Kids are tough and can handle a lot more than we sometimes give them credit for, but that doesn’t mean you can simply pop on a DVD of The Exorcist and leave the room. According to BenDavid Grabinski, the writer of the new Are You Afraid of the Dark? series, there’s one specific thing you need to tell a good horror story for kids. It’s not a scary clown... although that’s always a plus.
There are plenty of horror stories geared toward children, from Goosebumps to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and they don’t skimp on the frights. Some episodes, like “The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float” in the original Are You Afraid of the Dark series, still manage to terrify us to this day. But there’s something children’s horror has that more adult forms don’t necessarily need: a good ending. Gizmodo chatted with Grabinski at our studio at New York Comic Con to find out why.
“The difference between kid horror and adult horror is that, like, if you turned off these episodes in the middle it might be too much, but if they get to the ending you know it’s happy and everyone’s fine,” he told Gizmodo. “Kind of a spoiler, but it’s a kids show. I’m not gonna, like, kill all the kids!”
Grabinski added, “I don’t want to assume making the show that kids can handle anything because it could be a little irresponsible, probably.” He mentioned writers can sometimes push the envelope a bit more when it comes to scaring today’s kids than previous generations, because modern media and politics has desensitised them. This was something echoed by Are You Afraid of the Dark? star Jeremy Ray Taylor, who told Gizmodo in an interview that his generation isn’t afraid of getting scared because they have a better understanding of how movies are made.
That said, scaring children is a timeless tradition – let’s not forget the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which could be absolutely brutal. We may be seeing a renaissance in great child horror, but that doesn’t make it a first-time thing.
The final episode of the Are You Afraid of the Dark? reboot airs October 25 on Nickelodeon, and the network hasn’t announced whether it’ll get another season.
BenDavid Grabinski: You have to just follow your own gut about what you think is appropriate for kids, or what goes too far. And you kind of want to go right up to that edge, because otherwise it’s too safe.
I do think, though, you have an obligation when you’re making horror for kids to try to keep in mind that there’s a different degree of things that kids can tolerate. There’s some kids who have been exposed to a lot more of a violent or scary media, or dealt with more things than some kids who haven’t. So there’s like a tricky balance there because there’s a lot of kids today who, they may watch Get Out or Us, or [are] dealing with the current political climate and a lot of things have made them maybe grow up quicker, or be a little more desensitised to things. But at the same time, I don’t want to assume making the show that kids can handle anything, because it could be a little irresponsible probably.
[Audio from Are You Afraid of the Dark?]: “Do you like scary stories?”
Grabinski: When you’re making horror for adults, everyone can die, or can end with complete nihilism. I think part of the reason of not traumatising kids too much is if you let them know that everything’s gonna be okay, and the heroes win, and the kids are fine. When you take it the other direction, that’s the thing that’s very scary. So that’s kinda, to me, the difference between kid horror and adult horror is that. Like, if you turned off these episodes in the middle, it might be too much, but if they get to the ending, you know it’s happy and everyone’s fine. Kind of a spoiler, but it’s a kid’s show. I’m not gonna, like, kill all the kids.
Featured image: Nickelodeon