Author: Amber Newberry
If you grew up in the 90’s, chances are you watched at least a few episodes of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”. Nickelodeon’s anthology-style horror show began the same way each week: the blue lighting on an empty boat, creaky swings blowing in a phantom wind, queue the ghostly child laughing. Can anyone forget that hobo clown doll sitting in the attic during a thunderstorm? Certainly the most memorable part of the opening sequence was a sudden fade to black, a hand holding a match that lights itself revealing the show’s title that begs the question, “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”? Well, I sure as hell was and if you need proof of why, shut out the lights… Go ahead, do it!
Pretend you are your 10-year-old self and then watch the opening below.
I’m a little tougher these days, and can handle watching the intro on my own… With all of the lights on and another living human being within shouting distance, of course. There are a few episodes that stick out in my mind as being truly haunting and some, even disturbing. Maybe it’s partly that a wussy-pants is still deeply rooted within, but I dare you to watch a few of these alone in the middle of the night and not have your skin crawl just a little.
“Are You Afraid of the Dark?” aired on Nickelodeon, produced by Canadian children’s entertainment company, Cinar, now known as The Cookie Jar Group. A pilot episode aired on SNICK (that was Saturday Night Nick, for those of you who don’t remember) called The Tale of the Twisted Claw. While it was the fourth episode in the first season, it was chosen as the pilot because of its setting on Halloween night. The episode was televised only in Canada, in October of 1990, and was a complete success to both critic and youth viewers. The show held its own for seven seasons of freaky fun, and was even syndicated until 2008 on various channels and had a smattering of cameos and child actors who grew up to be famous. Of course, now you can watch on DVD, or via Youtube. Having been on the air for an awful lot of the 1990s and in syndication for much of the early 2000s meant that it was a part of my childhood, and nightmares, for years and years. In that time, some of the episodes had a lasting effect, and I’ve compiled these episodes below for your horror and enjoyment.
‘The Tale of the Prom Queen,’ Season 1 Episode 12
‘The Tale of the Prom Queen’ is one of my absolute favorite episodes of all time. So much of the episode takes place in a cemetery, there’s a twist at the end, and the story is reminiscent of the well-known urban legend of Resurrection Mary. Like many “AYAOTD” episodes, the acting is sometimes less than stellar, but the cheese-factor doesn’t ruin the plot and sometimes even adds to the amusement. Add a seance on a boat, a Scooby-Doo style scare, and ‘keen’ twist at the end and you have The Tale of the Prom Queen.
‘The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float,’ Season 5 Episode 1
While this also episode has its roots in a vintage setting, The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float has an entirely different level of gruesome. For any kid with even a subtle fear of water, this episode was likely to turn that fear into a full-blown phobia. With a great story-line that includes an abandoned underground pool, the premier of season five was sure to hook the audience and have kids everywhere awake all night and worrying how they’d get out of their next swimming lesson. I’d also like to add that the ghoul’s costuming is sure to give any 10-year-old night terrors for years to come.
‘The Tale of the Whispering Walls,’ Season 2 Episode 8
Another episode that begins with a costumed member of the midnight society, ‘The Tale of the Whispering Walls’ does not disappoint. What happens when a leap year lands on a full moon? Terror ensues, of course! Two kids traveling with their baby sitter have lost their way in the middle of nowhere and stop at The Whisper Inn for directions. Once inside they meet Master Raymond, a creepy fellow with a gothic taste in his clothing choices who gives them ‘directions’. After getting back on the road, the car stalls out beside… Get this… A spooky old mansion! Of course, this was before those newfangled iPhones were available, so our main characters are forced to ‘use the phone’ inside the spook-house. The babysitter leaves the kids and promises to return ‘in a flash’, but wouldn’t you know it, she never comes back, leaving the kids no choice but to go inside and look for her. This house taps into all kinds of childhood terrors with ghosts trapped in mirrors, poisoned banana splits, moving walls, and a soul-stealing caretaker.
‘The Tale of the Shiny Red Bicycle,’ Season 2 Episode 10
‘The Tale of the Shiny Red Bicycle’ stayed with me for years just for the sheer simplicity of the story. Two kids, Ricky and Mike, are out riding bikes, a bridge partially collapses, one of them dies and one of them lives. Needless-to-say, years later Mike is still dealing with some major guilt and the opening to the episode is really just a recurring nightmare of the terrible. Mike’s parents believe he just needs to stop blaming himself and he’ll get through the loss, but things start to get worse when Mike starts seeing the shiny red bicycle. When Ricky himself shows up, Mike thinks he’s cracking up. The image of a foggy Ricky, with his pale face and ghostly eyes staring expectantly at Mike is what always prompted me to change the channel when the rerun came on.
‘The Tale of the Nightly Neighbors,’ Season 1 Episode 8
I’ve often referred to this episode as the ‘Fright Night’ episode because of the ‘vampires next door’ story. After re-watching the episode for the first time in years, the similarities are definitely there, but almost in a silly and fun way. The episode really is lacking what Christopher Sarandon brought to the table and the twist is that the vampire neighbors are a family of three. The cameo by Mark Camacho (who played Mike’s father in ‘The Shiny Red Bicycle’ episode) did not make up for Sarandon’s absence.
‘The Tale of the Twisted Claw,’ Season 1 Episode 4 (Pilot Episode)
The pilot of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” begins unlike any other, with the tale-end of an unfinished story in a cliff hanger. There’s a scream, and we see the Midnight Society for the first time, sitting around their camp fire, telling their stories. What better way to kick off a spooky kids’ TV series than to begin with a tale set on Halloween! Two kids go out on ‘mischief night’, October 30th, and prank several houses including an old woman who turned out to have a trick up her own sleeve. When the kids go trick or treating the following night, the old woman treats the children with a vulture’s claw that promises the gift of three wishes. Unfortunately, we all know that wishing always comes with a price! This episode is an obvious homage to W.W. Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw, and was the perfect tale to kick of the series.
‘The Tale of the Crimson Clown,’ Season 3 Episode 2
Mike Carter, played by Christopher Redman (Ginger Snaps, CSI: Miami), has a little brother who gets away with absolutely everything. Seriously, his kid brother Sam (who even looks like a little twerp) is rotten to the core and the plot of this episode centers on him stealing his brother’s paper-route money that he was saving to buy their mother a birthday gift. What does little Sammy spend his brother’s hard earned money on? A video game with a clown on the cover, of course! Before heading home, Mike tells Sam about the Crimson Clown, hoping to scare him into guilt. Mike claims that when Sam is snotty, selfish, or hurts someone, the Crimson Clown is watching and that he’d better watch out or the clown would get him. Of course, we don’t see the wholesome quick turn around from Sam. Oh no, he continues being a little jerk, even after he starts catching glimpses of the clown or hears laughter when he does something rotten. When a giant clown arm starts to reach out of the television, Videodrome style, things get really disturbing, and it takes Sam calling his brother a “turd-face” to bring give you a little laugh to help shrug the creepiness off for a second.
‘The Tale of the Midnight Madness,’ Season 2 Episode 2
‘The Tale of the Midnight Madness’ is an episode that is truly meant for the classic horror movie fans out there. Pete works in an old movie theater that’s about to go completely bottom up. While Pete and a coworker prepare to open the theater, a peculiar old ‘nut-bag’ called Mr. Vink, who kind of resembles Hagrid, bursts in exclaiming how everything is ‘perfect’. It turns out that Mr. Vink made a movie about Nosferatu. many years before, that he wants to finally release to the public. He claims the twist in his horror story is that the vampire wins. The lush of a theater manager is against the idea from the beginning but when he realizes he might make a buck or two off the deal, he finally agrees. The audience loves the film but when Mr. Vink pushes for more it gets weird, and here’s where my movie-loving heart flutters, and the movie monster steps out of the movie screen and into real life! It might not be the scariest of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” episodes, but most people I’ve talked to about the show often refer to it as one of their favorites.
‘The Tale of the Super Specs,’ Season 1 Episode 6
‘The Tale of the Super Specs’ is a fun watch that is sure to remind you a little of ‘They Live’ because of the use of sunglasses that give you the ability to see hidden things. While the hidden things that Rowdy Roddy Piper saw in They Live were darn scary on a consumerist level, the hidden things in ‘Super Specs’ are frightening in an entirely different way. Once again we see why it isn’t always the best decision to pick up things from mysterious magic shops. For you TV buffs out there, Weeds is played by Eugene Byrd, known for his role as Dr. Clark Edison on the long running forensic drama, Bones. What made this episode so memorable? Let’s just say wearing special glasses that allow you to see figures dressed in all black with their faces covered is not something easily forgotten.
‘The Tale of the Frozen Ghost,’ Season 2, Episode 7
Here’s an episode that’s sure to give you a chill! ‘The Tale of the Frozen Ghost’ begins when Charles is sent to visit his weird old aunts, along with his babysitter, Daphne, played by special guest Melissa Joan Hart. Upon their arrival, Daphne sees that the aunts live in a big old house with all kinds of troubles, including a draft and a ghost. It isn’t too long before Charles hears the faint sound of a child saying, ‘I’m cold’. Of course, the aunts are very familiar with their ghost but are reluctant to discuss him because of the strange things that inevitably happen at his mention. Charles finally sees the ghost, a small boy standing beneath a tree outside in the middle of the night in the dead of winter. This scene is the one I recall making it very hard for me to sleep the following night and the line, ‘I’m cold’ is constantly quoted between my “AYAOTD”-loving friends.
‘The Tale of the Vacant Lot,’ Season 5, Episode 10
As with many episodes of “AYAOTD,” there is a lesson to be learned in ‘The Tale of the Vacant Lot.’ The episode begins with a show and tell where each member of the Midnight Society reveals their most valuable possession. Shy Catherine can’t seem to catch a break, even though her little sister, Joyce, envies everything she has and does. When Catherine stumbles upon a mysterious gypsy shop in a vacant lot, she is offered everything she could possibly want, in exchange for something she won’t miss. Of course Catherine agrees and can you believe she’s shocked when she discovers the thing she wouldn’t miss is actually something of great value. Yet another episode that teaches us to be careful what we wish for, otherwise we might end up as lepers.
‘The Tale of the Midnight Ride,’ Season 3, Episode 1
In view of the upcoming holiday of horrors, Halloween, ‘The Tale of the Midnight Ride’ seemed a perfect choice for the final episode of this list. Yet another of my favorites, the premier of season three is based on ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ and takes place on Halloween, of course! Awkward new kid, Ian, has just moved to Sleepy Hollow where he’s having trouble making new friends. When he meets pretty Katie, it’s crush at first sight, regardless of the scary ex jock boyfriend, Brad always watching. Just like in the old story, Ian is sent into the woods and is chased down by what appears to be the Headless Horseman, but turns out to be Brad. While walking Katie home, they come across a well-costumed fellow who refers to himself as the new school master, Ichabod Crane. When they send him down the wrong path at the fork, the table turns and instead of the real Headless Horseman chasing down Mr. Crane, he’s after Ian and Katie in search of a replacement head. Who doesn’t love a classic spooky story for Halloween, and what is more classic than The Legend of Sleepy Hollow?
Amber is a lover of horror and all things creepy. With a taste for 80’s and 90’s pop culture and an infatuation with the macabre, Amber found a niche with the Facebook page ‘Halloween in TV Land’ which is devoted to reminding us all of the Halloween episodes from vintage television shows. Amber also writes gothic fiction and you can find her most recent novel, ‘Walls of Ash’ in print or via Kindle or Nook online.