You'd be hard-pressed to find a more beloved kids' show from the '90s that Are You Afraid of the Dark?, a series that followed in the footsteps of horror anthologies like Tales from the Darkside and Tales from the Crypt, though toned down its terror to appeal to younger audiences. With the 2019 revival of the concept, everything that made the series special was put into a blender, while also injecting some fresh perspectives to ultimately craft a wholly original premise, with Are You Afraid of the Dark?: Curse of the Shadows having to meet the exceptional bar that reboot established. While this follow-up series might not be as strong right out of the gate as its predecessor, it does still set the stage for a frightening encounter for burgeoning horror fans, as it also manages to draw more direct references to iconic tales from the '90s series.
Set in the coastal town of Shadow Bay, a group of friends who call themselves The Midnight Society can't seem to find their friend Connor, who attempted to contact them late one night. As the friends track his whereabouts, they discover that Connor was investigating a legend that haunts their local woods, forcing The Midnight Society to follow in his footsteps, even if that means becoming targets of the "Shadowman."
One benefit that Curse of the Shadows earns that the previous season didn't have is that the expectations from longtime fans have been lifted. The original series delivered all-new tales of terror each episode, while it was largely devoid of any narrative tissue among The Midnight Society being crafted. Instead of mirroring that formula, this season instead embraces the tone of the original, though it takes the terror to new heights. While the overall mood and sense of humor skews towards younger audiences, a number of sequences involving the Shadowman are far more frightening than anything seen in the proper series, feeling much more influenced by the ways in which The Conjuring film series plays with light and shadow, crafting some truly effective scares.
With the 2019 reboot of the series, showrunner BenDavid Grabinski aimed to capture the spirit of wanting to become a member of The Midnight Society, putting less of a focus on the original TV show and instead highlighting the overall horror genre, bringing in Easter eggs to The Evil Dead creator Sam Raimi or iconic horror author H.P. Lovecraft. With Curse of the Shadows, we instead see Easter eggs related to famous installments of the '90s series, from "The Tale of the Ghastly Grinner" or "The Tale of the Super Specs." Additionally, the premiere episode sees a reboot of a famous figure from the original series, which we don't want to spoil here, but devout fans will surely appreciate such a return.
Fans who didn't check out the last reboot might be a bit bewildered, as there is less of an emphasis in Curse of the Shadows on the storytelling concept, other than the group of friends giving themselves a clever moniker. We do get one effective sequence of storytelling, but given the reliance on such stories in the show's original run, some viewers might wonder how much that storytelling concept will be utilized in upcoming episodes. With this season being extended to six episodes as opposed to the last season's three, it's possible those elements will be embraced more heavily as we get further into the narrative.
As far as The Midnight Society goes, all of the young performers give commendable performances, leaning just enough into the tropes of teen-aged archetypes to feel familiar while also offering enough nuance to avoid being tropes. Merely being able to watch a show aimed at younger viewers without being irritated by the cast is an accomplishment in its own right, with the rest of the season hopefully offering more insight into the quirks of each character.
Were the references to the original Are You Afraid of the Dark? stripped from Curse of the Shadows, you'd be left with a somewhat middling Young Adult horror series whose frights toe line of PG-13 material. Luckily, the inclusion of such references will surely appeal to viewers who grew up on the original series and they will want to stay invested if for no other reason than to see what other connections are made, all while younger audiences will be given more effective glimpses of terror than any other kid-oriented horror series.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Are You Afraid of the Dark?: Curse of the Shadows debuts on Nickelodeon on Friday, February 12th at 8 p.m. ET.