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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.