brom Bones and Ichabod are both seeking out the hand of Katrina Van Tassel. We’re told Ichabod is primarily interested in the wealth he should come to acquire from the estate of her father, Baltus, if he wins her heart. Brom’s interest in Katrina seems to be more romantic in nature than Ichabod’s, but it’s ultimately unclear, as Brom is in the business of winning, and every Dutchman of the valley knew that Katrina was the ultimate prize. Ichabod plays it cool, under the radar, while Brom goes right for Katrina. So, it’s no surprise, when Ichabod ultimately gets friendzoned by Ms. Van Tassel and sent on his way.

While Brom recognizes Ichabod as a rival, by the end of the harvest party Katrina has revealed her preference for Brom. Although, Brom is especially angry that he was shown up by the pedagogue during the storytelling/yarn-spinning portion of the evening’s festivities. It’s unclear if Brom knows Katrina has rejected Ichabod, and entirely possible that Katrina continues to let Brom think that Ichabod has her interest for the rest of the evening. So, Brom has his motive for becoming the legend and murdering Ichabod – although it is strange that Mr. Knickerbocker leaves out any additional clue to whether Brom stayed until the party’s end, or left early.

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Once pursued, Brom actually gives Ichabod his only hope for keeping his head from the Hessian Rider. But we soon discover that Brom was wrong about the protective qualities of the bridge, as Ichabod makes it across, to presumed safety, and is still beheaded by the Horseman, who “pass[es] by like a whirlwind.”

Brom is the most reasonable, and satisfactory, of choices as dispatcher of Crane, had Katrina not cleanly rejected Ichabod’s proposal the evening in which he disappeared. But there is another whom must be considered, as Mr. Knickerbocker presents us a third suspect, and even gives him motive!

Ichabod Crane is staying with Hans Van Ripper, a “choleric old Dutchman” and he borrows the man’s favorite horse on the night of his demise. The horse, Gunpowder, who

“had, in fact, been a favorite steed of his master’s, the choleric Van Ripper, who was a furious rider, and had infused, very probably, some of his own spirit into the animal; for, old and broken-down as he looked, there was more of the lurking devil in him than in any young filly in the country.”

We’re told Van Ripper was a furious rider, at one with his horse – both spirits imbued with a ‘lurking devil.’ And Ichabod is certainly not on good terms with his landlord, as Ichabod “thought, how soon he’d turn his back upon the old schoolhouse; snap his fingers in the face of Hans Van Ripper.” But what is their conflict?

 

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Before we attest to a motive, we must make note that Van Ripper is the first to send out a search for Ichabod, and also first to the crime scene.

“Hans Van Ripper now began to feel some uneasiness about the fate of poor Ichabod, and his saddle. An inquiry was set on foot, and after diligent investigation they came upon his traces. In one part of the road leading to the church was found the saddle trampled in the dirt; the tracks of horses’ hoofs deeply dented in the road, and evidently at furious speed, were traced to the bridge, beyond which, on the bank of a broad part of the brook, where the water ran deep and black, was found the hat of the unfortunate Ichabod, and close beside it a shattered pumpkin…Hans Van Ripper as executor of his estate, examined the bundle which contained all his worldly effects.” which were quickly “consigned to the flames by Hans Van Ripper; who, from that time forward, determined to send his children no more to school, observing that he never knew any good come of this same reading and writing.”

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Van Ripper is first to the scene, and quickly burns most of the evidence. There is the possibility of some interplay between Van Ripper and Brom Bones here, as Van Ripper sees the love poem Ichabod had written to Katrina, and the fact that Van Ripper quickly disposes of it might be covering up the fact that Brom Bones had a rival suitor. Remember, Ichabod kept his romantic interest in Katrina secretive, and only fully revealed himself to her the night of the harvest party.

“It is true, an old farmer, who had been down to New York on a visit several years after, and from whom this account of the ghostly adventure was received, brought home the intelligence that Ichabod Crane was still alive; that he had left the neighborhood partly through fear of the goblin and Hans Van Ripper.”

This last passage seems the most damning. We’re given a clear motive for Brom Bones wanting to see the demise of Ichabod Crane, but at the end of the story Van Ripper is equated with the phantom fear that haunts Ichabod. Why? It doesn’t seem to fit that the narrator is presenting Brom as the goblin, and then, also Van Ripper.

Van Ripper had the most access to Crane, the most knowledge of his comings and goings, as they lived together. Van Ripper would have seen how much time and influence Crane had on the local children, including his own. Early in the story it’s described how Ichabod spent much of his time outside of school with the older boys he taught. We’re told Van Ripper removed his kids from school, while also having a sour relationship with their schoolmaster. Van Ripper loathes Crane. He’s forced to take the pedagogue into his home, because it’s his turn to house the man as payment for his services. After living with Ichabod, experiencing him, likely arguing with him, Van Ripper decided he didn’t want his children to be anything like their teacher. Crane rode Van Ripper’s favorite horse to his death, then Van Ripper destroyed any evidence at the scene of the crime. Hans Van Ripper killed Ichabod Crane because he was a bad influence on his children, and the children of Sleepy Hollow.

Joe Sullivan is the author of spook books, available on Amazon, and a fully illustrated book of horror tales inspired by Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, currently live on Kickstarter.

“Happy Death Day” Spoiler-Free Review: Fun But Not a True Slasher

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By Joe Sullivan

There has never been an era of the PG-13 slasher, for good reason. Violence, the shock and awe of any classic R-rated slasher, sells itself best to the most impressionable of minds. Halloween and Friday the 13th were carried into the iconography of our culture by 12-year-olds who bore witness to the sort of movie the MPAA deemed unsuitable for their eyes. There is no proper ‘best of’ list for PG-13 slasher films. Happy Death Day is no exception. PG-13 slasher movies can’t properly function as slasher movies. Yet, Happy Death Day is certainly a fun, flavorful movie in other regards.

Tree (Theresa) keeps waking up in Carter’s dorm room, and she relives the same Monday, over and over, which always culminates in her death at the hands of a baby-masked killer. The filmmakers have fun with the premise, and I did enjoy the Clue-style whodunit mystery. Tree eliminates a suspect with each subsequent revival, and I found myself anticipating a satisfactory resolution – that one of the cast of characters we’ve encountered, again and again, would finally be unmasked as the killer. So, I was let down when a new, Mrs. Voorhees-level-of-unknown was thrown into the cast of suspects late in the movie.

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Happy Death Day revels in pop-culture snark, creates characters filmgoers wouldn’t mind see dying, and nearly gives Tree a proper character arc during her Sisyphean day. Carter, Tree’s sometimes assistant/sometimes love-interest, is easily the most likable character in the movie. When Carter is put into a risky situation, you genuinely want him to survive. However, the film will fail to convince many viewers regarding whether Tree should ultimately survive. She is too rotten of a person, and even on days she makes progress, she seems to undermine said personal improvements, with subsequent revivals.

The deaths in the movie were uninteresting, and this alone should alienate a large part of the genre fan base. Happy Death Day is by no means a slasher film, and certainly has no relationship to the day or month it came out. The movie has no ‘creepy’ factor, which seems to be what drives most genre movies released in October, or on Friday the 13ths.

Happy Death Day does have some suspenseful moments, and is a curiosity in its choice of story form. Ultimately, it feels like its audience might be the parents of thirteen-year-olds. Folks who grew up with Scream and such movies from the late-90s, and want to share something with an impressionable young mind in their household – without venturing into the world of the extremes we’ve come to expect from a genre slasher film like the upcoming Jigsaw.

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Who would I recommend this movie to? Fans of late-90s R-rated slashers. It’s more fun than the When a Stranger Calls remake – more like watching a Jawbreaker/Urban Legend crossover.

7 Tales From “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” That Freaked Me Out (And Still Do)

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By John Brhel

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was one of my favorite book series when I was younger, despite the fact that many of the stories terrified me to no end. Here I was, 8, 9 years old, reading about beheaded roommates and knife-wielding maniacs. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, this was not.

Most of the tales in Scary Stories that used to scare me when I was a kid just make me laugh now (“The Big Toe,” really?) but there are a handful that still leave me unsettled. Here’s a few of my favorite traumatizing tales!

“The Thing”

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Just look at that nightmarish thing! And that’s what it is, The Thing. Even in gathering photos for this post, I got residual childhood chills from seeing this guy’s face again. The plot here is pretty threadbare: a skeletal-looking man/zombie/ghoul follows two boys home and watches them from across the street. But the combination of this image and the idea of being helpless as some weirdo followed me home (where’s your parents, kids?) made this one stand out for me. I seriously couldn’t look at that drawing, and I don’t enjoy it too much now.

 

“The Window”

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When I first read this story, I lived on a semi-rural road, across from which was an empty field. My bedroom window looked out at the field, and the bottom of the window was really low, so anyone could just walk right up and look in on me while I was sleeping if they wanted to. This story, which tells of a young woman who watches helplessly from her window as a yellow-eyed creature (later discovered to be a vampire) slowly stalks toward her home, freaked me the hell out and only served to make my bedroom window even more terrifying. I probably begged my parents to move me to a different room because of this tale.

“Harold”

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This story features one of the most disturbing final scenes in anything I’ve watched or read to this day, for which it wins the “How The Hell Did This End Up In My Elementary School Library? Award.” In this tale two farmers, Thomas and Arnold, make a scarecrow to pass the time in their boring cow-milking lives. They name it after another farmer they dislike and proceed to treat it like dirt, taunting the dummy, smearing food in its face. When Harold begins to grunt and scurry around the roof of their hut at night, Thomas and Arnold flee. In their haste, they forget their all-important milking stools (hate it when that happens). Thomas has to go back to get the stools. But when Alfred looks back at the hut for Thomas, all he sees is Harold stretching out his buddy’s bloody skin on the rooftop. WTF! There’s a reason why this tale always comes up in discussions of Scary Stories. It’s straight-up insane.

 

“One Sunday Morning”

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I was raised Roman Catholic, so I spent many a dull hour at Sunday morning Mass. This story, which tells of a man who unknowingly stumbles upon a church service open only to a parish of the undead, struck a chord with me. I think it was mainly the idea of feeling like you’re in a safe place — I mean, what’s more peaceful and non-threatening than a church? — and finding out that not only is it unsafe, but that the people in there want you dead. This is probably why I don’t go to church anymore. Yeah, that’s the reason.

 

“The Bride”

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Every kid knows what it’s like to play hide-and-seek, so every kid can relate to the terrifying prospect of being trapped in a hiding spot, never to be found. I was probably playing a lot more Nintendo Entertainment System than hide-and-seek when I first read this story, but that didn’t make it any less terrifying.

 

“Maybe You Will Remember”

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You can blame probably this story, the “waking up in a bathtub with your kidney removed” urban legend and the movie Hostel for me never wanting to travel abroad. In this story, a young woman’s mother mysteriously disappears while they are vacationing  together in Paris. The daughter insists that she and her mother were renting out room 505, but it’s revealed that the room was nothing like she remembers, and no one can recall ever meeting her mother (spoiler alert: her mother had died from some virus and authorities were trying to quell any public hysteria). The idea of losing one’s mother is terrifying, especially when you have no idea of her actual fate. I’m fine never leaving North America, really.

 

“Faster and Faster”

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This story doesn’t come up in a lot of discussions about Scary Stories, but I think it’s worth a mention. In it, two cousins find an old, blood-stained (yeah, that’s normal) drum. For some reason, when they play the drum, phantoms on horseback come and shoot an arrow at one of them, killing him. I couldn’t believe what I was reading back then — some kid actually getting killed by a ghost! Most children’s books wouldn’t have more than a ghost simply saying “Boo!” but Alvin Schwartz was down with murder. You’re the boss, Alvin.

Well, those are the tales from Scary Stories that messed with me the most. What are yours? Leave a comment and let us know!