Review: The Premiere of the ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? Reboot Will Delight Old and New Fans Alike

In 1990, DJ MacHale and Ned Kandel created a series that would ignite the flame for horror within an entire generation of kids, this writer included. With “The Tale of the Twisted Claw,” pre-teens everywhere were introduced to the Midnight Society, a group of adolescents who gathered around a campfire to present their own tales of horror, folklore, ghost stories and all around spooky stuff. Drawing heavily from the classic anthology series The Twilight Zone, the show would go on to be a benchmark series for Nickelodeon and it’s “late night” series Snick. All these years later, those same nineties kids have spent years recalling their favorite stories and creatures, and now thanks to BenDavid Grabinski and a team of writers, Nickelodeon is bringing back the seminal show in a brand new mini series. That’s right, Are You Afraid of the Dark? is back, and the first episode is available ahead of the premier on Youtube. 

In our premiere of the three episode mini, we meet Rachel who has just moved to Argento, Oregon. (Get ready to catch a lot of fun horror Easter Eggs like this.) She’s a little shy, a little awkward, and a lot into horror. When she meets Graham, it sets off a series of events that gets invited to the very exclusive Midnight Society. It’s here that Rachel proves her salt with a story based on a recurring nightmare about a man in a tophat, his carnival, and the kids that go missing after visiting. However, the kids quickly discover that Rachel’s story may not just be a campfire tale, and something much more daunting lies ahead.

Much like the finale of the 1999 revival of the series, this reboot toys with the idea of blending the fiction of the stories with the reality the kids exist in. As much as I love the original series (and trust me, check the name of our site if you had any doubts about that), one thing that was always missing was learning about our storytellers. Small bits with there for those who really wanted it, some story beats and different teens would tell selective types of stories, but we only got glimpses into the lives of the Society. This reboot succeeds in letting us follow our main characters and see them individually, learning that Graham is a germophobe and that Akiko gets into trouble doing hardcore DIY for her homemade horror movies, it gives us that extra bit of buy in with the series. 

What Grabinski has done masterfully is recaptured the feeling of the original series. If Nickelodeon were to come back now and make something that was terrifying to try and appeal to the fans who are now in their thirties, that would be a mistake. Instead, what they’ve done is realized to tap into the nostalgia while also opening a door for a brand new generation of viewers to fall in love with horror. The story of Mr. Tophat and the Carnival of Doom has some truly creepy moments, even a solid jump scare or two, but it’s not enough to really scare someone off. It’s that perfect in-between of gateway horror, that bit of fantasy and terror that mystifies you, makes you creeped out but at that perfect balancing point where you want to see what happens next. For old fans tuning it, it still follows the beats of those classic episodes we all fell in love with. The conversation lead-in to the story, the speedy pace, the thrill of sharing horror with your best friends, it captures those feelings perfectly and stokes that fire that this very same show originally ignited. 

The addition of IT cast member Jeremy Ray Taylor really cements that feel of a horror movie production, you know us genre fans all love when actors crossover. Lyliana Wray plays our introduction into the world with perfect affability, she’s anxious but eager, intelligent but reserved. Plus, it’s always refreshing to see when screentime is used to show a female who is not only involved in the genre, she knows more than most. It’s refreshing to see three females with all distinctly different personalities as members of the Midnight Society, reminding us that anyone and everyone can be in love with being scared. Miya Cech is specifically delightful as the abrasive and no nonsense Akiko. Our villain, Mr. Taphot, is a showman of a horror antagonist. Rafael Casal plays the role big and what we get is some sort of fantastic nightmare version of Panic! At The Disco (It’s all...part of...the show!)

It’s clear that Grabinski and team know exactly what they’re doing. Paying a perfect amount of respect to the original but entirely its own, Are You Afraid of the Dark? is a shining example of how reboots should be done. Drawing inspiration from Something Wicked This Way Comes with shades of King and Bradbury littered all over the place, this show is going to be a smorgasbord of devilish delights for horror fans, the television is the new campfire, gather round for the tale of your new favorite show.