Monday, October 28, 2013

Day 27 - Are You Afraid of the Dark?

     Remember that golden age for Nickelodeon? Are You Afraid of the Dark? was another one of the gems of that era. A "horror" anthology series structured around the idea of friends gathering in the woods and telling stories around a fire...already, even before any tales are being told, it's tapped into a very romantic idea for a lot of kids, having this dependable, like-minded group of cohorts that never really fights or has much "class hierarchy" and has the incredible freedom to escape their parents and sneak off in the night just to tell ghost stories. And beyond that, the notion of being members of a decades old, quasi-exclusive club-the Midnight Society. Didn't all kids think that was a cool idea?

     The tales proper were in the vein of The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents, more ironic morality lessons than full on horror. With a few exceptions, the kids usually found themselves arrive at a happy ending. In that, I find it an appropriate show to discuss when thinking about Halloween. Ultimately, Halloween is meant to be fun. Above all else, it's fun. You can have some chills and thrills, but it's safe and there's not any real danger. The guy with a chainsaw at the haunted house isn't going to kill you...the arms reaching out of the ground are fake, just like the tombstones they're in front of. And this is how AYAotD feels, it's directed with sincerity and there are plenty of genuinely creepy performances and scary moments, but we know that it's on Nickelodeon and the protagonists are kids so they're (probably) going to be all right at the end. So it's not that Halloween and the show aren't trying to be scary or that they try and fail, it's really the opposite. It's that given the context, that everyone knows there's a safety net under all of the proceedings, the audience kind of implicitly demands that there is, and is receptive to, much more effort put into terrifying them.

     But I'm getting a bit off point is, though some might feel the show is hamstrung by being on a children's network, I think it's the perfect way to create a show that compliments the playful spookiness of Halloween. The envelope can actually be pushed quite far because of these "built in rules" in our minds knowing the lines that can't be crossed. In the same way we know a haunted house actor won't grab us and chew our face off, we know the kids in the creepy house with the werewolf aren't really in mortal danger. This is the kind of "horror" I enjoy the most. I don't mind the occasional brutal, no-one-is-safe kinda scenario, but most often I'd prefer a Nerf'd experience where I can get some scares and rush of adrenaline without the trauma.

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