Thursday, September 23, 2010

Guest review: The Tale of the Nightly Neighbors

I’m pleased to welcome Ross Tipograph back to the blog, who has reviewed the “Are you Afraid of the Dark” episode “the Tale of the Nightly Neighbors” for us.

Ross is a film buff and Emerson College screenwriting major. When he’s not reviewing movies, he's writing about costumes for Halloween. He can be reached at: ross (dot) tipograph (at) gmail (dot) com

Are You Afraid of the Dark?: The Tale of the Nightly Neighbors – review

Directed by: Jacques Payette

First Aired: 1990

Contains spoilers

“Are you Afraid of the Dark?” was a Canadian kids TV production where a group of kids, the Midnight Society, would gather in the woods to tell scary stories. The story would be the meat of the episode. The first run of the series was 5 seasons long and ran from 1990 to 1996, a new set of Midnight Society members were seen between 1999 and 2000. This was from season 1 of the first run.

Emma and Dayday
The episode opens with a glorious sequence: a scene from Night of the Living Dead (1968) on a television. We zoom out to see Dayday (Noah Godfrey), a pre-teen boy, chewing popcorn in sheer terrified joy on his couch. A hand creeps up behind him… and BAM! Grabs him on the shoulder. He screams in terror and looks at his assailant: It’s Emma (Suzanna Schebib), his older sister. She calls him a loser and douses him in his own popcorn. This is their natural repartee; she’s a boyish bully, and he’s a sarcastic wimp. To add, they’re two of the most watchable protagonists ever seen in an episode of this show.

the Brauns arrive
Emma and Dayday go to the window – it’s nighttime – and see the to-be villains: the Braun family, their new neighbors moving into the home across the street. It’s a mother, a father, and a young son, all clad in black with skin pale as ghosts. Dayday is skeptical (“They’re moving in at night?” and “What’s with the black clothes?”), but Emma supports their unique approach (“Maybe they’re artists, or foreign diplomats!”). Cleary, these kids are immediately excited by this arrival, and from here on, the Brauns become the focus of their bored suburban lives.

Suddenly, in unison, the Brauns turn their heads directly at Emma and Dayday – and at us. The siblings scream and run away from the window, the first element of surprise and horror delivered.

poorly postie
The episode progresses, and with it, atmospheric chills: the move-in guy explains the Brauns are from Russia, and they’re ordered mysterious coffin-sized boxes; the mailman tells the story of the night the Brauns invited themselves to his house for dinner, and that’s the night before the mailman woke up with neck pains and a debilitating illness; Lex, the son, is never placed in school, as the Brauns are never seen in daylight. A nice touch is added when we see various “townspeople” falling victim to the unknown illness, falling asleep in their daily routines.

taking out the trash
In one especially memorable moment, Emma is approached by Lex during the night as she takes out the trash. He asks, “Can I come in and play?” in that oh-so-eerie Transylvanian twang. Emma instinctively holds up the trash lid as a shield, and then politely declines. Lex walks away, heartbroken. “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” is never the show to skimp on classic monster details, and here, it is exemplary.

the answer comes in dreams
Soon to follow is Emma’s dream, straight out of a Boris Karloff picture, complete with fog billowing in from the night, roaring organ music, and the hypnotic entrance of a tall, menacing male vampire: Mr. Braun (Carl Alacchi). Just as he kneels by Emma’s bedside to take a bite out her jugular, Emma wakes up. It’s morning, and she’s convinced. She marches over to Dayday to reveal her suspicions, but he is stubbornly doubtful, making jeers at her sanity. She warns him just never let them be invited into the house, or else you’re dead. She knows her vampire lore quite well.

a fridge full of trouble
At night, Emma ventures into the Braun basement to prove herself right and uncover their coffins. Simultaneously, Mr. and Mrs. Braun, with Lex, show up at the siblings’ doorstep. They beg to be invited in, much to Dayday’s horror. He, too, is suddenly convinced. Their absent-minded mother (Harriet Dove) happily greets them inside. Meanwhile, Emma uncovers a surprise in the Brauns’ basement: huge refrigerators, rather than coffins. As she turns to leave, sadly defeated, Dayday appears to pull her home to safety. Together, they open the fridge: bottles of blood! Suddenly, the tables have turned. Both siblings are mortified by the discovery and knowing the vampires have been invited into their home.

cover stories
Emma and Dayday understand their duty: the vampires must be slain. The next day, after an unsuccessful search for coffins around the Brauns’ basement, the siblings run into their villains right outside the house – Mr. & Mrs. Braun, in pure daylight. With big smiles, the adults greet the two siblings. Carrying a box of more bottled blood, they explain the work the hospital, and they hold ample containers of the substance in their basement, as an annex. They politely say their goodbyes, and the siblings walk away, totally defeated and bickering. In the basement, however, the Brauns approach a hidden coffin. They open it to see Lex, the son, quietly sleeping. They speak up to him, slaves to a master, excited for the killing of the siblings next door. They laugh maniacally… and we fade out.

vampire revealed
“The Tale of the Nightly Neighbors” is a huge treat, especially in the “Are You Afraid?” lexicon of children’s horror fables. Though most are enjoyable, this episode particularly stands out. For one, the dialogue is striking and original, not stale and recycled. It’s funny, in a way that may go over kids’ heads but never inappropriate. More so, the two young actors are very worthy of praise; Schebib and Godfrey, as Emma and Dayday, have a comedic chemistry rarely seen in any child actors of family films and television. Unexpectedly, it is the vampire actors who come across as unnaturally odd – and not in a good way. The make-up, costumes, scenery, and music, though, clearly infused with energy from the crew, support the fact that the entertainment value is most important. Along with the dialogue and impressive leads, this episode definitely succeeds. 9 out of 10.

The episode's imdb page is here.

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