Are You Afraid of the Dark? 1.8 -- "The Tale of the Nightly Neighbors"
Betty Ann’s all set to spin a yarn, but Eric throws a hissy fit because all of her stories are gross and then end happily. Betty Ann puts him in his place, preparing the Midnight Society for a different type of tale.
Emma and her brother, Dayday, are enjoying a quiet life in suburbia when a creepy-ass family from Romania moves in next door. Like art students from hell, they dress all in black and only go out at night. When other folks in the neighborhood start getting sick, Emma puts all the pieces together and begins to suspect her new neighbors are vampires. After donning garlic and a wooden cross, she goes on a spy mission into their basement and finds...a freezer full of blood! But it turns out the parents are paramedics and storing extra donor blood at their house. Because that’s a thing, right? Emma and Dayday go back to life as usual, but the twist ending reveals the family’s “son” really is an ancient vampire. Oh snap!
Betty Ann concludes the story by saying, “With ghosts and ghouls, there are no rules, but a vampire’s bite only comes at night.”
Troy: Dayday is just plain not a human person’s name, right? What could it possibly be short for?
Erin: I had to google it. Apparently it is a name, but not a very common one. It strikes me as a nickname appropriate only for a toddler.
T: Way to waste all that popcorn, Emma! And then she tells Dayday that he’ll end up like their dad sitting in front of the TV all the time, but the dad is never seen in the house and they say he works long hours. What gives, Emma?
E: My guess is they didn’t want to bother to hire another actor. Their mom is also a treasure. I love that she almost bowls over the mailman and then just says, “I’m late,” and leaves her kids to apologize for her. It’s some solid foreshadowing for her to be the clueless asshole who invites the vampires in later on. Nice job, Mom! *rolls eyes*
T: There’s other weird bits in here that create a general off vibe. They offer to help the delivery man, but don’t actually help him, he gives them a ton of info on the neighbors because he’s never heard of customer confidentiality, the mom is awful, and the mailman is basically one hundred. Dayday’s bedroom wall is ridiculous - is he an amateur cartographer?
E: The weirdness abounds. The fact that they have a vampire as a neighbor is probably the least of their worries. That, at least, makes sense.
T: This one is much more exposition-y than most others. It cuts to Betty Ann narrating twice early on. Yes, that’s how stories are told, but doesn’t make for riveting television. Leads me to believe there was some last-minute editing to cut down the runtime. There was a line of twenty-three Are You Afraid of the Dark? books and only this one and a two-parter were adapted, which leads me to believe there was much more material cut.
E: Fascinating -- That makes a lot of sense. It’s like the shitty theatrical cut of Legend that pales in comparison to Ridley Scott’s director’s cut. Though the tiny vampire is not nearly as scary as Tim Curry.
T: You say “scary” but you mean “hot” right? Because Darkness is sex personified? Anyway, I just want to point out that Betty Ann gets in on the prop game and hands out cups of blood...I mean red juice. Kristen refuses to drink hers and Kiki chugs hers.
E: The juice is a nice touch and I love how differently the members of the Midnight Society react to it.
T: I wonder if Betty Ann straight-up warning that the story won’t have a happy ending was a way for the producers to appease parents.
E: Good point. Though “Super Specs” has a pretty dark ending and I don’t remember it coming with a warning.
QUEER OR NOT?
E: I didn’t spot any seriously queer moments in this one, though there’s something about the neighbors’ bohemian vibe that strikes me as queer-ish. Oh wait -- am I just doing that American thing where I think all Europeans are gay?
T: Yep! Which means this one scores a zero on the Queer Scale but at 10 on the Random European Factor.
TRIVIA, USELESS TRIVIA
T: If the movie Dayday’s watching feels familiar, it’s because it’s the original Night of the Living Dead. The film’s actually in the public domain because of wacky copyright issues, which is why it pops up all the time in film and television when characters are watching TV. Of course, it fits the theme here of the retro horror vibe.
E: Yasssss. I knew it looked familiar.
T: In the book version of this story, Dayday is David, because that’s a human boy’s name.
E: Like, what weirdo on the set decided that nicknaming him Dayday was a good idea? Did that decision involve drugs?
MODERNIZE ’90s CANADIAN KIDS
T: The story’s kind of paint-by-numbers so I don’t even know what I’d do. It feels like an update (at the time) of three classic ’80s films: The ’Burbs (are the suburban neighbors good or bad?), Fright Night (my neighbor’s a vampire but nobody believes me!), and The Lost Boys (siblings up against vampires with a clueless mom).
E: I’m so glad you mentioned The ’Burbs because I kept thinking of Corey Feldman’s stoner character while watching this episode. God, I love that movie. Updating this one might be tough because on-screen vampires have taken a turn for the sexy and sparkly in the last decade. That said, I feel like we’re overdue for a return to truly scary, gritty vampires. So maybe I’d double down on the creepy-undead-kid vibe and have Emma start with some unsettling internet research before sneaking into the basement.
T: Also, I have to point out that the whole “the child is a vampire” feels outdated and cliché now (Interview With A Vampire, Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 1, etc.), but at the time this was made, I’m fairly certain that’s not the case.
JUST GIVE IT A NUMERICAL RATING ALREADY
T: There’s nothing wrong with it, but the central conceit of the story is the question “are the neighbors good or bad?” and of course they’re bad, otherwise there would be no story. The big twist is that the parents aren’t vampires, but Lex is. But that doesn’t twist anything because they’re still bad. There is a sense of fun here and I’m pretty sure I get what they were going for, but it just falls flat for me. I hate to, but I have to give Betty Ann my lowest score yet at 5.1. OUT OF 10 CAMPFIRES.
E: It seems like Betty Ann was deliberately trying to prove Eric wrong with his comment about her stories being gross and then ending happily by throwing in a “twist” ending here. She should’ve just ignored that twerp and trusted in her own storytelling style. Buuuuuut, I do think Emma and Dayday make a really cute brother and sister duo. 6 OUT OF 10 CAMPFIRES.