Are You Afraid Friday: The Tale of the Captured Souls
Dir. D. J. MacHale (1992)
A family settles into a vacation home with an odd caretaker, but they begin feeling weaker as each day passes.
It's at this point in our journey through Are You Afraid of the Dark that I am reminded of one of the best things about this series (and horror in general). We're on the sixth episode, but I was pretty harsh with the previous episode The Tale of the Hungry Hounds. After speaking to a coworker, I discovered that that episode, the one that I felt was the weakest so far, was her favorite episode of the entire series. The episode that I felt was a convoluted mess spoke to her personally, a connection to her family life that had special resonance throughout her childhood. To each their own, of course, but it's nice to see that one person's dislike can very well be the best of all to another. This one, however, is a banger regardless, and it's a story that has shades of science fiction to go along with its Goosebumps-esque plot. It also has a surprising connection with a recently reviewed movie, a coincidence that we will get into shortly.
The Tale of the Captured Souls tells the story of a family on vacation whose rental property is maintained by an eccentric kid who is supposedly left to look after the place while his parents are on a cruise. Danny (Maria Taylor) is a sporty young girl who is immediately at odds with caretaker Peter (Ethan Tobman), a nerdy weirdo who is no good at physical activity and is weirdly obsessed with the mirrors in the house. Before long, it is revealed that Peter is stealing the family's lifeforce through the mirrors in a mad scientist experiment that has kept him youthful since the 1920's.
The Tale of the Captured Souls is an ambitious episode, one filled with moving tableaus, "futuristic" contraptions, and a couple of excellent performances. Taylor is great as roguish Danny, but her work is outshined by the delightfully deranged Tobman. His layered portrayal of the young boy née mad scientist is fantastic, and while the effects surrounding his experiment are dated and subpar by today's standards, he does a great job of playing with these setpieces to make an unbelievable story fairly convincing. He's hammy, which is par for the course for the series, but it's a fun performance that works great in the episode.
It's also Tobman who provides the weird connection to one of our previous reviews. Tobman only acted in a handful of projects before becoming a production designer for a variety of projects, from film, to television, and, eventually, to music videos. His most recent project is none other than Taylor Swift's The Eras Tour movie! While I truly enjoyed his performance in this episode, if that's the kind of production design of which he's capable, he's far more suited in his current role than he was in the one he played back in 1992.
After the disappointing The Tale of the Hungry Hounds, Captured Souls was a delightful hit. It's creepy, with Kiki's (Jodie Resther) story leaning heavily into Native American lore and science fiction, and it's an excellent take on a relatively common story. The episode is far from the best, of course, but it's really well done and perfectly fitting into the Nickelodeon aesthetic of the early 90's. The echoed plotline from Goosebumps' Say Cheese and Die! series is an added bonus and one that is interesting to revisit as an adult.
Who this episode is for: Sci-fi lovers, Creepy kid fans, Evil photographers
Bottom line: The Tale of the Captured Souls is an excellent episode that will probably feel familiar from other sources, and it's filled with delightful early-90's nostalgia. The actors do a great job, the setpieces are fantastic, and it's Nickelodeon aesthetic works perfectly for an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark. This is one of the better episodes so far, and it's well worth revisiting on Paramount Plus.