What It's Like To Watch The First Episode Of 'Are You Afraid Of The Dark?' As An Adult
There are some shows that can never be outgrown, and I firmly believe Are You Afraid of the Dark? is one of them. Much like stories of The Twilight Zone, the Midnight Society's tales are timeless. No matter how old you get, they still manage to scare you. I have revisited many episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? as an adult, and I have found almost all of them still hold up. However, I had not watched the first episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? since I was an actual '90s kid, and I couldn't help but wonder what it would be like to revisit the first tale told round the campfire as an adult.
The episode in question is "The Tale of the Phantom Cab." It's not the first story the members of the Midnight Society shared with each other (in Canada, the first episode shown was "The Tale of the Twisted Claw"), but it was the first story shared by Frank — and the first episode aired by Nickelodeon. Watching it with adult eyes in 2016, the story is still scary, but not always for the same reasons it was scary in 1992.
When Gary introduces the rules of the Midnight Society, I cannot help but wonder how these kids met in the pre-internet age. Gary makes a point of revealing they go to different schools and have different friends. Immediately, my adult brain starts picturing Gary plastering his town with posters asking people to meet him in the woods. Did his parents not think this was a bad idea?
As a kid, the idea of being part of a secret society and telling ghost stories in the woods sounds like the ultimate life goal. As an adult, the thought of a group of kids who admittedly don't know each other very well journeying into the woods alone at night is scary enough without the added twist of a campfire tale. Take Frank, for instance: In "The Tale of the Phantom Cab," he allows himself to be led blindfolded into the woods where he sits telling his story without being allowed to remove his blindfold. I would wonder if he knew anything about stranger danger, but it is clear from his story that he does not.
"The Tale of the Phantom Cab" finds two brothers, Denny and Buzz, traipsing through the woods alone. They get lost because Buzz has not quite grasped how a compass works yet, but he looks all of 9 years old, so I am willing to cut him some slack. Immediately, Denny comes off as a verbally abusive jerk and terrible older brother — and he never redeems himself. Even when Buzz saves their lives, the most Denny can do is halfheartedly thank his brother. Seriously, what is Denny's problem? And as the creator of the tale, does Frank have some dark sibling issues he needs to work out? I have so many questions.
Then comes the boy's meeting with the mysterious cab driver Flynn and the creepy Dr. Vink. Knowing Dr. Vink would return in future episodes hit me straight in the nostalgia bone, but again, why do these kids so blindly trust strange adults they meet in the woods? It is unnerving to watch Buzz and Denny put their lives in the hands of total strangers who are acting erratic at best and menacing at worst. They go into Dr. Vink's house as if they have no choice — and let me make this clear: Dr. Vink's house is not a house at all, it is a lair. The kids walked right into the lair of a man who keeps boar's brains around for experimentation.
I have to hand it to Frank, though, nearly 25 years later his story still packs a punch. Sure, I cringed at some of the acting and Denny's bad big brother persona was way over-the-top, but the actual story is frightening. Dr. Vink takes specimens from unsuspecting people who can't solve his (admittedly simple) riddles, and one of those specimens is Flynn's hand. The show does not shy away from the gruesome nature of Dr. Vink's practices, and at ages 7 and 30, seeing Flynn swirl his head all the way around is still a gasp-worthy sight.
Adulthood cannot take the punch out of a genuinely creepy story. Knowing the dangers of the world only adds to the scares found within "The Tale of the Phantom Cab." I would have given Frank the thumbs-up then, and I would still give him the thumbs-up now — his story introduced the world to the Midnight Society and more than 20 years later, they are still giving me chills.
Images: Nickelodeon (3); Giphy