For those of you lucky enough to have access to Nickelodeon during the late 80’s and early 90’s, you might remember Are You Afraid of the Dark?. A group of young friends that create a club whose purpose it is to gather around a campfire and trade spooky stories that would be played out on the screen for the viewer. Generations older than myself would have likened it to Tales from the Dark Side or even The Twilight Zone. It is certainly a common device used to present horror on a television format that could give you a different and unique tale every week within one series. Ominous looks to bring this format to the modern era with a web series using this same basic concept.
An oddly mixed group of friends and coworkers get together for a small and informal housewarming and discover an old book, Ominous, hidden within the walls of the somewhat shabby new digs. After realizing it contains a collection of scary tales and spooky stories, they proceed to sit down for an adult version of a read aloud session akin to the ones your local library hosts in the kids section. Despite the informal settings they create a seating arrangement that looks like they are guests on the average afternoon Springer style talk show, waiting for the big secret to be revealed. This creates an awkward stiffness that carries through to the opening narrative of the story and takes away from the organic feel of friends casually gathered around a campfire to trade tales.
The first story plucked from the pages of Ominous to be presented to the audience is called “Elizabeth”. A somewhat unoriginal story with a ne’er-do-well husband who finds himself haunted by the ghost of his pregnant wife during the Christmas holiday. It doesn’t need much time to set the backstory as the drunken husband talks to his wife who responds from off-screen, leaving the audience under the impression that she’s just in another room. When she does materialize, the blood on her nightgown is the only thing to let you know that her distance is due more to an untimely demise than just being dispensed with in the kitchen. A confrontation ensues between the disgruntled couple and the husband is later discovered by a pizza delivery girl in the most farfetched of events that has her walking into the house, which living in Philly or any major metropolis area, you know how completely unbelievable that is.
Despite the lackluster of the first story, the friends decide that this has been an entertaining enough adventure to make this an ongoing event and the birth of this web series is off to a better start than the birth of the inaugural story’s doomed couple’s child. With any luck at all, as the series develops, the tales will get better because if we learned anything from those old horror themed anthologies, it’s that this can be a successful model in which to bring a large variety of horror shorts to the screen. While the first story may not have been the most original or spine tingling of ventures, whenever you’re dealing with a varied collection of stories, there are bound to be a few that fall flat. That being said, starting the series off with a feature that falls short of even its own B movie-esque package, could potentially scare viewers in a way that leaves them tuning out rather than tuning in for more.