Thursday, June 11, 2009

Are You Afraid of the Dark?: The Tale of the Midnight Madness

We open up on the Midnight Society. Kiki and David announce that tonight is Fright Night at the Majestic and they want to get the story out of the way so they can use their free passes to go watch movies. Frank enters and starts up with a fire and brimstone esque condemnation of the evils of movie theatres and how he's never going back. The others mock him for being afraid of the dark and Brother Frank stands at his pulpit and opines, "I'm not going back because you sit in that movie theatre for so long, you start to forget that the real world even exists. The only thing that seems real is the horror movie up on that screen." Replace "movie screen" with video, and you've got my regular Saturday afternoon, Frank-man, what's your point? Frank throws the salt into the fire and it begins.

This tale is about two kids, Pete and Katie, who work at an old timey movie theatre. We open up on the movie theatre. An old lady stares at the screen and slowly claps. You know, the clap, clap, clap one person does, and then the rest join in and there's a standing ovation. Except she's the only person in the entire theatre. I think I love her.

In the lobby, we're on hard times. The manager, Mr. Kristoff, is afraid that the owners are going to shut down the Rialto. The recession is affecting everyone. Even fictional TV characters in the past. "Six bucks?" says greasy Mr. Kristoff, as he counts up the day's earnings. "One popcorn, two sodas," explains Katie. In 1993? I saw the size of that little old lady's popcorn cup! This is so highway robbery, even for a movie theatre. I'm starting to suspect that the unnamed owners of this theatre are mobbed up and having Mr. Kristoff manage the theatre is the equivalent of Michael Corleone sending Fredo to Las Vegas to keep him out of the way.

Pete asks Katie if she'd like to go grab a bite and she turns him down to go wash her hair do homework.

Don't feel bad, Pete. My theory is that she likes you but old man Katie's dad, is a closet racist. So you should stay away. Stay away...forever!

Pete, who loves films and the Rialto and is basically the Dawson Leery of this episode except without A) a freakishly large head, B) an ego the size of Gibralta, starts a campaign to try to keep the Rialto from closing. He tries handing out fliers to people, including a guy in a wheelchair who shakes his head. Ouch! You know your theatre sucks when it's not as good a time as Wheelchair Derby or Paraplegics Anonymous.

Back at the theatre, Red hatted old lady hands back a soda cup as she leaves and Katie tosses out the remaining soda and puts the cup back in the pile. I wait for the Rialto to receive an angry letter from Melvin Udall and a class action lawsuit from Adrian Monk.

Then one day, when Pete and Katie arrive for work and lock up, they start talking about the campaign to save the Rialto. Then there's a knock on the door. The kids tell whomever it is to come back in an hour and then the door opens on its own. You guys need way better security. Get Big Vinny who works over on Prospect Avenue. Enter...Dr. Vink!

A familiar conversation ensues. "Vink's the name! Dr. Vink." "Dr. Fink?" asks Katie. "Vink, with a vah vah vah." As I am feeling the urge to do a pretentious-DVD-commentary-esque...well, commentary here from the POV of a pompous windbag type director, I'll point out that Dr. Vink is played by Aron Tagert, who's overcome his handicap of being of Canadian descent to become a truly spectacular actor. He is an absolute gem. He can play so many different styles, you know, he can do mad, he can do insane, he can do slightly off-kilter. He's wonderful, and, of course, he always brings something new to the table. He's also starred in a Goosebumps episode, and really, this guy is a find, the proverbial diamond in the rough.

Dr. Vink runs around marveling over the smell of the theatre and how authentic it is. "The guy is a nutbag--I'm calling the police," says Katie.

Then Dr. Vink unleashes his fiendish plan. Well, not so fiendish, really. He wants to give them a vampire movie that they can show. If they show the movie, business will pick up and then he'll come back to them and ask for one night a week to show his other movies. "Oh, and I am NOT a nutbag," Vink, Sadako, and all the other 90s loving cult members say in unison. Mr. Kristoff and Dr. Vink shake hands on their agreement. Kristoff, Katie and Pete gape at each other and when they look back at the good doctor, he's gone. Mr. Kristoff's all, "I've done nothing and I'm all out of ideas," and tells the kids to just throw the movie out and f'getaboutit.

The Rialto continues to fail. Mr. Kristoff is stressing that Fat Dom is going to let his livelihood go under as he swigs from a flask.

Don't worry, kids. The flask just contains apple juice. I know because my mom told me that when I first saw it. (She explained that if he was seen rocking the Motts apple juice box that even Pete and Katie would laugh so hard they'd pee their rental uniforms and the Rialto would be out another $50 and then where would they be?)

Then Mr. Kristoff calls the kids to his office. The theatre closes in two short weeks. There's no way this theatre can compete with multiplexes that show movies that people want to see. Pete starts to rage against the machine (those damn corporations...they're just so...corporation-y!) but then there's an explosion in the projection booth and the kids head upstairs. The film strip is all over the floor. Pete has an idea. They decide to show Dr. Vink's film instead. Red hatted lady says, "This better be good, young lady, my time is valuable." Yeah, she needs to spend at least four hours a week convening with George Costanza figuring out ways to top "That's GOTTA hurt" and coming up with new ways to make laser pointer guy suffer.

The film starts and the audience is transfixed. Looks like Dr. Vink was right. After the film, they all file out chattering excitedly about how wonderful the movie was.

Red hatted old lady thrusts her cup at Pete approvingly and says they'll get better results if they show more movies like that. Then she heads off because it's Snark Night at the Apollo and she's late to meet Statler and Waldorf.

Pete and Katie hug.

Channeling the spirits of Dr. Phil and Tuck from The Wonder Pets, Pete says, "Lets hug again!" and Katie starts to act reluctant. He backs off. Yeah, I know, CINAR and the Nickelodeon execs said only one interracial hug and we had to both be wearing ridiculous vests to reduce any hint of impropriety. But Katie's more worried about the fact that everything Dr. Vink said has come true. She seems to think it's unusual that creepy Dr. Vink predicted the future. You know, I seem to remember another long haired, bearded man who said strange things and was considered a "nutbag" and ended up being crucified by a public who just didn't understand. I'm talking of course about my Uncle Jonas. We try not to speak of him in non-hushed tones.

Next scene. The movie box creaks open and a red light peeks out.

Oooh, a haunted film strip! I haven't been so scared since R.L. Stine created a haunted sponge, a haunted bottle of insta tan, and a haunted lawn gnome.

Weeks pass. Next scene, the vampire film is showing yet again. On screen, the dialogue says: "I must get this coffin into the light before the vampire returns," the dialogue says. Stupid Jonathan Harker. Forget the coffin. If there's enough light to kill a vampire, just kill him by opening a window. It's too late and the vampire comes inside and bites Harker and the movie ends with the vampire celebrating by doing an interpretative claw dance. I have to admit, this movie is pretty cool.

Man, this isn't one of your sexy vampires like Lestat or Angel or Bela Lugosi's Dracula. This is a truly horrifying vampire like Max Schrek's Nosferatu or Bunnicula.

Pete and Katie grin over the high popcorn sales. Pete is about to awkwardly ask Katie out yet again (awww), when Dr. Vink cockblocks him. He's come to see how things are. Mr. Kristoff walks in saying, "There you are!" Ooh, someone's success has gone to his head. Kristsoff can finally afford a used car salesman leisure suit and a brand new chest merkin (don't just undo one button--show it all off, man!). Now all he needs is a girlfriend. Get this guy to a Danny DeVito Fan Club meeting and he's in.

Anyway, Dr. Vink just wants one night a week to show movies. Hell, I'd give this guy one night a week for mahjong night if he wanted it, but Mr. Kristoff doesn't want to share his theatre with anyone now that it's successful. He just wants to cut Dr. Vink a check and get him out of here. Dr. Vink ominously replies that Kristoff is wrong and leaves. Incidentally, don't you love the look on Vink's face when Kristoff tries to gladhand him--it's the look my teddy bears get when I give them their hourly suppositories.

Time passes. We cut to Pete watching the movie. He falls asleep and Nosferatu leaves the movie screen and heads on out the door. Pete wakes up and thinks he had a weird dream. Then he heads over to the concession stand to see Katie. He tries to ask her out again. You know, like, maybe Old Man Ewell relaxed his policy on race relations? "I know you think I'm a geek," he tells her. "You're not a geek, Pete. You're more of a nerd." She laughs and tells him she's kidding. Oh, you want to go head to head in a game of Geek, Dweeb, or Spaz, Katie, because I will own you.

There's a Wilhelm scream from above and the kids go investigate to see who's screwing around with the sound effects tape now. They go into Kristoff's office and see that he's slumped over his desk. Been hitting the Mott's a little too hard, old man? Perhaps not.

Gross. See, Bella, this is why you don't want to tempt Edward. Let him go feast on movie theatre managers and substitute math teachers while keeping your lovely white neck intact. The kids can't call for help because the phones are cut. Katie says she'll stay with Mr. Kristoff while Pete goes for help. Pete, knowing the fate of most tokens, says they should stay together. (YES! First, last, and only time a horror show character has said that! Man, if Katie doesn't want this guy, I'll take him. We can go destroy some more cliches on our first date.)

Turns out the kids can't leave anyway because the doors to the building have been locked. But suddenly, they swing open and there's the vampire from the movie.

(Let's get his autograph before the Paparazzi shows up!) The kids shriek and clutch one another.

Why so sad? Because of the look in his eyes that says, "Sorry, kids, looks like you're on the second string of my Vampire baseball team this year. Cheer up. I still need a vampire ump."

As they run, Nosferatu caresses the wall.

You'd think this would skeeve me, but since watching both Sopranos and Real Housewives of New Jersey, nothing short of ten inch acrylics will frighten me.

They head up for the projection booth (oh yeah, that'll work, enclose yourself in a small space). Pete has an idea and tells Katie to start up the movie while he distracts the Nosferatu. He leaves and the vampire eventually comes in and looks at her.

Please help. Will work for dental surgery and access to my tanning booth.

Aww. You know, he's really not such a bad vampire. Maybe if we fix the teeth issue and the skin globules. He's not bad at all, really.

Then suddenly, Katie manages to reach over and flip the switch that starts the movie. Nosferatu backs off looking freaked. I imagine his internal monologue. "No! The show commences! And I forgot to go out to the lobby and have myself a snack!" I know I'm cranky if I have to sit through previews without a Milky Way or eight.

Pete enters the movie screen. The vampire heads in after him. Pete drags the coffin into the light as Katie watches from the audience. "Use teamwork!" she screams at him.

Then Pete opens the window and the sunlight pours in, turning Nosferatu into dust. Wow. Our best weapons couldn't tame the beast, but it was destroyed by something as simple as bursting into flames and disintegrating. Pete comes out of the movie screen and back into real life. Mr. Kristoff walks on screen rubbing his neck and complaining that he had a terrible dream.

Their little vampire weekend over, we cut to Dr. Vink sitting in a seat in the audience applauding and saying, "Bravo!" Mr. Kristoff comes to his senses and decides to let Dr. Vink have his one night a week. But then it turns out that Dr. Vink bought the theatre and now can show his films every night. And apparently he has much, much better movies to show. He throws back his head and cackles.

Well, if the movie business doesn't work out, you can teach Evil Laughs 101. The end.

Back in Midnight Society land, the kids are impressed. Kiki and David wuss out when it comes to Fright Night. Frank takes their tickets. Gary asks if Frank isn't afraid, and Frank laughs and says it's just a movie and the two head off to the movies together.

And, scene! This was my all time favorite episode as a child (well, this and The Tale of the Dark Dragon), and despite the snark, it does hold up quite well. When my future kids beg to watch Twilight and The Vampire Diaries "because that's what you watched when you were little," I plan to turn this on instead and then have a thirtieth trimester abortion if they don't agree that how great Dr. Vink is. In closing, I urge all of you reading this to write to your Congressmen and women about getting Are You Afraid of the Dark? on DVD.