Horror and anthology goes together like peanut butter and chocolate, the greatest food combination known to man! After numerous horror anthology shows like The Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt, rightly aimed adults, one was created for kids. Are You Afraid of the Dark? told fantastic stories that, while some were goofy, completely captivated your imagination. Dark? was the reason to watch Nickelodeon every Saturday night. With amazing lead-ins like The Adventures of Pete & Pete, that’s saying something.
The show had a simple, but inventive premise. A group of kids, called the Midnight Society, would gather once a week at their secret location in the woods where they would take turns telling scary stories. The stories had a myriad of settings, dealing with anything from ghosts, to monsters, and even aliens. While most had a mostly happy ending, a few ended on a dour note. Creator D.J. MacHale smartly took a few cues from The Twilight Zone as far as style and tone. Every tale started with “Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, the Tale of…” much like Rod Serling’s opening to Zone, “Submitted for your approval…”
The creepy opening immediately set the tone. Honestly, the opening is still creepy to watch now between the disparaging images and haunting sound design. As the scares crept into the second act, obtuse camera angles were used, adding to the ambiance. Even if the tale was a let down story-wise, the aesthetics still had plenty to offer.
A few characters, with either unwittingly or purposely causing mischief, made several appearances, giving a bit of connectivity to the world. Mr. Sardo (no mister, accent on the Doh), Dr. Vink (with a va-va-va), and Zeebo the Clown were just a few. Dr. Vink, played by Aron Tager, was genuinely creepy, even now.
The show ran on Nick from 1992 – 1996, but was a Canadian original production, airing a year prior. After six seasons, the show was cancelled in 1996, only to be resurrected by Nick in 1999 for two more seasons. Given the anthology nature, actors, save of the Midnight Society, were seldom reused, unless playing the same character again. A few actors who were already famous (I use that term loosely) at the time, like Bobcat Goldthwait, or Gilbert Goddfried made an appearance. Several actors who went on to have successful careers made appearances as well: Ryan Gosling, Jay Baruchel, Melissa Joan Hart, Will Friedle, , Neve Campbell and Jewel Staite.
Of course, there’s “The Tale of the Dream Girl“, the episode that infamously ‘inspired’ M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (1999). Going a layer deeper, Dream Girl was actually inspired by and episode of The Twilight Zone, The Hitch-Hiker.
Are You Afraid of the Dark? is still a wonderfully entertaining show. As the anchor of SNICK, with shows like Clarissa Explains It All, All That, and Pete & Pete rounding out the block, this made for a perfect night of television for a pre-teen stuck at home every Saturday night. While many of the actors look disgustingly 90’s, most of the stories are still enjoyable. It’s streaming free on Amazon (though the episodes are slightly out of order). As for which episodes were my favorites? I’m saving that for another time.
What was your favorite episode of the show? Have you experimented, trying to deduce what powder they threw on the flames (it was Cremora)? Comment below!
How many Canadian-isms can you find?