The extreme anticipation of an approaching Halloween is something I imagine most Retroist readers can intensely relate to. As a kid, the feeling was almost palpable – from spooky branded candy and cereal packaging, to the visible changes you’d see in your own neighborhood like fabric cobwebs and foam tombstones.
At the time, I couldn’t rent any of the hardcore horror movies I would discover a few short years later, so instead I’d scour the airwaves for something holiday appropriate. Being a child of the mid-eighties, I was just reaching peak Halloween appreciation age when YTV started rolling out their themed evenings of programming called Dark Night.
The programming block found YTV VJs engaging in segment-based narratives between episodes of Freaky Stories, Goosebumps, Are You Afraid of the Dark and various Halloween specials. A personal favourite of those specials was Garfield’s Halloween Adventure, which legitimately frightened me when I first saw it. There was even a phone number for viewers to call in post-show trivia answers, in an attempt to snag a killer Dark Night themed gift pack – what kid wouldn’t want to show up to school wearing a “happening” Dark Night jacket or Are You Afraid of the Dark t-shirt?
The years that stick out in my mind the most, are Dark Night 4 and 5. In Dark Night 4, Phil and Paul wandered around the streets of Toronto bumping into a cast of characters while searching for some mysterious party they both received invites to. Somewhere along the way, Paul gets “branded” and slowly turns evil.
A year later, they upped the conceptual ante with Dark Night 5 – which actually took place within a control room, wherein the VJs are purportedly controlling the programming. The wrap-around concept so to speak, finds them throwing to field location segments to investigate and interview locals about a series of strange goings on in the fictional Ontario city of Tweed.
You almost have to wonder if they were inspired by the British series Ghostwatch to go the mock-realism route, as this was a full two years before The Blair With Project would drop on unsuspecting cinema goers – ultimately popularizing the found footage genre for years to come. Regardless, as far as harmless family Halloween programming goes, it was quite audacious and made for a thoroughly fun night in front of the ‘tube.
It’s really unfortunate you don’t see any similarly high-concept stuff hitting the air-waves these days. I’d definitely tune in if someone out there were to revive the spirit of Dark Night’s evening of entertainment. Until then, picking through the available clips on YouTube and maybe throwing on an episode of Freaky Stories or two will have to do.