Nickelodeon’s Cry Baby Lane has somewhat of a mystique surrounding it. On October 28, 2000, Nick aired the made-for-TV movie. But after that, it was never aired again. Apparently the film got banned. Years later, talks of it swirled around the undercurrents of the internet, and finally, in 2011, the movie was shown on Nickelodeon’s TeenNick network.
Why was it banned you ask? Well for starters, the film starts out with Frank Langella’s character, Mr. Bennett the undertaker, telling the tale of a farmer and his wife who gave birth to conjoined twins many years ago. Ashamed of his children, the farmer kept the them locked up in a room in his house. He soon realized that one twin was good, while the other was evil. Eventually one of them got sick and died, which was also fatal to the other twin since they shared the same vital organs. After they died, the farmer sawed the two boys in half, burying the good twin in the town cemetery, while burying the evil twin at the end of a generic dirt road in the backwoods. The road is now called Cry Baby Lane due to the sounds you hear in the middle of the night of the dead boy crying for his twin brother.
Yeah, this film was banned. In the year 2000. Can you imagine what the reaction would have been like if it were released nowadays when parents are far more aware of what their kids watch? It’s a very creepy movie, and doesn’t even saturate itself with jump-scares. All of the creepiness comes from the inherent properties of the story and the visuals themselves. But I think we may not be giving kids the credit they deserve. I think they can handle it.
The eerie tale of the twin boys is being told to brothers, Andrew and Carl. Andrew is played by Jase Blankfort, and he does a great job. His deliveries are so spot-on and organic that you never sense he’s acting. He’s fun to watch. The free-flowing dialogue helps his true instincts come out and he really gets a chance to show his chops.
I would’ve loved if this could have been longer. At 70 minutes, it’s an unusually short film, so the pacing is all out-of-sorts. Maybe that’s why it feels just like a really long TV episode.
Although never formally advertised as such, Cry Baby Lane is a feature-length version of the Nickelodeon show Are You Afraid of the Dark? With most references to the show coming from motifs in the musical score, the film does actually follow a similar tone–albeit much darker.
The loose direction by Peter Lauer crosses back and forth between refreshingly unorthodox and frustratingly informal. It’s a weird movie with a lot of seemingly unrelated bits added in, making the film feel disjointed at times. There are scenes and characters that do nothing but waste time, even with the little amount it has in the first place.
But on the other hand he doesn’t let simple details go unnoticed merely because this is a kids’ movie. He has characters in the film who are possessed, but doesn’t just cliche his way through it. He uses these instances as opportunities for humor and irony. At one point, a possessed mailman goes around smashing mailboxes with a baseball bat. Many of the seemingly-innocuous idiosyncrasies or nuances are given attention–for better or for worse.
There’s a sort of unique humor to the film. Most of it is subtle–another very “Nickelodeon” thing about it. In fact, many of the events happen primarily due to the fact that Mr. Bennett is the world’s worst undertaker–a joke exemplified a few times.
Needless to say, you don’t have to worry about this movie talking down to its audience. The subject matter alone proves that it has every bit of faith that kids can handle just about anything. I’d say Cry Baby Lane might possibly be a little too mature and scary for some kids to be watching, but rooted in its reckless storyline are ideals and philosophies of past children’s TV networking. Things that are no longer practiced in children’s television really at all. Things that used to let kids know you trusted them and didn’t think they were stupid. This might be the most important takeaway of all.