Well, it’s time to finish this baby up. My #1 pick for the best episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? is from season 1. Happy Halloween, here are your links:
We start with the best opening in the show’s history, jumping directly into the story. It’s a Betty Anne tale, and it’s set at an amusement park called Playland. More specifically, it’s a story of Spook House within Playland, called Laughing in the Dark.
We get a glimpse of some of the things inside the house, but the one thing that sticks out the most is the final room. It’s a room with numbered doors, and when kids open up door #6…
It’s here that we cut back to the Midnight Society, because Kristen’s had enough. She doesn’t want to sit through a clown story, because she hates clowns. Smart girl, they are not to be trusted, as the story of the Crimson Clown illustrated. The others make fun of Kristen, so she sits back down and tells Betty Anne to do her worst. Gee, thanks for that. Betty Anne starts over and tosses some magic dust onto the fire. Submitted for the approval of The Midnight Society, she calls this story…
We meet Kathy and her brother…WeeGee?
They’ve also got a ginger kid friend named Josh, who’s your typical ginger asshole in the story. Kind of like Budnick from Salute Your Shorts.
Josh insists that both Weegee and Kathy are chicken and too afraid to go into Laughing in the Dark. Everyone says it’s haunted, something to do with the clown. Before this reaches its logical conclusion of Weegee and Kathy being peer pressured into the Spook House, we meet my favorite minor character ever.
In the credit’s he’s simply known as “Carny”, and that works for me. Does he look familiar? It’s the same guy who would later go on to play Dr. Vink, but this is far and away his best performance in the series. Go watch this. It starts at the 3:15 mark of Part 1. Carny tells them that the legends are true, and that clown is in there. Good ol’ Zeebo. Pick the right door and you’ll go free, pick the right door and there he’ll be. This performance is just so subtly creepy, I’m amazed by it every time. Unsurprisingly the three kids chicken out, and I don’t blame them for a second.
The next day, Weegee decides to do some research, and it’s time we all learn the legend of Zeebo. The original Laughing in the Dark house burned down in 1929. The circus came to town that year, and a clown named Zeebo stole the entire circus payroll. He hid inside Laughing in the Dark, but he threw away a lit cigar inside and the whole place burned down. Zeebo was unable to escape the blaze and died inside. To cash in on the events, Playland rebuild Laughing in the Dark and stuck a dummy of Zeebo at the end to scare everyone. But they say Zeebo’s ghost still haunts the place, trapped in there forever.
Weegee dares Josh to prove he’s not afraid of Zeebo, by going into Laughing in the Dark alone. Josh agrees, but with the catch that he’ll steal the Zeebo dummy’s nose, and if he makes it out with it, Weegee has to wear it to school for a whole week. His name’s already Weegee, it probably can’t get more embarrassing for him. Josh heads inside, but as soon as he opens the doors, Carny pops out to remind him that “It’s the most fun in the park, when you’re laughing in the dark.” I love you, Carny.
And now I present a bunch of screen captures from Josh’s journey through Laughing in the Dark.
I’ll interject here, Josh stops at the funhouse mirrors and makes fun of Zeebo, only for him to see this in the next mirror.
It vanishes the next time he looks. Let’s continue
Josh finally ends up in the room full on numbered doors. He actually manages to find the correct door out, but before he leaves, he remembers the dare. So it’s back the room, where he checks behind door #6. We all know what’s behind that…
Josh has to talk himself into it, but eventually he does snatch Zeebo’s nose.
After he leaves however, we cut back to Door #6…
The next day, it’s time for Josh to collect on his prize.
After some discussion about how much of a loser Weegee is (very much) he tosses the nose away and goes inside. Josh goes to retrieve it and smells cigars, but looks around and finds no one. After he walks away however, we see a puff of smoke come out from behind the house.
Josh returns home to find that his parents have gone out for the night. That’s when some weird things begin happening. Josh is enjoying a bowl of chocolate pudding when he hears a door creak open. This startles him and makes him drop the bowl. Upon further investigation, he finds that it was only a closet door. Weegee calls him to apologize for being a baby earlier, and Josh decides to only make him wear the nose for one day. What a nice guy. He hangs up but the phone rings again, only this time, instead of Weegee, it’s someone saying “Give it back, give it back” and then laughing manically.
Josh dismisses this and attempts to calm himself down by reminding himself that there is no Zeebo. He also takes an absurd amount of silverware out of a drawer and puts it on the table. This is never explained. The food he’s microwaving finishes, but when he takes off the lid, he finds…
Also, that pudding he spilled earlier?
Josh runs screaming up to his room and calls Weegee. He admits to being scared and asks Weegee if he’s been calling his house pretending to be Zeebo. Weegee claims innocence, and then the boys hear another phone click into their conversation. Weegee reminds Josh that he’s only got one phone, so it has to be at Josh’s house. Zeebo chimes in, letting Josh know that if he doesn’t give back his nose, he’ll come up there and take it. Josh locks his door, but a balloon is quickly inflated underneath it. It’s got a pretty clear message.
The balloon pops and Josh leaves his house via window. Josh runs back to Playland, which has to be literally down the street from him. This is the second time he’s arrived there in the blink of an eye. Josh drops off Zeebo’s nose and apologizes for taking it. He also brings him a box of cigars. How the hell a 13 year old got a box of cigars, I have no idea, but he didn’t have them when he left his house.
Josh leaves the spook house and runs home, After he leaves, our old pal Carny shows up to remind us all that “It’s the most fun in the park…when you’re laughing in the dark.”
Do you even have to ask why this was #1? This is, in my opinion the definitive episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? It’s a got a memorable villian, good tension and solid jump scares for a kid’s show. It’s a tight story that’s well acted. I love the atmosphere in this episode, Playland is the best setting for an episode in the whole series. The Carny guy is without a doubt the best minor character in the series. His role is small but he plays it to perfection. This is the first episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? I remember watching, and it scared the hell out of me. It’s also the episode that stuck with me the most, and was the first one I watched once I got the DVDs. This is episode is the reason I don’t trust clowns. Zeebo was the first, and possibly only icon in AYAOTD and he’s referenced many time throughout the rest of the series. They knew what they created in this episode. I’ve heard more people than I can count refer to this episode as “The one with the clown.” And it’s an episode they never want to watch.
And so we’ve reached the end of this project. It was surprisingly successful, and I’d like to thank everyone who took the time to read this. It’s only with an audience that I ever really feel compelled to write, and everyone who’s stopped in over the past month has help me reignite a lost passion. I wasn’t writing this project for me, I was doing it for all the fans of Are You Afraid of the Dark, or 90’s kid’s shows in general. Every generation says that they don’t make shows like they used to, but that’s especially true for kids of the 1990’s. Are You Afraid of the Dark was a unique show, the likes of which haven’t been seen since. It was the Twilight Zone for kids, and it was the last great horror anthology series to be on television, in my humble opinion. If this has brought back some great memories for you, then I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to do. Hold tight to those, there’s nothing wrong that. Thank you all for reading and giving me an audience to share my own memories with. I hope you’ll all stick around after this project is done, but I’m pretty sure things are going to get weirder and mildly insane, so I don’t blame you if you get off now.
Happy Halloween everyone.