Are You Afraid Friday: The Tale of the Phantom Cab
Dir. Ron Oliver (1992)
Two brothers hitch a ride with a mysterious cab, where they must answer a riddle to escape.
After the insanity that was October and our 31 Days of Halloween, I thought it might be a good idea to start something new. For the foreseeable future, we will be taking you back to a place that many of us visited as children, a place with a campfire and a bag of sand that beckoned many a young viewer into the world of horror. Every week, we are going to review at least two episodes of classic Nickelodeon horror with the cult classic television series Are You Afraid of the Dark! Submitted for the approval of The Horror Revolution Society... I call this segment: Are You Afraid Friday!
Are You Afraid of the Dark is an interesting show, and it really was an introduction into horror for so many kids. It's amazing how these episodes, despite being campy and filled with bad acting, subpar scripts, and usually happy endings was also so utterly terrifying. By combining classic ghost stories with the relatively safe setting of kids sitting around a camp fire and telling them, Are You Afraid of the Dark served as an opportunity to dip your toes in the water without jumping in head first. When I was a kid, this is exactly what I needed, because I was a scaredy-cat of the highest order. Bite-sized and not-so-scary horror enabled me to join the horror community without having to sleep with the light on. Of course, it eventually progressed to torture porn and sadistic slashers, but I digress.
The very first episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark was entitled The Tale of the Phantom Cab, a story about two brothers (played by Jason Tremblay and Sean Vertigo, the latter of whom was in John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness) who have gotten lost in the woods and are trying to find their way out. They come across a cabin owned by the creepy Dr. Vink (Aron Tager), who offers to help the pair if only they can solve a couple of riddles. They easily solve the first but fail at the second, which leads Vink to kick them out of the cabin and send them back into the woods to wait for a cab. Which begs the question... what kind of cab runs in the woods? A phantom cab, of course!
The first story, told by Frank (Jason Alisharin) is fairly tame, a stereotypical ghost story that feels like the perfect introduction to the series. It's a little hammy, clever but not too clever, and is one that the (smarter) kids could have solved, making them feel like they have a leg up on Dr. Vink's victims. The episode also sets up the premise for the show, that this is a group of kids who belong to a secret society where they gather around a campfire and tell scary stories, and that new members are initiated by telling their first story blindfolded and then being voted up or down based on the quality of their tale. While the acting may be a little stilted, it's very much in line with the quality of kids' programming of the day (and even today for the most part). It goes for cheap laughs when available and chilling scares when not, and it largely succeeds on both.
The Tale of the Phantom Cab is not unlike any other ghost story that you've heard, and there's nothing groundbreaking to be found this trip around the campfire, What is groundbreaking, however, is putting this all front and center for kids, a nice welcome to The Midnight Society for children all across North America. It's also a nice welcome to our coverage of the series, and I hope that you'll continue to join us on Friday for your double dose of fear and fun! Welcome to The Horror Revolution Society, and welcome to Are You Afraid Fridays!
Who this episode is for: Ghost story fans, Campfire kiddies, Cash Cab winners
Bottom line: The Tale of the Phantom Cab is not exceptionally scary, but it's a great introduction to the series and feels like a wonderful trip down memory lane. If you were a fan of Are You Afraid of the Dark, this one will feel just like home to you. The whole series in streaming for free on Peacock, so feel free to join in the watch party!