If you grew up in the ’90s it’s likely that one of your first brushes with horror was with the Canadian anthology horror show Are You Afraid of the Dark?. The cult hit aired on Nickelodeon for six years and scared a whole generation of kids silly. Now the great news for horror fans young and old is that the series is returning in a three part limited series on Nick. To celebrate the prestige reboot, Den of Geek was invited to Los Angeles’ Haus of Creep to chat to some of the cast and creative team whilst trying not to get trapped in the immersive horror experience.
In the depths of ROW DTLA, Haus of Creep throws visitors into a dark world of influencers, twisted reflections, murder, and monsters. The scariest thing about the whole experience, however, is that you’re an active part of the story. Once we’d battled through the harrowing hallways and strange storytimes — one of which saw us being dragged into a closet and having the very hairs on our head threatened by a bald serial killer–we sat down with the new Midnight Society, which features some familiar faces you might know.
Rim of the World’s Miya Cech takes on the role of Akiko, a passionate filmmaker who wants nothing more than to be a director. Sam Ashe Arnold from Best Worst Weekend Ever stars as Gavin, who seems to be the leader of the group. A burgeoning genre star in his own right, It‘s Jeremy Taylor plays deadpan joker, Gavin. And Black-ish’s Lyliana Wray is the new girl, Rachel, whose test to become a member of the iconic scary story club is the inciting incident for the three episode miniseries.
Though in real life the things that scare the young cast are relatively normal –like heights, claustrophobia, and the dark– the new series sees them face down a terrifying foe in the shape of Rafael Casal’s Mr. Tophat, the ringmaster of a terrifying and possibly supernatural circus. Whilst that might sound like a narrative that’s been done before, Are You Afraid of the Dark? aims to turn things on their head because the so-called Carnival of Doom appears only after a new member of the Midnight Society makes up a story featuring them.
This twist on the classic anthology format of the original show was key to writer BenDavid Grabinski’s take on the Nickelodeon reboot.
“Because we’re doing a limited series to start in theory that’s three hours long, it doesn’t really work for an anthology thing,” he says. “So I wanted to figure out how to do everything the show did but in a different format. I still have the Midnight Society, these scary stories, but we really get into their lives.
“They go on an adventure, which I thought was the best of both worlds really because whenever I watched the show I always wanted to see what those kids did when they’re away from the campfire. I wanted to see them live, I wanted to see their interests and all that stuff. But in the original pilot–which is perfect–it starts with a kid with the bag on their head and they get the chance to tell a campfire story and join the Midnight Society. But I always wanted to be like, ‘Well, who is that person? How do they get chosen? What does it feel like? How do they maintain their secrecy?’ All of that stuff to me felt really fun, like a wish fulfillment thing I hadn’t necessarily seen yet.”
With so many iconic episodes like “The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float,” and “The Tale of the Lonely Ghost”, it’s hard to pick a favorite. But writer Grabinski has appreciates the underdog and his tastes lean into the stranger offerings of the ’90s classic.
“I really love the alien episodes, and our show, it’s not a sci-fi but I do have a running gag where the kids are arguing about whether alien stories are horror or sci-fi,” he says. “It was also a way for me –if I’m lucky enough to do more of these– to kind of set up and establish that we’re at least dealing with sci-fi.”
The Midnight Society is made up of young actors who weren’t even born when Are You Afraid of the Dark? first debuted, so it’s unsurprising that most of them hadn’t even heard of the series before getting the gig. But Cech did have a bit of a familial insight as her mom was a fan.
“My mom has watched the original version,” she says. “She’s been telling me all about it and I’ve been able to see a couple of things. So that’s pretty cool.”
Ashe Arnold agrees and adds that the love for the original show has made taking on the job extra special.
“I didn’t know what it was before I booked the job,” she says. “But upon being able to talk about it, everyone’s reaction when they hear the name has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s really cool to be a part of something that already has this, you know, gigantic, loyal fan base behind it and holding it up. It’s exciting.”
Wray was another Are You Afraid of the Dark? newbie when she got the job but she was shocked by how effective the classic series was.
“I had never heard about it before auditioning. But I’ve gotten to see a few episodes and it’s a lot scarier than I expected it to be,” she says.
Taylor was in a similar position despite his proven horror chops. “I didn’t know it existed. And then I told my friends and family like, ‘I just got this new role in a show called Are You Afraid of the Dark?‘ And they were like, ‘Wait, that’s coming back???’ It’s definitely like Sam said, it’s really, really cool to be a part of something that already has a cult following.”
Whereas the cast of Are You Afraid of the Dark? 2019 is just discovering the dark joys of the series, the people behind the camera are all huge fans of the show. Matt Kaplan–founder of ACE Entertainment (To All the Boys I Loved Before), which is producing both the show and the upcoming Are You Afraid of the Dark? movie, shared his excitement with us in the bustling bar.
“When we got approached to do both the movie and the show I think all of us were like this was one that was perfect for our company and we felt like it really represented our childhoods… and we wanted to scare some kids,” Kaplan says. “We were really trying to do justice to the original series as we remade it. And hopefully we can build some stars as successful as Ryan Gosling.”
For Grabinski, the joy came from creating a story for the young horror hounds who will get to enjoy the show this time around.
“The most fun thing to me is that you’re making this show about kids who would watch the show,” he says. “If you’re going to go out in the woods and tell scary stories then you love horror. And I just want it to feel like a love letter to the original show but also the genre. I’m such a big fan of both. Something that’s very fun to me about having middle school kids who are really into, like, The Changeling and The Gate, and they read Lovecraft and talk about Tangerine Dream scores which is a little anachronistic in 2019, except this is about obsessives.
“The way I view it is that not all kids are gonna know these references, but the kids in the Midnight Society would. There’s a fun feeling to have a kid watch it and go on their phone or their mom’s phone and Google some sort of references they find. It’s buried in references. That’s not what I think that the appeal of the show is but I think it’s sort of like a cherry on top.”
And if young fans fall in love with horror through the lens of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, the cast and crew have some suggestions of other genre fare that they should explore. “Definitely Monster Squad, The Gate, and Poltergeist if their parents let them,” Grabinski says. “It!” Cech adds. For Kaplan it’s all about the classics. “The Shining, and Scream… depending on how old they are,” the producer says with a laugh.
Are You Afraid of the Dark? hits Nickelodeon on October 11.