MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: The Sixth Sense was based on an episode of Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark?
In 1999, M. Night Shyamalan’s film, The Sixth Sense, debuted…
The horror thriller starred Bruce Willis as a psychologist trying to help a young boy (played by Haley Joel Osment) who has the ability to see dead people (his “sixth sense,” as it were).
It was a surprise smash success and launched Shyamalan’s career as a major motion picture force.
Over the years, there has been an interesting piece of alleged trivia about the film, namely that Shyamalan was inspired to write the film after watching an episode of the Nickelodeon TV series, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, a horror show that aired on Saturday nights as part of Nickelodeon’s “SNICK” brand of shows (after initially airing in Canada).
The episode in question, “The Tale of the Dream Girl,” aired in 1994, part of the third Nicklodeon season of the show, which was about a group of teens who tell scary stories around a camp fire as part of “The Midnight Society.” It was essentially a horror anthology series. This story was about a young man who is haunted by a dead girl.
He tries to get help from his sister, but in the end, he realizes that his sister is the only other person who can see him besides the dead girl. He can see the dead girl because he, too, is dead and he died in the same accident as the dead girl and they were a couple. So he goes into the afterlife with her.
Anyhow, as you might imagine, the episode reminded people of The Sixth Sense. However, in a number of places online, Shyamalan allegedly outright cited the episode as an influence on The Sixth Sense. From the IMDB FAQ page for the episode:
According to M. Night Shyamalan, he was so moved by this episode that he was inspired to write “The Sixth Sense”, based on ideas from this episode.
So that sounds like it is a cool story of a filmmaker getting a great idea out of an unusual place.
However, in an interview at Screencrush with Shyamalan, Britt Hayes got to the bottom of whether the story is true or not:
Hayes: The IMDb and Wikipedia pages for The Sixth Sense both contain the same bit of weird “trivia,” which claims that your inspiration for the film came from an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark.
Shyamalan: Hmm…Are You Afraid Of The Dark?
Hayes: It was this Nickelodeon show that premiered the 90s. It first aired in Canada.
Shyamalan: I’m afraid I don’t know that show! [Laughs]
Hayes: There’s our answer!
Hayes: These sites can be unreliable, but it was weird enough to make me hunt down the source. So I’m going through the Google news archives…
Shyamalan: [Laughs] Wow.
Hayes: And I’m trying to find where this “fact” originated because it pops up on blogs and forums all the time when people talk about The Sixth Sense. And I couldn’t nail down where it came from — certainly not from you.
Shyamalan: That’s really weird. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that show. I don’t want to ignore something that might have been an influence, but nothing rings a bell when you say that. I remember specifically the notebook I was writing in and it was about a little boy at a funeral. That was the first image that came to mind, and he was on the stairs talking to no one. Then, in my mind, I was wondering if he was talking to the person that had died at that funeral. That kind of stimulated the story.
I think it is fair enough to believe Shyamalan here, especially since the only reason that this ever became a story in the first place is because of the whole “Shyamalan said he was inspired” part of it all, which he never actually did say. It’s not like the TV show and the movie are identical or anything. Not only that, but it is not even as though the whole “people not knowing that they’re dead” idea is some completely original notion.
So I’m willing to go with the legend as…
Thanks to Britt Hayes and M. Night Shyamalan for the information!
Be sure to check out my archive of Movie Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of film.
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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