Stephen King’s IT has nothing on this shit.
If you were a kid in the 90s with access to Nickelodeon TV shows, then you probably watched Are You Afraid of the Dark? on whatever network it was on in your area. Here in Australia, the ABC (universally called ‘channel 2’ back in the days of analogue TV) used to carry some of the Nicktoons but AYAotD was mostly shown on the pay TV networks – Foxtel (still around today), Galaxy (now defunct) and Austar (apparently still a thing). For those unfamiliar with the show, it was basically about this group of stereotypical 90s kids who met up around a campfire to swap spooky stories. They called themselves The Midnight Society, and each episode would see one of them tell some sort of scary story that usually carried some sort of moral message with it. The original series ran from 1991 until 1996, but it was revived for a 1999-2000 run. In between the two series was some bullshit backstory that nobody really cared about, because fuck that shit, I want to see skeletons and stuff.
Most of the series is laughable in terms of story, acting, and pacing. Most stories are just slightly modified urban legends, fairy tales, or other common children’s stories. Others are clearly there to carry the moral message on the backs of spooky scary skeletons. The acting was generally shit. The kids tend to be passable in most instances but they also ham it up quite a bit. The adults are outright garbage. They almost universally overact. Some of them look bizarrely bewildered, like they have no idea what the hell is going on, but that scene is worth a bit of cash to them so screw it. The bulk of the episodes are standard childish scary story rubbish – things that go bump in the night, my neighbour is a vampire, haunted paintings, haunted cameras and gremlins, crap like that. Most of them have an ‘all’s well that ends well’ style ending, but some of them kick the main characters in the balls without a happy ending.
There are a few episodes that were pretty friggin’ frightening for the time though, and some of them were actually pretty good. The Tale of Station 109.1 is actually pretty awesome, even though the actors (save for Gilbert Gottfried) aren’t particularly good. The Tale of the Night Nurse is another decent one (also the last episode in the series) about an incompetent nurse and her patient. For this retrospective though, I want to look at The Tale of the Crimson Clown, because this shit terrified me back in the day. I hate clowns as a rule, and this one was a goddamn nightmare made flesh.
The story goes that these two kids, Mike and Sam, need to buy a present for their mother. Mike is the older brother who actually gives a shit about his mother, while Sam is a little arsehole who is interested only in himself. Their mother appears to be single – at least the father is never seen or mentioned, so it’s anybody’s guess what happened here. Mike tells Sam to get off his arse so they can go out and get a gift. Sam, being the little prick that he is, doesn’t want to stop watching TV, but ends up going out anyway. They tell their mother they’ll be going ice skating. On their way to the store with all the gifts in it, Sam comes across a toy store, but is pushed on by Mike like a pissed-off Metrocop on the streets of City 17.
Inside, Sam runs into this poor lady carrying a nondescript black bag of boxes. He doesn’t apologise or even pay her any attention. Mike rushes to her aid and apologises. You’ve probably worked out that Sam is not a particularly nice kid, while Mike is fucking Ghandi. This will carry on throughout the episode, because the series never learned the definition of the word ‘subtlety.’ I mean really, Sam is basically the kid even the thoughtless kids wanted to punch by this point. He’s an outright arsehole.
Anyway, long story short, Sam says he’s had enough of this shit and decides to piss off next door to the toy store. Mike meanwhile encounters the episode’s first monster:
Jesus Christ, we’re barely 5 minutes in and already I’m terrified. The way the guy says “Can I help you?” and “Well my friend, how much are you willing to spend?” makes this episode 2spooky4me. No, seriously, of all the actors in this series, this guy wins. Hands down. I’m fucking terrified. Get out of there, Mike! It’s a trap! The way he stands there with his mouth open, tongue wiggling away like a terrified worm right before being consumed, makes me think Mike is about to find his face on a milk carton in the next 10 minutes.
Actually he isn’t, this guys ends up showing him this shitty little statue thing that you’d pick up from a garage sale for 25 cents. Mike has $75 to spend, and Mr Creeps says he’ll sell that piece of shit to him for $50. Score. Meanwhile, Sam has returned and is being a dick as usual. Mike goes to pay Mr Creeps but he finds out he doesn’t have the money. Mr Creeps tells him to get the fuck out (in a polite, yet creepy way) and come back when he’s got the cheese. Mike and Sam prepare to leave, when Mike notices that Sam has a new video game (apparently for the NES, while its box suggests it’s a Sega console game). Mike knows Sam doesn’t have any coins on him, so he makes the connection that Sam stole his money. In what is possibly the most piss-weak attempt at guilt-tripping this little shit, Mike locates a spooky clown doll on a nearby shelf, and warns Sam that the Crimson Clown will get him for being a really bad kid. He scoffs at it, but the clown doll’s eyes light up, making him a bit more worried.
Fun fact: The game that Sam drops, Zeebo’s Big House, is actually a reference to The Tale of Laughing in the Dark, the second episode in the series. The clown on the front cover is Zeebo the Clown, who was a corrupt circus performer that stole a load of cash and hid in a funhouse. The funhouse caught fire and Zeebo burned to friggin’ death while trapped inside. Ya know, it’s for kids!
Mike and Sam get home late, and their mother is seriously pissed off. Mike is supposed to be the responsible one, so he cops the blame. Instead of coming out and saying “Hey mum, I was buying you a gift but this little shit stole my money and spent it on a video game!” he just shrugs and takes it. Sam inflames the situation by claiming that Mike made them stay out late while he was visiting friends. Their mother just smiles and forgives Sam, and Sam retreats to their bedroom (yeah, they share a bedroom). While dicking around (sadly, we don’t get to see Zeebo’s Big House gameplay) Sam looks up to see the Crimson Clown in his room, and he flips out. Mike comes running but of course the Clown is gone. He tells Sam he’s a jackass, and to stop bouncing off the goddamn walls. For the brief amount of time that the Clown is there, he just sits there, with that shit-eating grin on his face. God damn do I hate clowns. Mike and Sam leave, but little do they know – the Clown is under the bed!
The family sits down for dinner, and their mum makes Make help with the washing up. Sam gets extra TV time. Do you hate this kid yet? Anyway, Sam’s watching TV when it goes all haywire with nothing but static. A creepy clown laugh can be heard playing in the background. Sam starts to blot his copypaper (read: crap his pants) when the lights go out and the creepy voice shouts “Hello, Sam!” and a big clown arm starts coming out of the TV. “Stay tuned, you’re next, you rotten kid!” cries the Clown as it reaches towards a terrified Sam, who crosses his arms in front of his face ineffectually. Now when I was a kid, this part was kinda scary. Now? That arm… look at it! Was that the best they could do? More than that though, this kid is so reprehensible that I honestly don’t care if the Crimson Clown gets him. No, really – I hope he gets caught. I don’t know who the villain is here, because right now the Clown looks like a paragon of justice.
Mike comes in and saves Sam, because as soon as Mike comes in, everything just randomly disappears. Also, Sam is wearing a ring on his ring finger. Weird. Sam is told to go up to bed by his mum, while Mike gets his TV time. Mike threatens Sam with the Crimson Clown again. Mike tells his mum that he made up the Crimson Clown bullshit (leaving out the part where they were at the store and what Sam did) and his mother scolds him, telling him that Sam is still little. Still little? He just called Mike ‘turd face’ and doesn’t look that young. This ain’t no toddler, this little bastard should know right from wrong!
Sam goes upstairs to find his door locked. He forces his way in, falls on the floor, and the door slams behind him. Then a weird wind blows through the room. False alarm, the window was open! Har, har! Sam hits the hay at about 2130, but by 2210 he still hasn’t got to sleep. Hey kid, I have trouble sleeping too, and my conscience is clean. Mike comes up to bed at that point and admits to Sam that he made up the Crimson Clown. Mike is a goddamn martyr. Move over Jesus Christ, this kid’s gunning for your place. Mike goes to bed and Sam goes to sleep… kinda. Then suddenly the bed falls away and we find that he’s actually standing in the store from before!We’re assaulted by a series of creepy clocks, dolls, and shit.
And then… god damn, it’s the Crimson Clown!
Wow. How did I find that scary as a kid? Look at that thing! Look at it! I don’t know whether to laugh or pity it. The Clown tells Sam that he’s been a little shit and asks if they know what they do to kids like him. I don’t think I want to know. Sam is wrapped up in red ribbon, but psyche! It was just a dream.
Oh no wait, it wasn’t.
Sam breaks free and goes to wake up Mike, but SURPRISE BITCH, IT’S THE CRIMSON CLOWN. His head then inflates and explodes.
The Clown taunts him: Nobody will help you, Sam! Nobody wants to! Hahahaha! Damn straight, Clown. This kid needs to get #rekt. The Clown continues to taunt his victim: There’s nowhere to go! There’s nowhere to hide!
Oh, and then this appears:
Sam gets wrapped in more red ribbon while the Clown pulls him towards the closet, presumably towards his death. Sam manages to grab some ice skates and cuts himself free. But the Crimson Clown ain’t having none of that shit! He just opens the door and walks towards Sam. No one will help you, Sam! You’re a bad kid! No one wants to help a bad kid!
Sam, now completely cornered and faced with the Crimson Clown, decides to repent. He cries that he’s sorry. The Clown laughs at his pathetic attempts: No, you’re not! Damn, this shit is escalating. This kid is well and truly screwed. He continues to beg for another chance while the Clown advances.
And just when it looks like it’s game over…
And everything turned out well.
Wait, this was scary?
Okay yeah, the Tale of the Crimson Clown doesn’t hold up very well today, and the story has some major problems. It was supposed to be about teaching kids not to be thoughtless little arseholes, but Sam is comicbook villain bad in this episode. The Crimson Clown is supposed to be scary and intimidating, but watching it years later as an adult, I can’t help but feel that he was about to get what he deserved. He deserved to have the Clown mess him up. I kind of feel cheated in some way, like it should have had a bad ending after all. Also the Clown isn’t even remotely intimidating anymore – wow, that was actually a pretty bad costume. But back in the 90s that was kinda scary for a kid. Especially if that kid happened to hate clowns.
And that’s it for The Tale of the Crimson Clown! With any luck, I might end up finding the time to review another episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? Now go pour some water on the campfire.