Are You Afraid of the Dark? Is that a question… or a statement? Actually, for those of you who didn’t get nostalgic chills from reading that sentence, it is actually a title.
Are You Afraid of the Dark? was a children’s horror anthology series that originally ran for five seasons (1990-1995) but was then revived for two more seasons (1999-2000). The show focused on a group of teenagers who gathered in the woods every week, taking turns sharing their own tales of horror around the campfire. They called themselves The Midnight Society. If you were a kid in the ’90s, odds are you wanted desperately to be a member of this club. You may have even started your own Midnight Society. I know I did, except our meetings took place during recess instead of in the dead of night. So… The Afternoon Society? Regardless, we tried our best to be as scary as the show was.
And let me tell you, for a children’s program, Are You Afraid of the Dark? didn’t shy away from the scare factor. As soon as you watched the creepy intro featuring that terrifying doll (you know the one), you knew exactly what you were getting yourself into.
Now, we’re going back in time to revisit some of the scariest Are You Afraid of the Dark? episodes ever made. Submitted for the approval of The Midnight Society, I call this story… The Tale of the 10 Scariest Moments of Are You Afraid of the Dark?
10. THE TALE OF THE DANGEROUS SOUP
Dr. Vink, the show’s reoccurring “nut-bag” of a character, owns a restaurant called The Wild Bore. The Wild Bore has become wildly popular due to Dr. Vink’s delicious house soup. The secret ingredient? Fear. Dr. Vink locks each of his employees in a room where they begin to experience their darkest fears. There is a scene in which one character, who is afraid of sharp objects (and yet works in a kitchen?), is locked in the room, strapped down, and screams her lungs out as a swinging pendulum drops from the ceiling and draws closer and closer to her stomach, Poe style. The child version of me immediately turned the TV off. For years I was convinced that, had I left the TV on, I would have witnessed this girl being sliced in half. SPOILER: She doesn’t. But my imagination filled the blanks with gory details.
Fun fact: The Tale of the Dangerous Soup also stars pre-Scream Neve Campbell.
9. THE TALE OF THE SECRET ADMIRER
Meggie is getting notes from a secret admirer. How sweet! Just kidding, her secret admirer is actually a dead man stalking her from beyond the grave. There is a scene in which Meggie is home alone. She goes into the bathroom, bends over the sink to wash her face, and comes up to see the reflection of a burned man standing behind her in the mirror. In other words, kids, never wash your face. Ever. And don’t look into mirrors either. Not a good idea.
8. THE TALE OF MANY FACES
Emma is a teen model who is hired as assistant to a popular theater actress. The catch? The actress is actually a witch who steals the faces of her young employees, turning them into faceless slaves. Ever wonder what you’d look like if your face was supernaturally stolen from your body? Scary. You’d look scary.
7. THE TALE OF LAUGHING IN THE DARK
Josh is double-dog dared by his friends to go into a funhouse called Laughing in the Dark, which is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of Zeebo, a criminal clown. There is a dummy of Zeebo placed at the end of the funhouse, and Josh must steal its nose to prove that he walked through the whole attraction. While the dummy of Zeebo is quite creepy, nothing beats the moment when the real Zeebo appears. He’s only on screen for a couple seconds, but it’s enough.
Want a balloon, Georgie?
6. THE TALE OF THE GHASTLY GRINNER
Ethan, an aspiring comic book writer and artist, gets his hands on a comic titled The Ghastly Grinner. It’s about a jester-like villain who turns people into giggling maniacs. Unfortunately for Ethan, the Ghastly Grinner escapes from the pages of the comic and starts turning everyone he knows into laughing freaks, complete with blue slime that oozes from their mouths. While the episode is meant to be more funny than scary, it is also downright terrifying all the way through. The only thing scarier than the Ghastly Grinner himself is what he does to his victims. There’s nowhere to run!
5. THE TALE OF THE LONELY GHOST
When Amanda is carted away to spend a summer with her aunt and nasty cousin Beth, she finds out the house next door is rumored to be haunted… duh! It is only a matter of time before Beth and her friends (DOUBLE-DOG!) dare Amanda to stay the night in the haunted house. She discovers that the rumors are true when the ghost of a little girl appears in a bedroom mirror. The episode is actually quite bittersweet in the end, but the image of that ghost girl standing in the mirror was a sleep killer for kids everywhere.
4. THE TALE OF THE DEAD MAN’S FLOAT
When Zeke begins receiving swimming lessons from his new friend Clorice, the two learn that the school swimming pool was built on a graveyard. No way! Now a vengeful spirit haunts the pool. This spirit looks like an undead monster straight out of Creepshow. The scene where the ghost rises out of the pool is considered by many to be the scariest moment of the series.
3. THE TALE OF MIDNIGHT MADNESS
When a dying movie cinema shows a mysterious Nosferatu-esque film, provided by the one and only Dr. Vink, their theater flourishes again. People come from all over to watch this terrifying movie for themselves. But one night after closing, the vampire escapes from the film and sets his eyes on the theater workers. If you’re like me, you have never forgotten the image of the vampire’s long veiny fingers reaching out of the movie screen.
2. THE TALE OF THE QUICKSILVER
When brothers Aaron and Doug move into their new house, they discover it is haunted by two ghosts; that of an innocent teenage girl and the evil spirit who killed her. There is a scene in which the evil ghost comes out of the bedroom wall and slowly approaches Aaron and Doug, grinning at them while they scream in terror. This is a well-placed jump scare that made me cry out, even rewatching it now as a grown man. It is a legitimately scary moment and I don’t know how the creators of the show got away with it. Which leads me to the #1 scariest episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?…
1. THE TALE OF THE NIGHT SHIFT
Expel from your mind that this is a kid’s show. Just forget all about that right now. There is a vampire loose in the hospital that Amanda works at. He is bloodthirsty and terrifying and is feeding off all the night shift workers. There are many true horror film moments in The Tale of the Night Shift, but the scariest moment takes place only a couple minutes in. A teenage volunteer goes to the boiler room to check on a disturbance. He finds a teenage girl who disappears around a corner. “C’mere. I wanna show you something,” she says. But when he comes around the corner, the vampire is there. I watched this episode with my dad once to see how he would react to this “old kid’s show.” He nearly jumped out of his seat. Kid’s show? Please.
Let us know what your favorite ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? episode is. We’d love to hear all about your nostalgic childhood trauma.