GUEST TV REVIEW by Sarah McKnight: The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float

Are You Afraid of the Dark S5: E1:
The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float

TV Series – 10.7.1995 – Not Rated – 22 minutes
Director: DJ MacHale
Writer: Will Dixon (original creator: DJ MacHale)
Stars: Margot Finley (Clorice), Kaj-Erik Eriksen (Zeke Matthews)

Zeke and Clorice find an abandoned swimming pool at their school where a secret is contained.

“Submitted for the approval of The Midnight Society, I call this story…”

Are You Afraid of the Dark? is a horror anthology series that ran on Nickelodeon from 1990-1996. The series featured members of The Midnight Society gathered around a campfire in the woods and exchanging tales that ranged from the bizarre to the truly terrifying. Each character had a distinct personality and told stories that aligned with their individual interests. With a rating of TVY7, the show not only sparked my love for all things horror, but essentially traumatized me with a few memorable episodes as well.

The one that scared me the most, and naturally became my favorite, was titled The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float. As a child, I absolutely loved swimming and would spend hours in the pool, but the fear of drowning was always in the back of my mind. This episode solidified that fear. The tale revolves around Zeke, a nerdy teenager who never learned to swim, and Clorice, a cool girl on the swim team. After Zeke discovers a pool hidden behind a fake wall within their high school, he teams up with Clorice to get it cleaned up so the swim team can stop traveling for their practices. In exchange, all Zeke asks for is private lessons so he can finally learn to swim. But, as Zeke and Clorice soon find out, there was a reason the pool was hidden away for so long.

Something is lurking beneath the water; something invisible and evil that caused numerous deaths in the past. After a near-fatal experience in the newly opened pool, Zeke and Clorice soon discover, with the help of an old janitor who was once a lifeguard for that very pool, that the school was built over a cemetery and some of the bodies had been missed during the excavation. While this is a tired, arguably overused, trope, the twist on it feels unique and the story, in my humble opinion, still holds up to this day.

Now, Zeke and Clorice know what is lurking beneath the waters, but how can they fight something they cannot see? Fortunately, Zeke is a wiz at chemistry, and he has an idea that just might be crazy enough to work.

When Zeke pours his chemical compound into the pool water, the creature responsible for so many deaths is revealed, and my young mind was subjected to the most terrifying imagery I have ever seen. It still haunts me to this day, and I love it.

Are You Afraid of the Dark? didn’t have to go so hard with their visual effects, but I am so thankful that they did. There was something raw about this show that I feel you don’t see in modern kid’s TV, even if it is horror themed. I recently rewatched the entire series and was surprised at the amount of death and sadness portrayed in the stories shared by The Midnight Society. I think, even as a child, this was one of the reasons why I loved the show so much. Sometimes, it was incredibly real, and the dark tales were not watered down. No one tiptoed around the subject matter just because the audience was mainly children. It was an entertaining, spooky, and occasionally funny show that can still be enjoyed by all audiences to this day.

The series had a short revival from 1999-2000 in which only one member of the original cast returned, and beginning in 2019, Nickelodeon has begun airing short spinoffs of the original show, which have grown in popularity. While these spinoffs are enjoyable, and I feel they have captured the vibe of their predecessor, nothing can beat the original. The entire series, save for seasons 5 and 6, can be found streaming on Paramount+. I highly recommend binging it. Maybe, though, keep the lights on.

“I declare this meeting of The Midnight Society closed.”

Sarah McKnight has been writing stories since she could pick up a pencil, and it often got her in trouble during math class. After a brief stint teaching English to unruly middle schoolers in Japan, she decided she wasn’t going to put off her dream of becoming a writer any longer and set to work. With several novels in the making, she hopes to tackle issues such as anxiety, depression, and letting go of the past – with a little humor sprinkled in, too. A St Louis native, she currently lives in Pennsylvania with her wonderful husband and three cats. You can find her on Twitter and on her website.

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