Are You Afraid of the Dark S01 E03 – Reading is fundamental!

Previously: Alright, Zeebo the Clown’s face was pretty freaky.

The Lonely Ghost

Sweeney: Lor may not have gone in order on purpose, but since she started us down that road, I figured I’d just run with it.

First of all, I have childhood trauma flashbacks upon seeing that opening sequence. This is, of course, how I know that I am due to be thoroughly embarrassed for kid me by watching this episode.

A blonde Midnight Society member, who I know as TV!Cher, stumbles through the woods. She runs into David, who was clearly just creeping after her in the woods because he wanted to give her a birthday present before the meeting.  Thanks to this blog, I now see Stalker Boyfriends everywhere. I’m no longer fit to judge the legitimacy of any relationship.

David seems sweet and harmless, in spite of his lurking. TV!Cher isn’t going to open the present until after the meeting, though, because they’re running late. The story will be told by David this week. He tells us that it is about two kids who don’t get along and a love strong enough to survive anything EVEN DEATH. DUN DUN DUN.

Throw some magic dust on the campfire and fade to story.

Amanda Cameron is the main character in this story. Her parents are scientists, so she has to spend the summer living with her aunt, who is giving off an overbearing vibe, but will undoubtedly prove herself negligent. Kid Narrators have clearly done their Scholastic Children’s Literature reading and know that you never need to offer much in the way of explanation.

Amanda has a super heavy bag that is apparently full of books. Her cousin Beth, however, is too busy talking on the phone and wearing big earrings to come greet her cousin. In other words, Amanda’s a nerd and hated by her popular (presumably mega bitchy) cousin.

Overbearing-but-still-probably-negligent Aunt runs over to pick up a fallen For Sale sign and laments, “Sometimes I think this house doesn’t want to be sold!” DUN DUN DUN. No seriously, ominous music plays as the sign falls over again while they go in.

Cut to Bitchy Beth’s bedroom, where she has to cut her gossiping-about-my-cousin phone call short, because Amanda will be staying in there so that they “can stay up all night giggling and talking.” Bitchy Beth gives Amanda a “No fucking way” glance.

When the aunt leaves, Bitchy Beth lives up to her nickname with boundless sass, telling Amanda that there is no way she’s hanging out with her all summer. Amanda is sweet and naive, and suggests that they hang out with Beth’s friends. Beth says that it’s not like just anyone can hang out with them; Amanda will have to prove that she’s not a “zeeb.” I’m not sure how to spell that, but that’s what it sounded like. Good effort, ’90s television writers. I’m thankful that didn’t stick.

Amanda asks how to do this and Bitchy Beth tells her that she’s got to follow the rules to hang with them. Mean Girls?


Sort of. These rules are more about being invisible. Amanda must restore Bitchy Beth’s stuffed animal collection immediately after she wakes up each day, and never tattle to Aunt Whatever, because Bitchy Beth would like to not have to know that Amanda is even there. I believe we covered this episode of Buffy already.

But wait, there’s more! An initiation ritual! She has to spend the night in the haunted house next door! (Convenient?) I guess this is the house that doesn’t want to be sold.

In the middle of the night Amanda gets up to go to the bathroom or something, and we meet this random old lady who is maybe supposed to be creepy, but just seems old and tired. (Have we reached a verdict on old people elsewhere in Traumaland? I’m sure there is a Sweet Valley book that declares them gross like fat people and poor people, but I don’t know if we’ve gotten there yet.) She kindly greets Amanda and introduces herself as Nanny.

Just as they are about to shake hands, Bitchy Beth throws open her door and cries, “NO! If you ever touch her wrinkly skin, I’ll never let you touch my things.” WUT? What is this? What am I even watching? Nanny, unsurprisingly hurt by this reprimand, withdraws her hand and sulks off, presumably to her room. Amanda goes into Bitchy Beth’s room where we learn that this is Bitchy Beth’s nanny, but Bitchy Beth feels that she is too old for a nanny and hates that she is always watching her. You know, like a nanny would do.

Amanda notes that she seems kind of sad, but Bitchy Beth insists that she’s crazy and is somehow connected to the haunted house. Speaking of! There is a pool party coming up, but Amanda will have to go through the initiation ritual if she wants to attend. PLEASANT DREAMS, snarls Beth as she turns out the lights. She’s just the worst. I hate this girl more than Kristy Thomas.

Amanda sees Nanny in the hallway and picks something up for her. They overhear Bitchy Beth and her mom arguing about Nanny in the kitchen. Aunt Whatever can’t send her away because she has nowhere else to go. Nanny gets all sad looking and runs off.

That night, Amanda, Beth, and three of Beth’s friends meet outside the haunted house. They tell Amanda the ghost story that goes with the house: a little girl who couldn’t speak used to live there. Her mom got a letter that her dad, who was in “the war,” got sick. (You know, the war!) Mom sends the girl to grandma so she can go care for the husband, which is also not particularly sense-making, but this a kid ghost story within a kid ghost story, so I can’t expect much. HOWEVER, the girl didn’t make it to grandma, because on the way she was harassed by some mean kids. She ran away to her own house. The kids locked her in her bedroom and she was forgotten/died there.

Anyway, Amanda has to spend the night in that room. Thanks to contrivance, Bitchy Beth’s mom is also the realtor on the house, so she has the keys. Bitchy Beth tells Amanda that she can chicken out, “if you want to spend the whole summer reading!” Meanwhile, I’m all, “YEAH! LET’S GO READ!”

But, alas, Amanda insists that she’s going to be brave, because she doesn’t believe in ghosts anyway. “Neither did we, until we spent the night in there,” Beth taunts. Just to make sure the idiot kid viewer at home is up to speed, the girls giggle, “She really thinks we all did this!” once Beth is in the house.

In the house we get creepy girl giggles in creaking sounds. In the bedroom, there is a knocking sound and then the words, “HELP ME,” appear backwards, opposite a mirror, hanging on a closet door. The reflected, non-backwards words in the mirror fade into a creepy dead girl, holding out her hand. Amanda screams and runs back to Bitchy Beth’s. After she slams the bedroom door shut, Nanny emerges from her room, nods knowingly, and then goes back to bed.

Now we go back to the campfire for speculation time! Bitchy Beth is out all night and Aunt Whatever is working late, although it’s clearly way past “working late” so I think that’s code for “adult sleepover.” (Also: there’s that negligence I was waiting for!) This leaves Amanda home alone with Nanny (OK, no, leaving the kids with the nanny doesn’t actually count as negligence.) Now the Midnight Society debates whether Nanny is crazy or not. Glasses tells everyone to shut up so that our story-teller can resume.

Back in the story, it’s the next day, and Aunt Whatever is sending the girls over to clean the writing off the walls. Bitchy Beth is pissed, and ridiculing Amanda, who at least finally has the good sense to say that she doesn’t want to be in Bitchy Beth’s group anyway. Upstairs, the wall is now covered in “HELP ME” messages of various sizes.

Bitchy Beth is now yelling at Amanda, who wants to GTFO. Then the mirror goes all magical again and the door closes. This time, however, it’s a little girl’s bedroom, and as Amanda is pulling Beth out, she’s walking toward the mirror saying, “Wow! Look at all the dolls and stuffed animals! What an awesome collection; it’s even bigger than mine.”‘

And this bitch is hating on Amanda for reading?

Anyway, Beth walks into the mirror and dead girl emerges, carrying a necklace. Amanda goes catatonic, but calms down when she realizes that dead girl just wants Amanda to take the locket. Amanda recognizes Nanny and deduces that Nanny is dead girl’s mother. She nods eagerly in confirmation. Then she writes HELP ME not backwards.

Dead girl allows the door to open so that Amanda can go get Nanny. Meanwhile, Bitchy Beth starts banging on the mirror, but Amanda doesn’t hear her.

Amanda runs to the house and finds that Nanny is loading her things into a cab, because of the aforementioned rudeness and, you know, contrivance. Amanda stops her and begs her to come up to the house, but Nanny isn’t having that because of the bad memories. Nanny tells her that she can play tricks on someone else because she’s not needed here.

BUT HEY! The thing that Nanny dropped was the other half of the locket that Amanda is holding. At this, Nanny is startled and half-believing, but is essentially dragged up to the room by Amanda.

In the room, Nanny basically loses her shit at the sight of her deceased child, as one would. She hugs her and they have a joyful reunion, except for the part where it’s just majorly creepy. Dead Girl implores Nanny to follow her into the mirror and she’s all, “YEP, SOUNDS GOOD! BYE WORLD!” In the mirror, Dead Girl is suddenly alive-looking and everything is good and happy.

Bitchy Beth appears to still be trapped, and is crying out for Amanda’s help. Just then, her friends come in, having been told that this is where they were. Amanda tells Bitchy Beth that she’ll help her, if she promises to stop being such a bitch to everyone. Then she opens the closet door, Bitchy Beth falls out, and everyone laughs.

Back at the camp fire, we wrap up the story and everyone goes home. David and TV!Cher linger, so that she can open the present. It’s a locket like in his story! She’ll think of him when she wears it – forever. I’m not making this up; this is actually what she says.

She kisses him on the cheek and they run off to catch the rest of the gang. The end. My prediction proved false, though: I am not ashamed of this childhood trauma, because this was just too many kinds of weird. I’m still too stuck on the mother being reunited with her dead child/essentially committing suicide to focus on the anti-bullying lesson. Except that the message is clearly “Reading is better than making friends.”


Next time: People in fiction-land are still wishing for things, even though it never works out in Are You Afraid of the Dark S01 E04 – The Tale of the Twisted Claw.


Sweeney (all posts)

I collect elaborate false eyelashes, panda gifs, and passport stamps. I spend too much time on YouTube. Reconciling my aversion to leaving the house/wearing pants with my deep desire to explore everything is my life's great struggle.

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  • awkwardrobot

    This is the episode I’ve seen the most. I had an old Snick VHS tape and I had to have watched this episode about a hundred times. Great job summing it up. I assume you’re extra hating on Beth because she’s a ginger (or at least a day walker)

    • I CAN’T BELIEVE I FORGOT TO MENTION THAT. I was distracted by her gingertasticness the entire time, too. Also, also: SNICK VHS TAPE = COMMENTWINFOREVER. <3

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