I once hung out with people (believe it or not), and did stuff like eat pizza while playing Zaxxon one-handed.* Admittedly, it seems like a lifetime ago, back when I was frightened to sleep without the comforting gaze of my buddy, the Glo Worm, to keep my hysteria toward the encroaching darkness in check. I can't -nay, won't- shy away from confessing that fear of the unknown night was merely one of my irrational childhood fears, the greatest of which was my staunch aversion toward arachnids, especially spiders and tarantulas. Fun fact: I've traveled to New Zealand (specifically South Island), but not Australia. I'll give you three chances to guess on a major factor in that decision, and no, Denz has nothing to do with it this time. Yes, I was terrified of several things in my youth, but tonight's post is about being frightened of the dark itself, and the 'new' Twilight Zone.
Any studious listener of the PKast would, hopefully after vomiting profusely, recall my verbose description of an episode from the aforementioned series, namely Ray Bradbury's the Elevator, during which I cataloged the horrific nature of Stephen Geoffrey's performance, as well as the pervasive cheesiness of the series as a whole. I recently completed my viewing of the first season, and while I do not regret my casual stroll down memory lane, I will attest to the notion that the series itself was severely flawed, almost fatally so. Having said that, I do think that the series had its high points, even if Bradbury's work really doesn't qualify as one of them. If anything, the arachnoid deus ex machina both serves, and severs its function; for anyone over the age of twelve, it rarely tingles the spine, except for an almost automatic knee-jerk 'I didn't see that coming' reaction.**
The venerable Joe Dante's contribution to the series, however, plays upon the notion of dark, fearful symmetry with his usual sardonic directorial acumen. In the Shadow Man,*** Dante introduces us to the timid, adolescent Danny Hayes, a clever, studious boy easily disturbed by the slightest jolt of morbidity. Deathly afraid of the dark, Danny elects to sleep with several lights, television, and radio turned on, until he turns thirteen, at which point his flabbergasted mother decrees that he'll just have to grow up and deal with his fear. Without giving anything pertinent away, I will state that this is where the tale becomes interesting, as something emerges from beneath his bed, much to the boy's chagrin.
As noted previously, this episode stands in stark contrast to the shock value of the Elevator not only in its subject matter, but in its presentation and outlook. In Bradbury's story, we are given two brothers that are, inevitably, prey for something wholly beyond their control, and ours (namely, a big, genetically enhanced spider). In the Shadow Man, viewers are privy to something entirely different; that the majority of viewers -whether it be in hindsight or contemporarily, nerdy males aged twelve to thirty- could identify with Danny is unquestionable. The conundrum, in my mind, is whether I, as a viewer, am supposed to fear the dark (and what it may hold), or to dread the price of becoming 'cool' with the society that helped generate Danny's fear of darkness.
Sparkles Says: It's all about the hubris!
Kmart Says: No it's not. Get the fuck out of here.
Fear not, as I am scarcely capable of waxing philosophical about anything, let alone an episode of a defunct TV series from the mid-eighties. What I am trying to imply, haphazardly, is that the genius of Dante is that he plays upon a fear of the dark with the utmost sagacity. The titular Shadow Man is a murky, nondescript shade that doesn't inspire extreme fear, either now or when I was a lad. Unlike the Elevator, I can smile watching the Shadow Man tonight just as I did twenty some years ago, albeit a twisted smile that reflects my amusement with the scenario played out.
Even so, given the gaze of a man who lost track of his prime, I can't help but wonder about the fate of young Danny with respect to projection. I am no longer afraid of the dark, but unlike that character, I recognize that there are things to fear within said darkness, things that are no more -or less- supernatural than a bag of Cheetos. By extension, I suppose that some girl walking alone on a dimly lit university campus sidewalk after hours may fear me, not because I'm scary, but due to the fact that I (or anyone else, for that matter) represent the blackened visage best described as a Shadow Man. That nameless girl was probably coming from the same collegiate party that I had been, each of us drinking extensively, trying to be cool but lamenting what the result could be, even with all the lights burning brightly. She probably scares me as much as I do her, but I can't decide if that is because she's cool, or because there may be something hidden behind her, in the darkness beyond the streetlight.
If that sounds awkward, then perhaps you should watch Dante's the Shadow Man, because that's what it is all about, in its own way. For the majority of the episode, you're wondering just what it is that should perturb you, and what it is you should be grinning about. They may be one in the same, and that is what is most frightening above all.****
All on a 13 inch, black-and-white Zenith television.
Rockne S. O'Bannon
* That was two weeks ago, with Sparkles at the helm. Korea still believes in classic gaming.
** Except for you, dear reader, as I've already mentioned the ending. Sorry about that.
*** For those curious souls, the episode is available for viewing at YouTube. Watch it!
**** Originally, the sentence had been written with 'salivating' in lieu of 'frightening.' Weird.