The Tale of the Phantom Cab
OK, so I lied. This yarn, entitled "The Tale of the Phantom Cab", isn't quite the perfect ghost story. Actually, it's not even close. Even when they kill Bill Cosby, taxis aren't very scary. However, since this episode is badly named, that doesn't really matter. As you'll eventually see, the taxi is only one small part of Frank's craptacular story. Anyway, let's begin...
Meet Denny and Buzz. Buzz is a high-pitched preteen who can't act and Denny is his easily irritated older brother. Personally, I think they're misnamed. Buzz is a tough-sounding name, perfect for a grumpy older brother; I know it, you know it, and John Hughes knows it. Also, Denny is a good name for an obnoxious little shit. Anyway, Denny and Buzz decide to go hiking in the woods one day and they get lost because Buzz is a total fucking idiot. He accidentally ruins the map and he almost falls off a cliff. He also holds the MAGNETIC compass close to his METAL belt buckle, which is directly responsible for getting them lost. The first three and a half minutes of the episode is nothing but Denny and Buzz wandering around the woods and arguing. It's like the Blair Witch Project, only shorter. Eventually nightfall sets in, and they're still lost.
Enter Flynn. Flynn is an amiable guy who happens to be walking around aimlessly. The man is apparently a big fan of Napoleon, because his right hand never leaves his jacket pocket. Denny and Buzz ask Flynn for help, because when you meet a strange man in the woods at night, it's always a great idea to ask him for help. Especially if you want to end up raped and dead. Unfortunately, Flynn doesn't rape and kill these stupid bastards. Instead, he offers to bring them to a doctor who can help them. Flynn leads the boys to a weird cottage in the woods and warns the children that the man who lives there can give them assistance, but he often asks a high price in return. Then Flynn disappears. Since they have no other options, Denny and Buzz decide to knock on the creepy old cottage door.
Oh look, a crazy old man. This is Dr. Vink, the man that Flynn told the boys could help them. Vink claims to be a scientist of some sort and he offers to help the boys if they can answer a riddle. As a test, he asks them this one: How far can you walk into the woods? The answer is halfway, because after that, you're walking out of the woods. Buzz gets it. Vink then offers to let them use his phone... That is, if they can answer another riddle. The boys agree. Vink asks them: What is weightless, can be seen with the naked eye, and when you put it in a barrel, it makes the barrel lighter? Neither of them have any fucking clue, so Vink asks them to leave. He says that a taxi will come by to pick them up. Denny thinks that the good doctor is bullshitting them and demands to use the phone. The doctor offers them another deal, they can use the phone if they leave him a specimen he can use in his research. The boys stare at him blankly. The doctor then elaborates....
OH MY GOD!!!! IT'S A HAND IN A JAR! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! OK, it really wasn't all that scary. Dr. Vink had a very pleasant demeanor that prevented him from ever really being scary; he was more of a mischevious character that trascended good and evil. Because of that, he became the show's most popular recurring character. Not only that, this role established actor Aron Tager as one of Canada's leading bit actors. It's not hard to see why. He's very good at what he does. Hell, if I made a movie, I'd hire him. Back to the story.... The cheap prop in a jar scares the fuck out of Denny and Buzz, and they do their best Kevin McCallister impressions. Then they run like hell.
Turns out Doc wasn't lying. There really was a cab waiting for them. And the driver is.... Flynn? That goofy bastard had a taxi this whole time? The boys are confused and pissed. They don't seem to notice that Flynn looks a lot paler than he did before. Bet you can guess where this is going. Flynn explains that he's a ghost. Dr. Vink was his fare one night and when Flynn dropped him off at his cabin, the doctor offered a big tip if Flynn could answer the riddle about the barrel. He couldn't answer it and he ended up having a fatal accident on his way back to town. That's when the doctor took his hand as a specimen. Now Flynn is cursed. He lures people to the doctor's cottage hoping they can solve the riddle. When they fail, he relives the accident with them in the car and the doctor gets new specimens. Flynn tells the boys that there's still time to solve the riddle. Buzz tries to solve it while Denny yells at him and wrings his neck. Conveniently enough, Buzz figures out the answer just as the taxi is about to hit a big tree: it's a hole.
Surprise, they don't die! I bet you didn't see that coming. Denny is so happy to be alive that he gives Buzz the most emphatic hug EVER. We're talking borderline homoeroticism here. Then they realize that hugging is totally gay and they stop. Like Deliverance taught us, the woods turn you queer. A few seconds later, they get picked up by a park ranger. He either sodomizes them or brings them home, I forget. Thus ends The Tale of the Phantom Cab. In another "shocking" turn of events, everyone likes Frank's story and he gets accepted.
This episode wasn't particularly scary, but it was entertaining back in the day. It seems predictable and hackneyed now, but for a lot of kids, this was their first exposure to many of the classic horror premises. The first episode that I really remember seeing was The Tale of the Twisted Claw where two boys are given a magic claw that grants wishes... with a sinister twist! Apparently that episode was aired as the pilot on Halloween in 1991, almost 10 months before the series began regularly airing. Nickelodeon aired it several times in between as well. Ren and Stimpy had similiar problems. There were two month gaps between the airing of some of the episodes in Season 1, causing Nick to air Stimpy's Big Day way too many fucking times. There were a lot less episodes of some of the Nick shows than I thought there were. Salute Your Shorts and Hey Dude each only lasted two seasons. I guess since they aired often, it seems like there were more. It also explains why I still remember a lot of the episodes pretty well after over ten years. Are You Afraid of the Dark? had a comparitively long run, going for five seasons from 1992-1996 and coming back for another two from 1999-2000. There were some very dark episodes, which I'll probably review eventually. The Tale of the Phantom Cab may not have had the power to frighten, but it did provide some good riddles to annoy your parents with.
Posted by: Syd Lexia