We’ve reached the end of season one, so I bring you episodes ten to thirteen… a fortuitous number of scary stories for a single batch, isn’t it? There’s a bunch of memorable stuff waiting for us, so grab your satchel full of coffee-mate and let’s get back to the campfire.
Campfire time starts with a touching bit of realism in our fictional friends’ lives: Eric’s grandfather has died, so he’s stepping in to tell a special tale – more Celtic myth than urban legend. He has a hat that his grandfather claims he got in a trade from a leprechaun, though it’s pretty obvious his grandfather got it in trade for money at a mid-range costume shop. Anyway, we’re here to tell scary stories not to split hairs, and he begins with some heavy-handed foreshadowing; this would be our protagonist’s first play, and his last. Dun dun DUN! We open on some fake-looking costumes and scenery, which turns out to be the set of Jake’s play – Will o’ the Wisp, a story of pixie magic and transformation. It’d be a lot more effective if the “unrealistic” costumes of the play actors were in any way less realistic than the rest of the costumes and effects when things are meant to be real later in the episode.
The tone is more similar to a low-budget version of Jim Henson’s Storyteller than a typical spook show. There’s at least one genuinely creepy moment and the acting is pretty decent, but sometimes effects that are easy to accomplish in something slightly higher budget end up looking a little chintzy here. It is entirely possible that the mystical pouch someone uses at one point is an inside-out Crown Royal bag, for example.
But the story is a nice twist on traditional mores we end with remembrance for those we have lost and friend hugs around the campfire.
I may have gotten a little misty here.
90s Fashion Field Notes: Our long-suffering stage manager goes through several side-ponytail iterations and dazzling array of unfortunate swoop bangs. The recent 90s style revival brought back everything except those bangs, because every living human now realizes those bangs were terrible.
Eric is back to his normal troll self in this episode, spooking Frank by leaving him alone in the forest, then teasing him for being afraid of the dark. Betty tries to help by explaining she gets scared too sometimes, once again demonstrating that Betty is nice about everything – any time anyone screws up or gets scared, she’s sympathetic, and she never whines about anyone else’s storytelling style. Without the ability to marathon these growing up, I missed out on a lot of cool character stuff.
Our story follows Andy, a kid who moves into a typical place in the suburbs, complete with a redheaded neighbor bully. The casting director for this show must have had a serious vendetta against redheads. I mean, this new terrible human is more strawberry blond, but still. Neighbor problems aside, everything in the new house seems normal until Andy has to go into the basement. Basements are inherently creepier than attics, it is a scientific fact. Unlabeled mysterious old-fashioned doors in basements? You’re gonna have a bad time.
If Eric’s last tale was reminiscent of Jim Henson’s Storyteller, this one is Tales from the Crypt. You know, for kids! One of the spookiest episodes of the later part of the season, and one of the most original stories overall.
Another campfire segment where someone is late, and it’s Kristen again. Gary is so tired of Kristen’s s**t by now, but you’ve gotta admit: the lady has a solid commitment to props and costuming. As a result, her episodes feature a lot of dry ice smoke, weird dream-like sequences, and relevant historical fashion.
Our story begins with the only thing scarier than ghosts and graveyards: two teenage creeps trying to aggressively hit on a girl who sounds a lot like Sailor Mars. Their names are Greg and Jam, who I’m convinced is the larval form of the creep from Parks and Recreation. She’s surprisingly cool with their indiscrete looming, so they tell her a vanishing hitchhiker-style urban legend about a girl killed on prom night. After a day of searching the graveyard, they decide to do go to the library to look at microfilm, because bored, curious people had to do a lot more field work before the days of snopes.com. This is the first episode where a character displays a high degree of persistent ghost denialism, and it’s actually pretty refreshing. All in all, it’s a pretty great introduction to a classic trope.
90s Fashion Field Notes: I’m not sure if Jam’s bright red leather jacket is trying for Michael Jackson’s Thriller or Eddie Murphy’s Raw, but he’s clearly failing at both.
Greg, doing what we’ve all been wanting to do for most of the episode.
The Midnight Society is passing an original Gameboy around the campfire, proving that they would have been best friends with young me. Best friends. Eric continues his campaign for brattiest little brother stand-in ever, until Gary interrupts their totally accurate depiction of what it’s like to share a Gameboy to present his version of my favorite terrible horror movie of all time. Sure, “Imagine if you had to beat the game, or the game would beat you,” is less punchy than “You die in the game, you die in real life,” but Gary is like fourteen years ahead of the curve on the premise, so we’ll give him some credit.
I’ve got to admit that Gary’s episodes show me the folly of trying to establish consistent measure of “spookiness” (or spoopyness) for each episode. So far, I’ve used it to describe how often during the show I felt actual tension or legitimately creeped out, but Gary isn’t in it for the moment-to-moment scares; he’s playing the long game.
This is the second season one episode that gave me a visual that stuck in my brain for decades. As a result I was kind of disappointed that most of it is just incredibly dumb. Maybe the point is to lull you into a false sense of security, but that doesn’t excuse the sheer level of stupid on display here. As a game designer, this episode made me roll my eyes clear out of my head. The writers seem to have no clear idea whether they want their metaphor to be pinball or video games, so they just mix and match, and the whole thing ends up feeling like a story told by someone who had vaguely heard of video games, rather than by a kid who likes to play them. Still, Gary gets enough menace in there to send his friends running off into the night shortly after he’s finished, leaving us alone with him by the final campfire of the season.
“Til next time.”
Thirteen short episodes, and I already feel like I’m hanging out with old friends I haven’t seen since high school.
Til next time, Midnight Society. Stay spooky, everybody.