What better place to start than with the first ever episode? It’s unique for a few reasons, first being that it lacks the much beloved opening credits, or at least my copy of it does. I can’t really remember back to the 1992 debut of SNICK to be sure if the opening titles were present, I do know the episode was preceded by Ren & Stimpy and Roundhouse. Do you remember Roundhouse? No? Well that’s probably for the best.
With each review, I’ll post links to the episode on Youtube, so you can watch it yourself. Here’s today’s episode.
Anyways, being the first episode, we’re treated to a nice introduction of what AYAOTD is all about, as head honcho Gary gives us pretty much the most information we’ll ever receive about The Midnight Society, plus some nice close ups of it’s members. Separately they’re very different, they like different things, they go to different schools and they have different friends. But they’re united by a shared love of evening romps into the Canadian wilderness…I mean a love of spooky stories, ladies and gentleman, it’s the Midnight Society!
And in this episode, they’re initiating a new member, Frank.
To get into the Midnight Society, you’ve got to tell them a scary story that meets their approval, and Frank seems confident he’s up to the task. Though looking at the group, I’m sure even if he failed, they’d let him in anyways, out of fear of the wedgies and indian sunburns rejecting him would surely bring upon them.
And so we begin, Frank introduces his story, and the magic powder is tossed into the campfire for the first time. That’s one of the most common questions about AYAOTD, just what the hell was it that they were throwing into the fire? I’m going to say it’s PCP. Anyways, submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, Frank calls this story…
We’re introduced to Denny and Buzz, two brothers on a hiking trip. Denny is the older of the two, described as strong and tough, and Buzz is the little brother who’s described as “kind of a geek” as if being named Buzz wasn’t already bad enough.
The trip doesn’t appear to be going well, and soon Denny is hurling insults at Buzz, calling him both Tonto and cheeseball within 15 seconds. Impressive. Meanwhile Buzz is mindlessly staring at a compass and insisting that they aren’t lost in a nasally voice, while spilling water all over their map. It’s hard not to side with Denny here. Buzz however, remains confident in his abilities and begins hiking again, commenting that the whole getting lost thing is “whacked” before promptly falling off a cliff.
Much to the disappointment of anyone watching the episode, and probably Denny, Buzz survives the fall, and is pulled to safety by his older brother, but not before being called a jerk. Only jerks fall off cliffs. Denny’s day doesn’t get any better, as they remain lost in the woods for the rest of the day and soon it’s night time. It’s soon revealed that they’ve been going the wrong direction all day because Buzz has been holding his compass too close to his metal belt buckle. What a jerk. Denny calls Buzz useless and I’m inclined to agree. Ever confident in his abilities however, Buzz decides to run off into the woods, again insisting he knows where he’s going and Denny chases after him, hopefully to pound him into oblivion.
Instead they run into a stranger named Flynn, who really doesn’t come off as exactly trustworthy, but hey, when you’re lost in the woods I guess you take whatever help you can get. Plus, if he turns out to be a serial killer, it will almost certainly mean the end of Buzz, so I fully support their decision to follow him.
The brothers learn that Flynn is taking them to the home of a doctor who just happens to live in the forest. Flynn disappears after warning them not to ask the doctor for help unless they really need it, as his price can be pretty steep. Neither of the brothers seem particularly thrilled at the thought of going into the doctor’s house, but for some reason the bushes start laughing at them and they decide it might not be such a bad idea.
Of course they surely regret their decision as soon as they meet Dr. Vink, who looks to be homeless, crazy and probably no more of a doctor than Dr. Dre is.
Dr. Vink, and that’s Vink with a va va va, tells them that he lives in the woods to study nature and that he’s not a nut bag, something he’ll insist during every one of his appearances in the series. Looks like someone’s a tad insecure. He also has a thing for riddles, though he never mentions them again in any future appearances, and he won’t be letting the boys call their parents unless they can solve one. It’s the same way I imagine The Riddler would operate if he were a child abductor.
Anyways, Vink’s brain teaser is as follows: What is it that has no weight, can be seen by the naked eye and if put in a barrel it would make the barrel lighter?
Unsurprisingly, Buzz can’t answer the riddle, despite earlier professing how good he was at solving them. Really his only talent seems to be being a failure. The boys are told to leave, but that there will be a cab waiting for them. The boys, showing enough intelligence to doubt that a cab would show up in the middle of a forest, ask Dr. Vink if there is anything else they could do in order to use his phone. Vink tells them that they could provide him with specimen, which leads to him showing them a severed hand, prompting them to scream like pansies and run away. Apparently some people are afraid of examples.
Strangely enough, they find the cab Vink said would be there and they happily hop inside, finding the driver to be none other than Flynn. Flynn explains that he’s been bringing people to the doctor for nearly 40 years, but no one can ever solve his riddle. Flynn also reveals that it’s his severed hand the doctor has, and he got it after Flynn crashed his cab into a tree and…
Flynn is cursed to repeat the accident every night with whomever is in his cab, and the panicked brothers being furiously trying to solve the riddle. Actually, Denny just starts choking Buzz and blaming him for getting them into this mess, and once again, you really have to take his side. Of course, just in the nick of time, and once again to the disappointment of viewers, Buzz figures out the answer to the riddle.
It’s a hole.
The cab disappears and Denny gives Buzz credit for finally doing something right. They are soon rescued by a Forest Ranger and no trace is ever found of the cab or of Dr. Vink’s house.
The Midnight Society seems impressed by Frank’s tale, but a vote must be held, and it’s got to be unanimous. It should be noted The Midnight Society uses the very technologically advanced voting system of “Thumbs up=good, Thumbs down=bad” Frank story gets six thumbs up (Siskel and Ebert only gave it one and Zangief gave them a thumbs sideways, he’ll never learn.) and he becomes an official member of The Midnight Society.
The Phantom Cab, while not the best episode, should still be considered an Are You Afraid of the Dark classic. It provides more information about The Midnight Society than any other episode ever has, and is the first appearance of the Dr. Vink character, who pops up in pretty much every story Frank tells. It’s really only held back by the horribly annoying performance of the actor playing Buzz. Nasally and whiny, Buzz makes you kind of hope he’ll be in the cab when it crashes into the tree or at the very least get an ass kicking from Denny when they get home. Plus, Buzz is a stupid name.