Ghosts. The mere word, when spoken in a certain tone and context, is enough to send a hundred goosebumps up and down my spine. It's a time-honored tradition to tell spooky ghost tales by the campfire; macabre stories of things that go bump in the night. Why do so many people enjoy telling and listening to ghoulish tales by a crackling fire? I know this much: few things can top a good ghost story on a warm summer night
DO YOU BELIEVE IN GHOSTS?
Asked to link my surplus fascination with anything that has to do with the supernatural, I can trace it all back to one man: Uncle Jimmy. Back in the late '80s and early '90s, when he lived with us, oh he was so full of energy, full of life, and full of night. On many weekend nights we camped out in our backyard. Uncle Jimmy pulled out three lawn chairs that folded out like makeshift beds. Along with my brother Kevin, the three of us would lay back and take in the nice warm summer night air, admire the streaking stars in the night sky, as Uncle Jimmy wove grandiose tales ranging from random anecdotes, fables, and my personal fave, his infamous stories of the supernatural. No one told ghost stories quite like Uncle Jimmy could. Hey we're talking about the same guy here who introduced me to John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN when I was only six-years-old! See, it's all his fault. For at least a solid hour, if not two, we hung onto every last word that came out of Uncle Jimmy's mouth. You can never get those serene and idyllic summer nights back, no matter how much you want to
Uncle Jimmy's twisted ghost tales never ceased to scare the heebie-jeebies outta me. Long before creepy ladies with long flowing hair became a staple in the horror movie genre, Uncle Jimmy was king of that domain. Almost all of his stories featured a creepy lady. It's no wonder one of my recurring nightmares as a young child was this decrepit elderly woman always stalking me. The scary thing is, I wasn't the only one. My brother had the same nightmares. He dreamt of the old lady too
Sometimes I woke up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat... the nightmare always being cut off right as the old lady seized my arm in a vice-like grip. I turned on the light, only to find a mark on my arm. (Of course, I slept on my arm, but I was too young to know any better). You would think I'd tell Uncle Jimmy to stop telling us his spooky stories, but it was an addiction. Eventually, the old lady disappeared from my nightmares for good. I guess finally I was old enough and able to beat the beast. My brother and I randomly talk about the old lady in our nightmares once in a blue moon to this day. The description of her and the scenarios we found ourselves in in the nightmares always frighteningly mirrored each other. Freddy Krueger? Puh-leese. Freddy can't hold a candle to the old lady that often haunted the nightmares of my youth
The night Uncle Jimmy rented Halloween for me when I was only six-years-old in 1989, I had a nightmare of the boogeyman, Michael Myers. And yet despite all these potentially traumatizing episodes, I could never get enough of ANYTHING that had to do with ghosts, monsters, goblins, witches -- you name it
So imagine my gleeful joy when "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" debuted on Nickelodeon on a summer night of '92. With Uncle Jimmy moving out in spring '92, I was missing my weekly supernatural supplement. This show did more than well to fill in that void. In fact, and don't tell my dear ole uncle Jimmy this, between you and me, at times it was even better. Sure, it's fun to use your imagination to form pictures in your head as a storyteller weaves his or her tale, but you know, sometimes, you just can't beat the effectiveness of picture and sound. Are You Afraid of the Dark? became a hit show among young viewers... becoming an instant hit (cult) classic overnight in my small little town. Everyone was raving about it, and anyone who was anyone, watched it religiously. Yes folks, before Nickelodeon became crap, it was once legendary. And shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark? were among the main reasons why
You remember the unsettling intro, don't cha? The swish-swoosh of a single abandoned rowboat against a soft eerie glow... with that infamous theme creeping into your living room...
The spooky swaying of the empty swing set...
A loose shutter banging loudly against an upstairs window...
... and the creepy evil grin of a dummy in the attic
Oh yeah, the show spooked more than just a few kids. And that's why we loved it so much. For a kid show, they sure could have fooled us! Many a sleepless nights came courtesy of this little gem of a show. Each week there was a new half-hour spooky ep to sink your teeth into. From phantoms to Nosferatu, the show did not discriminate against any vengeful spirit of the occult family
"I JUST VANT TO BE YOUR FRIEND!"
I'm not ashamed to admit that on more than one occasion, the show absolutely scared the crap outta me. For a kid show, some of the visuals, like that screaming girl being swallowed underneath her bed, sent unspeakable shivers down your spine and left a lasting image in your head. I still remember to this day my bro and I screaming when this floating specter appeared in the window. That night we slept in our parents' room! No shame at all, hey, we were kids!
And the show could have just been simple ghost stories each week but no. The show was even more than that. It featured a cast of young teenagers, teenagers you could find on any ole block in America, who met up once a week in an undisclosed location deep in the woods to exchange ghostly tales by the crackling of a campfire. They were called the Midnight Society, and each week a different member shared their story. Amazingly, for the little air time they received (beginning, middle and end), each character managed to carve out a distinguishable personality for viewers to pick their favorites. They even had story themes that were somewhat unique to their style. There was your tall and tough guy, the geeky ring leader that was the "glue" of the group, the tomboy, the "princess-y" girl, and so on
I just loved the way they opened up each episode, talking up their story dramatically before fading to the really good stuff. There were even subplots to the Midnight Society characters; crushes and pseudo rivalries, just like any dynamic you would find with any group of teenagers. They really weren't friends -- one thing brought them together each week. That one thing being... their sick love of spooky stories. The kind that makes the hair on your neck stand on end on a warm summer night. It was a show that made you feel like you were sitting by the campfire as well. It just had a personable touch to it that grabbed you and didn't let go -- even long after it went off the air. You know, some things from our childhoods we overhyped, personally in my humble opinion I think of GameFan as one of those things, but Are You Afraid of the Dark? is certainly not in that group. Tonight, I'm proud to bring you one of my favorite episodes from the Dark vault. It's the third ep from the show, originally aired on August 29, 1992... it's called...
THE TALE OF THE LONELY GHOST
"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you"
"DAVID! Don't do that!"
"Sorry, I just wanted to catch you before the meeting... to uh, UH --"
"David, how did you know my Birthday's next week? I don't know what to say -- thank you. Um, we're late, I'll open it after the meeting OK?"
"JERK! I coulda choked!"
"Go ahead, take your best shot"
"C'mon guys, lighten up"
"Sorry I'm late"
"Start fast, the natives are restless"
"My story's got to do with... two kids... who don't get along, because they're so different from each other. And a love... that is SO strong, it can survive anything... even DEATH"
"Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story..."
It was the beginning of summer vacation, and every kid in town was psyched. Every kid, except Amanda Cameron that is
Her mom and dad were some kind of scientists, who had to travel up north to study Inuit stone carvings. So, Amanda was shipped off to her Aunt Dottie's place for the summer
"We're here, everybody out!"
"Oh shoot. Sweetie, what in the world did your mother put in here?"
"Books? Feels like you've got a whole set of encyclopedias"
"Beth! Beth lovely! Your cousin Amanda is here! Could you give us a hand?"
"She must be on the phone again. We'll just do this ourselves"
Unfortunately for Amanda, spending a whole summer with Cousin Bethy, was going to be even LESS fun than staring at a bunch of OLD rocks with her mom and dad for two months
"What was that?!"
"What was what?"
"That banging, coming from OVER THERE!"
"Ohhh, not that place sweetie, no one's been in there for years. I should know, I'm the real estate agent, I can't even get people to look at the place. I just wish it would..."
"Sometimes I think this house just doesn't want to be SOLD! Come on, let's get you inside and unpacked"
"You should see what she's wearing. My mom better not expect me to babysit that dweeb all summer"
"She's here, I gotta go"
"Look who's here, honey. Come on in Mandy"
"You'll be sharing Beth's room so the two of you can stay up all night giggling and talking. This is where Nanny used to sleep when Beth was little. Well, I'll leave you two alone to get reacquainted. Have fun!"
*Aunt Dottie leaves*
"I suppose she told you we're going to do all sorts of fun stuff together"
"WROOONG! If you think I'm gonna hang with you all summer, yer NUTS"
"I don't think she means for you to hang with JUST me, we could do stuff with your friends"
"You don't even know my friends"
"They could get to know me"
"Why? It's not like just ANYONE can hang with us. You hafta prove you're not a zeeb"
"How does one prove that they're not a zeeb?"
"OK look, you wanna hang with us? You gotta follow the rules"
"Okaaay, first off, I don't even wanna know that you're here. That means putting all of my animal collection back every day in the exact right places. IN FACT, I don't feel like having my room look like a disaster all day, SO DO IT NOW. And you can't go crying to mom or Nanny EVER, no matter what happens. Got it?"
"Fine, I'll put every thing back in the right order every day and I won't snitch. Easy!"
"Then there's the most important thing..."
"OH YEAH. Anyone who hangs with us... has to spend the night alone... in the place next door... it'sHAUNTED"
"Dear Mom and Dad, I hope you're having a good time. I am, too"
"You must be Amanda..."
"... I'm Nanny"
"NOOOO! If you touch her contaminated wrinkly old hand I'll never let you touch my things again!"
*creepy frenetic music as Nanny scurries down the stairs*
"DON'T YOU EVER TALK TO HER!"
"Who is she?"
"My nanny, and I want hergone!"
"Because I'm TOO old for a nanny, and she's SO weird -- I hate how she's ALWAYS watching me!"
"She seems kind of sad to me..."
"She's crazy, REALLY crazy. I know for a fact there's something funny with her and the haunted place next door. I heard my parents talking once. I think she must have been driven insane by the ghost.... which reminds me, there's a pool party at Sally's on Saturday, I suppose you wanna come"
"Don't get toooo excited, you can't come unless you go through the initiation"
"The night in the haunted house?"
"You got it. Tomorrow night. Pleasant dreams"
"Are you OK?"
"You dropped this"
"Is that Beth's laundry?"
"Oh that's OK, it won't take me long"
"Don't worry, I won't tell anyone"
"SHE'S SO WEIRD, and I'm too old for a nanny. Why doesn't she just leave?"
"I'm not gonna argue. I told you before. She has nowhere to go, I wish she did but she doesn't"
*Nanny scurries up the stairs*
"There you are honey! Sleeping in? Now Beth, I don't want to hear any more rudeness. See you girls later"
"I'm going roller skating. DON'T TOUCH! MY STUFF... oh, and don't forget... tonight's the night"
2 minute piss break time. OR you can watch the commercials...
2 minute intermission is up... on with the show...
"Why does everyone think it's haunted anyway?"
"They DON'T THINK it's haunted, they KNOW it's haunted... and this is why. A long long time ago, there was a little girl who lived there. All the kids made fun of her, because she couldn't talk"
"Why couldn't she talk?"
"... I dunno, she just... couldn't"
"Maybe she was deaf?"
"It doesn't matter, JUST LISTEN!"
"Anyway, one day... her mom got a letter... from her dad... who was away in the war... had gotten sick. So she sent the little girl to go stay with her grandmother... while she went away to take care of him. Only the little girl didn't make it to her grandmother's... because on the way, some mean kids surrounded her, and teased her"
"She ran back home to get away from them, and they followed her... followed her RIGHT into her very own home. They locked the little girl in her bedroom..."
"No one knew she was there. Her mother didn't come back for weeks, and her grandmother didn't even know she was coming. When they found her, she was DEAD"
"And that's where you have to go: her BEDROOM"
"We'll know you're in there by the light, from this"
"The keys to the front door"
"Won't Aunt Dottie miss them?"
"No way... no one ever calls to see the place... it's just... TOO scary..."
"You... COULD turn chicken... if you rather spend the whole summer alone... reading"
"No... I'm going in. I don't believe in ghosts anyway"
"Neither did we... until we spent the night in there..."
"She really thinks we all did this!" *they run off giggling*
"Very funny y-you guys. I know that's you t-trying to scare me"
"Oh my God!"
"It's backwards.... HELP ME??"
"Where did Beth go?"
"Beth went to Sally's for the whole night. Aunt Dottie was working late"
"That means Amanda was home alone with Nanny"
"She should have stayed with the ghost, now she's alone with a LUNATIC"
"Nanny isn't a lunatic, Beth just told Amanda that to scare her, but you PROBABLY didn't get that... did you?"
"Guys, c'mon. So what happened, Dave?"
"When Aunt Dottie came home, Amanda told her everything that happened"
"I'm VERY disappointed in you girls. I don't know who did the writing on the wall"
"And I don't want to know. You two girls are gonna go over there and scrub it off before I get back"
"Will you come with us?"
"I will not, I have two open houses today and also a closing at six. If you two girls went over there last night you can go over there now"
"... There's a ghost..."
"Oh PLEASE! You can do better than that. Now c'mon, come on, let's go"
"This is ALL YOUR FAULT. You're such a chicken!"
"I'm not, and I don't want to be in your lame ole group any more"
"Good, I WASN'T GONNA LET YOU ANYWAY"
"And you're a snitch too. You're a chicken AND a snitch. I COULDN'T STAND BEING YOU. ... Gimme a break! It's not even dark. You CAN'T be scared now!"
"One thing's for sure, I'm never inviting you to do anything with my friends ever again..... HEEEELL-LOOOW?!"
"... Wow, no wonder Mom was so mad. You did this just to get me in trouble didn't you?"
"I didn't do it... it wasn't like this last night..."
"Yeah right! Well if you think I'm gonna clean up the mess that YOU made..."
*door slams shut*
"Beth! C'mon let's go!"
"Woooow, look at all the dolls and stuffed animals. What an AWESOME collection, it's even bigger than mine..."
"OH MY GOD OPEN THE DOOR! SOMEONE LET ME OUT!"
"LEAVE ME ALONE! LEAVE ME ALONE!"
"Who are you? ... Wait a second... it's Nanny!"
"... Your... your MOTHER? Nanny's your mother?"
"Help me? Help you? I- I can help you, yes, please open the door and I can help you, I'll get her, I will"
*door creeps open*
"Thank you... I'll get her"
"NO DON'T GO AMANDA! HELP ME! I'M STUCK IN THE MIRROR! AMANDA CAN'T YOU SEE ME?!?! HOW AM I GONNA GET OUTTA HERE!?! AMANDAAAAA!"
"Nanny! Where are you?!"
"NANNY!? Oh no, Nanny no! NOOO!"
"NANNY WAIT! Please don't go! You have to come with me!"
"What? What are you saying?"
"Over there, come on!"
"No I'm not going THERE, too many bad memories. You girls can go play your jokes on someone else"
"No it's not a joke please!"
"No, I'm leaving. I'm not wanted here anymore"
"YES YOU ARE, LOOK!"
"Where did you get this?"
"No, nooooo, no! I can't! It's too hard!"
"You can, you have to!"
"My baby! My poor baby... I didn't know you were here, all this time. Nothing bad will ever happen to you again"
*points to mirror*
"Yes, yes! I'll go with you"
"Amanda help me! I'm stuck in the mirror!"
*Beth's friends enter room*
"Amanda, where's Beth? Your aunt said that you guys were both over here"
"Please Amanda, help me!"
"Are you gonna stop bossing me around?"
"Are you gonna stop bossing your friends around?"
"Well, OK, I'll let you out"
*opens door, Beth tumbles out*
"You know Beth, I think we're gonna hafta make some changes in this group..." *they giggle*
".... THE END"
"So what happened with Amanda and Beth?"
"Amanda had a great summer. She even let Beth hang with the group"
"Good story, Dave. I now declare this meeting of the Midnight Society closed. Next week, everybody"
"C'mon zeeb... I'll buy you a soda to cool you off"
"Ow ow ow OW"
"Aren't you going to -- ?"
"Oh the present! Oh I'm sorry Dave, your story was so good"
"A locket like in your story!"
"You like it?"
"I love it, it's beautiful but... you shouldn't have gotten this"
"What do you think?"
"Perfect... I knew it would be"
"I'll think of you every time I wear it... forever"
"Let's catch up!"
The Lonely Ghost episode epitomizes what the show was all about: spooks and thrills. Are You Afraid of the Dark? was a small but special ingredient during my childhood years. Every week I joined in at the campfire and it made me feel like Uncle Jimmy (from The Wonder Years) never left. The haunting images and stories from the show resonated with a part of my being. They are forever etched in my memory bank
"Please... come here for a second...."
The old lady in my recurring nightmares as a lad actually looks a lot like Nanny does here. That whole scene gave me the chills! Moreso than the ghost in the mirror one. I remember when I first saw this ep in '92, I thought, "It's the old lady from my nightmares!" However, Nanny proved to be harmless... and I don't know if that had any lingering subconscious effects on me or not, but soon thereafter I stopped having those recurring nightmares of the old lady stalking me everywhere in the dream world. Then again, maybe it had to do more with the fact that Uncle Jimmy recently moved out and was no longer available to tell me ghost stories involving an old, twisted, demented lady. Yeah, that was probably more it! Nothing creeps me out quite like old ladies dressed in black with frizzy hair who meanders around in an unorthodox manner. Good work, Nanny. It was one of the best scenes from the Are You Afraid of the Dark? legacy! Well done, Sheena Larkin. I still get goosebumps whenever I think about that scene...
If you were a kid in the early-mid '90s, chances are, you understand exactly where I'm coming from. To the day when NICK was truly king of television, I salute you, and thank you for the memories. Are You Afraid of the Dark? was a gem
Good freakin' times!
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
And hey, here's Laura Bertram! As you probably figured out, she played Amanda. Nearing 30, but looking almost the same, only 100 times prettier, Laura is still involved with acting to this day
Her mean cousin Beth, played by Laura Levin, is now a professor of theatre and performance arts, where she passes the joys of acting to a new generation
In 2005, Laura Levin was named one of 200 "everyday heroes" who had enriched undergraduates' lives. The theatre professor was completing her doctoral studies at the time and had taught courses in acting and performance and directed several undergraduate student theatre productions
"Laura Levin is really the best thing that has happened to me in my college career," said the anonymous student who singled out Levin on the undergraduate experience survey. "As clichéd as it sounds, she believes in me," wrote Levin’s admirer. "That is honestly what every student needs. They need primarily to believe in themselves and their abilities. But, to also have someone who will fight with you just to affirm that they believe in you, can be enough to inspire a student to move forward."
"It meant a lot to me to read this student comment," said Levin, who received news of her citation near the end of her first teaching term. "In the midst of end-of-first-year-junior-professor-exhaustion, it's nice to know that my teaching can make a difference."
Way to go Laura Levin, teaching is one of the most noble professions in the world and a real chance to make a positive difference in other people's lives every single day. I can sort of relate to the anonymous student who cited Levin's influence. In college I had my own acting professor mentor of sorts, Laura Smith, who meant a lot to me, supported and believed in me during my undergraduate years (for more on that, see Playback III)
It's always lovely to see people from your childhood, whether you knew them personally or not, doing well in the game of life. It's really sad when you find out some of these cats burned out, doing drugs, or whatever. Not such the case for these two Laura's. They went on to live their dreams and, in the case of Levin, made a difference in the world. Nothing can be said higher of a person who leaves the world a better place than when they entered it
As for Nanny and the Ghost, to this day still they reside happily together in the mirror
Thanks for joining me on this spooky trip down memory lane... I hope you enjoyed it half as much as I did... drive safe folks, good night, and, of course... pleasant dreams ;)