A Literary Case Submitted for Your Approval

Tonight we are joined by two new friends, JD Gravatte and Brett Wilson! Thank you for gracing us with your spooktacular presence, guys! 

This week, we are wrapping up our SNICK-tember and heading right into the spookiest month of the year with a special episode on the iconic show, Are You Afraid of the Dark?!

Back in the early 90’s, Are You Afraid of the Dark anchored the 8-10pm SNICK block with its bone-chilling 9:30pm timeslot. The show was geared toward pre-teens and teenagers, and featured an awesome anthology of scary tales told by a group of friends called, “The Midnight Society.” 

Sometimes the stories were refreshingly original–like one story about a carnival clown that stalks a young boy after he steals its nose. Others featured well-known monsters and existing lore; such as vampires, poltergeists, goblins, and even a leprechaun. Co-creator and showrunner DJ Machale has even been quoted saying that Nickelodeon asked for stories that had literary references, as a possible way to placate upset parents. 

Are You Afraid of the Dark was a show that not-only ignited the imagination of its viewers, it emphasized the power of a good story. Tonight, we’re taking a look at specifically three episodes (although there were many and we could do multiple episodes on this topic) that provided young audiences with new takes on well-known stories and folklore.

Before we launch into the episode, we want to take a minute to talk about our guests! Brett and JD are HUGE fans of AYAOTD. So huge in fact, they are actually here to promote a very special kickstarter connected to the show!




The first episode we will talk about tonight is often listed as the fourth episode of season 1, but it aired as a special pilot of AYAOTD on October 31st, 1991: The Tale of the Twisted Claw

  • This tale is told by David, one of the more soft-spoken members of the group. When he speaks up to tell the story, Kristen says that it’s been a while since he has told a story. If you follow the order of the episodes on the DVD, this doesn’t actually make sense since he told the story in the previous episode. 
    • Shows like this, that don’t follow a singular narrative, are not often shown in the order that the episodes were shot–or even in the order the creators intended. This is something we came across with The Muppet Show, where the networks got to decide the order and it was out of Jim Henson’s hands once the episodes were handed over.
    • The story begins with Dougie and Kevin, two young boys out playing pranks on Mischief night. They target Miss Clove, a woman who lives alone in a creepy house and is rumored to be a witch. After spraying shaving cream in her face, she knocks over a vase and the boys take off. 
    • The next night, while trick-or-treating, the boys return to Miss Clove’s house. She invites them in, and offers up an enchanted claw as a reward. Miss Clove explains that the claw will grant them three wishes, and she warns them to be careful what they wish for. 
    • The boys quickly discover that Miss Clove was indeed telling the truth, as each wish they made was swiftly granted–even in ways they didn’t like or expect. Each wish turns progressively worse, and when one of the boys accidentally wishes his dead grandfather alive again, the boys make one final wish that they never broke the vase–and all returns to normal. 
    • This episode was written and directed by DJ Machale, though he used the pseudonym “Chloe Brown” as the writer. According to IMDB, that is his cat’s name.
  • What the Story is Based On
    • This episode is a modern re-telling of the 1902 short story “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs. 
    • The story follows the White family, who receives the paw from a traveling soldier that came to dinner. Mr. White initially wishes for $200, and gets it as a consequence of his son’s tragic and violent death while at work. He uses the second wish to hastily undo the first wish, bringing his mutilated son back from the dead and knocking at their door. Finally, he uses his last wish to undo his second wish. 
    • The story became incredibly popular, with adaptations beginning as early as 1903. The first film version of the story premiered in 1915, and beyond that, it has been referenced in visual and written media countless times since it was first published. The story is considered a literary classic, and performing it has become somewhat of a tradition (much like A Christmas Carol, which we discussed approximately 1000 years ago in our first episode.) 
      • At the time, the concept of three wishes was hardly new. Jacobs lifted the idea from The Book of 1000 and One Nights, which one of his characters even mentions in the story.
      • Jacobs also reveals the moral early in the story–that it’s impossible to find happiness through wishing. The paw was created to punish those who use it for attempting to alter fate.
      • The number 3 is also a highly common and significant number in storytelling. The rule of three dates back to ancient Greece. The idea is that concepts presented in threes are easier to remember and more interesting to the audience than with any other number. Most of us use the rule of three without even thinking about it! 
      • This is often attributed to the idea that humans want to make order out of chaos. Taking events and placing them into a short sequence makes a story much easier to follow. Three is also thought to represent time and magic, and is a sacred number in many religions. 
    • Differences and Similarities
      • Both stories actually have a lot in common, from the structure of the story to the actual events that take place. 
        • Besides both stories including a magical object that grants wishes, they both have incredibly similar final acts.
          • The scene where the two boys fearfully await the arrival of Dougie’s deceased grandfather mirrors the suspenseful climax of the original story.
            • Someone has been brought back from the dead and at their door. One of the wishers tries to open the door and greet them, while the other grasps the paw/claw and makes a final wish to undo the last wish.
      • The differences between the stories stem from the different settings and audiences (for example, the boys don’t wish for money because they are kids. Instead, one boy wishes to win a race at school.) 
        • In the original story, only three wishes are made overall, which worked well in service of teaching the audience the harsh lesson of, “be careful what you wish for.” 
        • But, in the AYAOTD version, each boy was allowed three wishes. This gave the characters more time to understand the consequences of their wishes, as they write off the first wish granting as coincidence. 
        • The Twisted Claw also has a much happier conclusion, as one of the boys uses his last wish to fix the vase they broke in the beginning of the episode, effectively erasing all the wishes.
        • In AYAOTD, the claw was a device used by Miss Clove specifically to teach the boys a lesson–while in the original story it was an item that Mr. White willingly took from an old friend.
  • Why the Story Works as an Episode of AYAOTD
    • The Monkey’s Paw drew from popular literary sources to create a tale that was both relatable and unsettling. Although the story has been told in various forms time and time again, it still sends chills up our spines–especially during its first telling. This episode was likely the first introduction that many kids had to the classic story. 
    • Writing a short-form story for television is harder than it seems, and using the structure of an already-existing story can be helpful as a baseline. However, it’s not easy to take an already established story and have it relate so well to a new audience that they felt like it was for them all along. 
    • The Tale of the Twisted Claw has a strong beginning, middle and end. It has relatable characters, a creepy vibe, and a strong moral. 



The second episode we’re covering tonight, is from the beginning of season 2: The Tale of the Midnight Madness! This is one of our all-time favorites, and we’ve read this is DJ MacHale’s favorite episode as well.

  • This horrifying tale comes to us from Frank, the “bad boy” of the group. In it, he brings back the recurring character Dr. Vink, played by Aron Tager. Aron Tager was also married to Ann Page, who portrayed Miss Clove in “Twisted Claw”!
  • Although the episode wasn’t a direct adaptation of another story like Twisted Claw, Midnight Madness pulled from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and used images akin to the infamous Dracula knock-off: Nosferatu. Although many episodes of the show deal with vampires, this one gave young audiences a look at the classic movie vampire.
    • The Realto Theatre is in trouble. One of its employees, Pete, loves the local landmark and is willing to do what he can to save it. One day, a strange man named Dr. Vink arrives with his own silent film and a proposition. Dr Vink guarantees the manager that this film, a silent vampire movie, will fill his theatre with people. There’s only one catch–in exchange for showing his movie, Vink wants one night a week to show his other films. Pete plays the film to a disgruntled audience, after another movie malfunctions. To everyone’s surprise, the audience loves it and the theatre has seemingly been saved. But, when Vink comes to cash in on his deal, the theatre manager refuses. 
    • Pete soon discovers that there’s more to the movie than he thought, when the vampire walks out of the screen. When Pete and his coworker/crush go to check on the manager later on, they find him passed out, and they are trapped in the theatre with a blood-thirsty vampire. Pete lures Nosferatu back into the movie and defeats him by exposing him to sunlight. 
    • After all seems well, Vink returns to alert the staff that he now owns the theater, and there are a lot more movies where this comes from.
  • This episode was written and directed by DJ MacHale (though he used the Chloe Brown pseudonym again.) 
  • Literary and Film Sources
    • This episode is special, because it doesn’t only draw slightly from literary references, but it’s also deeply rooted in classic film. 
    • The biggest literary reference would be Dracula, a horror novel written by Bram Stoker in 1897. 
      • When Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, he didn’t really consider it to be fiction. He did extensive research, and used eye-witness accounts of actual events as inspiration for major plot points of the novel. 
        • In Wallachian, a dialect of Romanian, Dracula means DEVIL. In a Time article, bestselling author JD Barker wrote, “Wallachians were accustomed to give it as a surname to any person who rendered himself conspicuous either by courage, cruel actions, or cunning.”
        • After his publisher initially passed on the book, for fear that it would create panic, Stoker made drastic changes and it was released as fiction. Not only were there narrative changes, but the first 101 pages were cut! 
        • However, Bram was able to get his original preface and parts of his original novel published in an Icelandic first edition. It translates into, “Power of Darkness.” There is also a short story called, “Dracula’s Guest” that holds pieces from the original, and of course Bram left behind his notes and other first editions for fans looking for the “truth.”
      • In “Midnight Madness,” the name Dracula is never mentioned. However, the male protagonist in Vink’s movie appears to be Jonathan Harker, the main protagonist of the novel. Another reference would be sensitivity to light (though light would not kill Dracula), and a coffin.
One of the few surviving pieces from Dracula’s Death (1922)
One of the few surviving pieces from Dracula’s Death (1922)
  • 1921 Dracula’s Death
    • Midnight Madness also pays homage to the infamous film Nosferatu (1922), which we will get to in a minute. But one year earlier, in 1921, a film called “Dracula’s Death” tried to convert Brom Stoker’s novel to the screen. There is not a lot known about it, for it is considered to be a lost film, but there are a few pictures from promotional items and the general plot is known. The premise was that a young woman visits a mental hospital where one patient claims to be Count Dracula. She experiences awful visions afterward and has trouble distinguishing whether or not these are truly just visions or if they were real. 
      • AYAOTD seemingly takes inspiration from this piece by having Frank in the beginning preface his story by saying “But sometimes the movie seems so real, that it’s hard to tell the difference between what’s make-believe and what’s really there.”
  • Nosferatu
    • Nosferatu has a bit of a controversial beginning. It’s creator F.W. Murnau did not obtain the rights to make a Dracula movie. Instead of obtaining rights he changed the names of the characters and a few plot points. One of the most important being that instead of a stake to the heart to kill the main antagonist, it is the sunlight. A bit of a dramatic way to get the villain to turn into a flame that burns out.
      • Stoker’s widow sued Murnau, and saw to it that as many versions of the film be destroyed as possible. Dr. Vink’s movie isn’t the same, but maybe he has one of the only copies? 
    • Obviously AYAOTD uses the name Nosferatu for the vampire character, but in the original film, the vampire’s name is Count Orlok. Dr. Vink’s movie is actually called, “Nosferatu: The demon Vampire.” 
      • In this way, Vink’s movie seems to be a mash-up between the original Dracula and Nosferatu
  • The similarities between Nosferatu and Midnight Madness are highly evident in its visuals. The scenes where Pete and Katie are running from the vampire mirror the actual movie scenes in an eerie and wonderful way. The shadows Nosferatu casts along the wall, his long, white fingers as he reaches for the door, and even the reactions from Pete and Katie are all reminiscent of the film. 
  • This tale is a love letter to silent film and monster movies. There tends to be more media focused on the dracula-style vampire, a talkative count that can take the form of a bat. It should be noted though, that this style comes more from the 1931 film adaptation of Dracula than the book. The image of Nosferatu is much more terrifying visually, and is less-often used in stories of vampires. 
  • This episode struck a chord with most audiences. When we watch a scary movie, we take comfort in knowing that it is indeed, just a movie. But, what if the movie was real


The last episode is another modern-day adaptation of a classic story: The Tale of the Midnight Ride!

  • Season three of AYAOTD starts out strong with the introduction of Tucker, Gary’s little brother. Tucker has to tell an initiation story to be accepted into the group, and he delivers a tale based on Washington Irving’s The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.
    • The story follows Ian, a teenaged boy who just moved to the New York town of Sleepy Hollow. The Halloween dance is coming up, and when he asks a girl named Katie, Ian becomes the target of ridicule from her jealous ex-boyfriend Brad. After a confrontation at the dance on Halloween night, Brad convinces Ian to go into the woods and retrieve the Headless Horseman’s pumpkin as part of an initiation ritual. While in the woods, Brad poses as the Horseman and scares Ian. 
    • After the dance, Ian walks Katie home. In the woods, they come across a mysterious man (that sounds a lot like Mr. Ratburn from Arthur). They give directions to the bridge of souls so he can find his way home. After the man disappears, Katie goes home and Ian heads back to the school to get his bike. 
    • While Ian is at the school, he discovers he’s being stalked by the real headless horseman, and he must find a way to cross the bridge of souls before he too will lose his head!
  • This episode was written by Darren Kotania, who also wrote, “The Crimson Clown,” and “The Dream Machine.” It was directed by DJ MacHale.
  • What the Story is Based On
    • So this episode is different from The Twisted Claw in that the story relies heavily on the fact that it’s an adaptation. Every character in the story knows about the legend of sleepy hollow, and it’s a major plot point.
    • The idea of a headless horseman was not completely original. There’s actually an Irish legend of the Gan Ceann (gon ke-yon) , a grim reaper that carries its head. Because Irving weaved actual locations and family names into the story, some believe that he based the headless horseman on an actual Hessian soldier who lost his head near Halloween in 1776. 
      • Other possible influences could be, Sir Walter Scott’s The Chase (a translation of The Wild Huntsman by Gottfried Burger), The Brothers Grimm, and tales of headless riders from the middle ages
    • Tucker starts the story by re-capping the original for the audience at home, a smart idea since a lot of children might not know the specifics of the story. He explains that the ghost was a soldier that lost his head to a cannonball during the revolutionary war–something that is directly lifted from the original story. 
    • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow actually turns 200 this year! It was written by Washington Irving in 1820. The story follows Ichabod Crane, a new schoolmaster in the area, who starts to fancy the beautiful Katrina Von Tassel. Katrina’s other suitor, Brom Bones, does not take kindly to the competition. 
      • Midnight ride does not only exist alongside the original story, with characters referencing it, it also adapts it. Ian is Ichabod, Katie is Katrina, and Brad is the brash Brom Bones. 
      • In the episode, Brad is the one to tell Ian the story of the headless horseman, just as Brom is the one to spook the schoolmaster with the tale in the original version. 
        • The episode also follows the lore of the Bridge of Souls, the one bridge the horseman cannot cross.
        • Brad also dresses as the headless horseman to scare Ian, and one theory of Sleepy Hollow is that Brom Bones dressed as the Headless Horseman to frighten Ichabod. 
      • The key difference between the two, however, is the definitive existence of the headless horseman. In Irving’s story, he leaves it up to the reader to decide if Ichabod was indeed spirited away by the Headless Horseman, or if he was killed–possibly run out of town–by Brom Bones. 
  • Why the story works as an episode of AYAOTD
    • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is considered to be one of America’s first ghost stories, so it’s absolutely perfect to tell around a campfire. It was designed to be repeated, and the story itself references the oral tradition. Even if you don’t know all the details, or can’t quote the story verbatim, most of us can tell the story by heart. But somehow, this incredibly well-known piece of fiction has continued to capture our imaginations for 200 years. 
    • Even children watching AYAOTD are most-likely familiar with the story, so seeing it applied to their issues (school bullies, crushes) made it even more compelling to younger audiences. 


  • Jake and the Leprechaun (spoiler: lookout for a briefcase solely on this episode, around St. Patrick’s Day possibly?) 
  • Captured Souls
  • The Manaha
  • Nightly Neighbors, Night Shift, Vampire Town, any episode with vampires, really
  • The Tale of the Final Wish
  • Tale of the Full Moon
  • Guardian’s Curse
  • Walking Shadow

Thank you so much to JD and Brett for coming on the show! If you are a fan of AYAOTD, please consider supporting their kickstarter! Their content is incredible and hopefully with your support, we will see a lot more from them in the future! 


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