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DVD Review: Are You Afraid of the Dark?

August 25, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The Canadian horror series Are You Afraid of the Dark?, which originally aired on YTV and Nickelodeon in the 1990s and also subsequently spawned a popular series of children’s books, has maintained a cult following over the years.

The fact that the show gained such a dedicated fanbase makes Nickelodeon’s decision to reboot it for a three-part limited series event last year completely understandable. Now this new version of Are You Afraid of the Dark? is arriving on DVD this week, and you know what? It’s surprisingly good.

With a new cast of characters and a brand new villain, Are You Afraid of the Dark? tells an original, self-contained story over a three episode arc, while also paying tribute to its predecessor both in format and tone. Like the original, the result is a solid piece of horror storytelling for kids.

The main character here is Rachel (Lyliana Wray), a teenager who has just moved to a new town with her single mother (Fiona Vroom). At school, Rachel gets invited to join The Midnight Society, a group of kids who tells scary stories around a campfire in the woods at night, but first she must tell a sufficiently scary story in order to be accepted. Rachel draws upon her own nightmares to tell a chilling tale about a place called The Carnival of Doom run by the evil Mr. Tophat (Rafael Casal), only to have the story come true when the actual Carnival of Doom rolls into town.

When kids start going missing, it falls upon Rachel and the other members of the secretive Midnight Society, including horror movie nerd Graham (Jeremy Ray Taylor, whom genre fans will recognize from both It movies and Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween), aspiring genre filmmaker Akiko (Miya Cech), popular cheerleader Louise (Tamara Smart), and Rachel’s new neighbour Gavin (Sam Ashe Arnold), to solve the mystery.

Pitched somewhere between the modern Goosebumps movies and last year’s criminally underrated Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Are You Afraid of the Dark? will be a lot of fun for budding horror movie fans, and it’s quite enjoyable for older viewers as well. The three episodes, (Part One: Submitted for Approval, Part Two: Opening Night, and Part Three: Destroy All Tophats), which are just over forty minutes each, are perfect for binge-watching and play together pretty seamlessly as a roughly two hour feature.

Written by BenDavid Grabinski, and directed by Dean Israelite who also did the Power Rangers reboot and the pretty good teen time travel flick Project Almanac, Are You Afraid of the Dark? has a lot to like about it. The miniseries boasts solid production design, with an atmosphere that is just creepy enough for younger viewers, and it’s carried by decent performances from its young cast.

Finally, the show also features delightful work by Casal, who channels Willy Wonka with his charismatic, villainous turn as Mr. Tophat. With a lot of fun little horror movie references sprinkled in for genre fans to pick up on, Are You Afraid of the Dark? is an entertaining reboot that tells a satisfying story, and serves as a fine horror introduction for kids.

Bonus Features (DVD):

The DVD includes no bonus features. The marketing suggested that three classic episodes of the original series would be included, but they were nowhere to be found on my disc and aren’t listed on the package.

Are You Afraid of the Dark? is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 130 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: August 25th, 2020

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