The early 90s was a great time for kid-horror. “Goosebumps” was in full-swing, Tim Burton was making movies that warped our minds, and television had shows like “Eerie, Indiana” and “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” that kept us in a perpetual state of terror.
“Are You Afraid of the Dark?” in particular is like a shared nightmare, so with it being the 24th anniversary of the premiere -- and Halloween -- we figured the time was right to take a look back at all of those times the show made you pee yourself. Yes, you.
When it showed us the consequences for piracy.Nickelodeon
Even in the early ‘90s piracy was a problem. In the case of “The Tale of the Wisdom Glass,” the pirates in question are a couple of kids that lift a computer game and are punished by being sucked into the world of the game and sentenced by the most terrifying judge you’ve ever seen. Now if we could only treat people that pirate their entertainment in 2015 this way.
When it taught us to be careful what we wished for.Nickelodeon
There is plenty of kid-horror with this theme (there was a “Goosebumps” literally called “Be Careful What You Wish For”), but it was “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” that did it best with “The Tale of the Twisted Claw.” It’s a classic setup in which a couple of hoodlums are granted wishes from a witch, only to find that their selfish desires wreak disaster and themselves and their loved ones. If memory serves, they actually manage to kill their parents in the course of the show.
When it took us on a midnight ride.Nickelodeon
The only Halloween-themed episode of the show is “The Tale of the Midnight Ride,” a “Sleepy Hallow” themed story about a modern day kid crossing paths with The Headless Horseman of legend. It’s a fact that The Headless Horseman is just plain scary no matter what, but imagining that the legend didn’t end with Ichabod Crane was even more terrifying.
When it "Sixth Sense"-d us.Nickelodeon
There are a couple of episodes that are pretty close to the general conceit of “The Sixth Sense,” but my particular favorite is “The Tale of the Prom Queen,” wherein a teenage girl slowly realizes that she’s the dead prom queen of legend that is said to haunt a graveyard after she was killed waiting for her date to arrive. It’s a macabre and sad tale of young love that made us all terrified to go to prom.
When it reminded us of “The Last Starfighter.”
Remember that scene in “The Last Starfighter” where the alien clone thing is slowly, grotesquely, morphing into Lance Guest? That’s sort of what Madame Visage of “The Tale of Many Faces” looks like, who is trying to steal the face of younger, prettier women to mask her own empty mannequin face. Still gives me the chills just thinking about it.
When Clarissa couldn’t explain it all.Nickelodeon
There are some things even Clarissa Darling couldn’t explain, and one of them is the frozen dead kid that haunts her aunt’s woods. Repeating “I’m cold” over and over again, this poor ghost of “The Tale of the Frozen Ghost” is at once tragic and terrifying. I mean, a child that got lost in the woods and froze to death? Could you get any darker, Midnight Society? Turns out, they could.
When it tried to straight up kill us.Nickelodeon
“The Tale of Old Man Corcoran” is basically a much more macabre rendition of Old Man Marley from "Home Alone." Instead of a misunderstood, lonely old man that salts the sidewalks and saves Kevin from the Wet Bandits, Corcoran is a creepy old gravedigger that saves two kids from being murdered by creepy child ghosts. The premise of the episode is that the spirits of dead kids are trying to lure our protagonists to an early grave, giving impressionable minds a memorable lesson: don’t play hide-and-seek with strangers.
When it brought movies to life.Nickelodeon
Much has been done with “Nosferatu” in pop culture, but our generation’s frame of reference for the classic film often comes from the classic “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” episode “The Tale of the Midnight Madness.” Here, recurring character Dr. Vink tries to sell a failing movie theater his print of the 1922 vampire classic… which comes to life to terrorize the patrons when the offer is rejected. It’s like if “The Purple Rose of Cairo” met “Rosemary’s Baby.”
When it scared us for the very first time.Nickelodeon
Though probably not the scariest episode of the series, “The Tale of the Phantom Cab” was the episode that let you know that the Midnight Society was NOT screwing around. It’s the first episode of the series, and set a very important precedent: that it intends to give you nightmares. Kids usually know when something is pandering to them, but none of us had any doubt what we were really in for after seeing this one.
When the Lonely Ghost wanted help.Nickelodeon
Probably one of the most memorable tales from the show’s history, this image from “The Tale of the Lonely Ghost” haunted all of us. In retrospect, it’s actually kind of a sad story, but it’s hard to see past the terror.
When it made the Joker way too real.Nickelodeon
“The Tale of the Ghastly Grinner” is one of the most recalled episodes when discussing the scariest moments of this show. For those of us that loved Tim Burton’s “Batman,” this episode took Jack Nicholson’s Clown Prince of Crime and turned it up to 11… which is saying something. Maybe it’s because there was no Batman to stop him, but the Ghastly Grinner will forever be more terrifying than his comic book counterpart.
When it confirmed that dolls are as creepy as clowns.Nickelodeon
“The Tale of the Doll Maker” features Melissa’s best friend getting turned into a literal doll and the quest to rescue her. She goes into a doll house version of her friend’s house, sees her porcelain limbs fall off, and is just generally trippy and bizarre. If you thought dolls were creepy before this episode, they were off the charts after you could imagine that your best friend was trapped behind those soulless eyes.
When it made us fear the public pool forever.Nickelodeon
“The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float” is so damn scary we just wrote an entire piece on it. Probably the most horrific ghoul to appear on the show – perhaps too horrific – the pool zombie is disgusting and chill-inducing, even to this day. You know this episode did its job if every time you step into a public pool you wonder if it was built on top of a graveyard.
When it made us hate clowns (more).Nickelodeon
“Are You Afraid of the Dark?” used clowns to great effect throughout its run, most notably in the terrifying “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark” and “The Tale of the Crimson Clown.” Maybe it was the popularity of Stephen King’s “It” at the time or maybe it’s just because clowns are inherently awful, awful things, but the show used the hell out of them. Many a nightmares were caused by Zeebo the Clown.
When it put our childhood heroes in mortal danger.
Rewatching the show as an adult, you’ll probably be shocked to find just how many future stars were tortured over the course of the show. Faces like Ryan Gosling and Elisha Cuthbert are entertaining surprises, but when you were a kid, it was seeing the likes of Melissa Joan Hart (Clarissa Darling) and Danny Cooksey (Bobby Budnick) that really messed with us.