Curse of the Shadows review: The new Are You Afraid of the Dark? is eerie magic

In the early ’90s, Are You Scared of the Dark? was possibly tv’s cleverest method to terrify kids in methods they’d always remember. The title was worded like an attempt in addition to a property. It seemed like it was letting audiences in on a trick — the Midnight Society, where kids collect late in the evening to inform each other frightening stories. Are You Scared of the Dark? was clever low-budget tv that comprehended how to terrify kids however likewise delight them, signifying the start of a ’90s kid-focused scary boom that later on removed with R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps and Disney Channel’s yearly Halloween releases, like Don’t Look Under the Bed and Halloweentown.

Times have actually altered, therefore did the program: In 2019, Are You Scared of the Dark went back to Nickelodeon more than twenty years after its initial run concluded in 1996. (And 19 years after completion of a temporary 1999 reboot.) The 2019 miniseries was 3 episodes long and took a page from American Scary Story, informing one constant story that concluded by the end of the season. It was quite cool, a story of a dark carnival (no, not that Dark Carnival, sorry) and missing out on kids. It didn’t completely stick the landing, however it was exceptional at setting a tone, someplace midway in between Complete Stranger Things and iCarly.

In the brand-new six-episode season, Curse of the Shadows, the series begins over with a brand-new cast in a brand-new town. Shadow Bay — yes, that’s what it’s called — seems like a direct tribute to Stephen King’s imaginary Maine town of Castle Rock, a bleak seaside hamlet with lots of tricks. The story starts with a secret: Connor Stevens (Parker Queenan), a member of this season’s version of the Midnight Society, has actually gone missing out on, and Luke McCoy (Bryan Gheisar), this season’s lead character, gets the gang together to learn what’s incorrect. Amongst the issues: a cursed woods, and an animal called the Shadow Guy, which looks sort of like the Wendigo from NBC’s Hannibal.

From the very first episode, all of it comes together in a sharp, smart method, as a scary mashup that’s pulling from lots of sources and dropping them into a tween-friendly setting. There’s even an exceptionally excellent dive scare. However it’s likewise an intriguing advancement of the main facility of Are You Scared of the Dark?, continuing a slow drift away from the original that began with the 2019 miniseries, subtitled Carnival of Doom. Unlike the original series (though similar to the ’99 revival) these horror stories are real, and the kids are actually being haunted.

While there’s still a Midnight Society, Curse of the Shadows makes them more of a Scooby gang interested in supernatural happenings, although it’s implied that they still swap stories in normal times, when their friends aren’t missing. It likewise furthers an idea implied by cast changes in the original show and laid out more explicitly in Carnival of Doom: the Midnight Society isn’t just a tradition passed down from generation to generation, it’s one that can be held in any town, and is possibly in every town.

A good horror story for kids isn’t just about frights, it’s about magic. Part of being a kid is finding the world around you a little boring, and wishing for more. It’s being convinced that wonderful things are happening to other people all the time, and wishing they’d happen to you. Curse of the Shadows leans into this idea. Its cast is at the age where they’re starting to learn how dreary and troubled the world is: Hanna Romero (Beatrice Kitsos) is a zealous climate activist, Gabby Lewis (Malia Baker) has her first lousy part-time job as a waitress at a dockside restaurant, and they all live in a fishing town, so several of their parents have weather-dependent incomes. They’re worried about their missing friend, but they’re also looking for something more to the world around them — it’s no coincidence that their search takes them to a literal magic shop.

Three kids from Curse of the Shadows are lectured by the owner of Sardo’s magic shop.

Photo: Michael Courtney / Nickelodeon

Not only is the horror real in Curse of the Shadows, it’s implied that the series is set in a world where every other scary story from the original series may have happened as well. There are winks and nods throughout the first episode — and likely more in the ones to come — that suggest a monster from the classic show might show up at any moment. Perhaps they’re just nods to the past, but uniting every past story into a new truth is an extremely Stephen King move, and maybe the best thing about this take on the show.

King famously, sets many of his stories in the same universe — the same fictional towns, like Castle Rock, appear over and over again, and his Dark Tower series of fantasy novels explicitly link a lot of his work in a metafictional ür-story. The majority of the King-iverse isn’t as orchestrated as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, however. It’s more a work of accumulation: small passages and strong ties that accrete over time. It means fictional places can feel like they have a real history, because they do: a history laid out in other stories, spread out over decades.

Are You Scared of the Dark? Curse of the Shadows has that sense of history, and it’s amplified by the fact that this sort of programming feels like a rarity. Shows for tweens that aren’t quite ready for the CW, but not really into the Disney Channel’s schtick aren’t as prominent as they once were. The Midnight Society, in their search for Connor, are taking viewers along with them, welcoming them into a decades-long tradition where stories were swapped on TV, frightening children with stories of monsters like the Ghastly Grinner, but likewise suggesting that maybe there’s a little more to the world than there may seem. You can find it, if you’re brave enough when the lights go out.

New episodes of Are You Scared of the Dark? Curse of the Shadows best on Nickelodeon on Fridays.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.