Welcome to another Top 5 countdown, this time tapping into a vein that has pumped since the early 1990s. Growing up I was a Nickelodeon fanatic and a fan of nearly any show on the channel from Clarissa Explains It All to Global Guts to Legends of The Hidden Temple. Fellow site writer Matthew Reine covered the majority of Nickelodeon shows in a fantastic 3 part write up: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
The Background: Are You Afraid of the Dark was started as a Canadian show and was quickly imported to the United States television stream thanks to Nickelodeon. This partly explains the heavy Canada casting and filming locations. The series ran from 1992 – 1996 before being picked up, with a completely new and younger cast, in 1999 – 2000 (Seasons 6 and 7). Unfortunately, this redo was much less well received in part due to the gradual aging of the original fans and the lack of good stories. It is notable for having a young Elisha Cuthbert as part of the cast, however.
The show itself was touched on in the amazing book, Slimed by Mathew Klickstein. The show itself also spawned several PC Games as well during it’s initial run.
The series involved a group of kids, coining themselves “The Midnight Society,” who would sit around a campfire and tell a spooky story with a predetermined storyteller. The group itself was pretty well spread in terms of ages, class, skin color, and gender which helped the show become an immediate hit as anybody could connect with at least one of the group members. Gary, played by Ross Hull, is probably the most known of the cast given his physical appearance and the fact that he was the leader of the group. The stories themselves were essentially kiddified fare from past shows like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Amazing Stories. A lot of the charm of the show was introducing young fans to horror that was not in the realm of Poltergeist style PG-13 or R horror full of violence. On the flip side, mostly due to budget constraints, time did not treat the show too well graphics wise or general plot wise.
Anybody growing up will also tell you the main theme, basically an organ accompanied by stock sound effects, scared the ever loving crap out of them or other family members the second it came on. Even now the theme is still skin crawling so without further adieu…
The Honorable Mentions: If you go to this thread on TRTSM Forum you can see my complete list of episodes that I liked for each individual season. I recommend waiting until you finish the countdown otherwise you may spoil yourself, unless you’re into spoilers, in which case knock yourself silly.
I tried to keep this list short and to the point so here we go. Several episodes that are highly regarded will not be on this countdown, such as Season 1’s “The Tale of the Phantom Cab” (showcasing series regular Dr. Vink), “The Pinball Wizard,” or “The Tale of the Thirteenth Floor,” mostly because they simply didn’t hold up nearly as well as I had remembered them.
Honorable Mention #1: Season 3, Episode 12 – The Tale of the Crimson Clown
Yeah clowns are scary, blah blah blah. The red hair poking out, the diamond insignia on the face, this clown was terrifying yadda yadda. It’s here because the kid was a total jerk and really took me out of the story completely to the point that the clown’s scariness quickly wore off because I just did not care at all about what happened.
Honorable Mention #2: Season 4, Episode 9 – The Tale of the Ghastly Grinner
The Grinner is played incredibly similar to Jack Nicholson’s Joker from the 1989 Batman Film and there are a couple intense scenes but overall, the story just lacked something more that needed to be there. I’ve talked with others whom despise this episode as not being scary in the slightest.
Honorable Mention #3: Season 5, Episode 5 – The Tale of the Chameleons
This episode is notable for starring the Mowry Sisters at the height of their 1990’s popularity but the episode is equally known for the rare twist at the end, especially for a show that generally preferred to end on a slightly more upbeat note.
Other Honorable Mentions: 1×07 The Tale of the Captured Souls, 2×02 The Tale of The Midnight Madness, 2×12 The Tale of the Hatching, 3×05 The Tale of the Dollmaker, and 3×11 The Tale of the Quicksilver.
Now, submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this tale… The Tale of David Hunter’s Top 5 Countdown.
Number 5: The Tale of Old Man Corcoran
Air Date: June 8th, 1993
Director: Ron Oliver
Writer: Scott Peters
A lot of fans remember this episode due to the plot, two kids are invited to play a game of Hide & Seek in a creepy cemetery. Rumors abound that the caretaker, Old Man Corcoran, haunts the graveyard. This is a notable episode mainly for the twist ending which was rather obvious in retrospect but still holds up well upon rewatching it. The cemetery also serves as a nice set piece and provides some good atmosphere for the episode too.
Number 4: The Tale of Laughing In the Dark
Air Date: September 4th, 1992
Director: Ron Oliver
Writer: Chloe Brown
Storyteller: Betty Ann
Anybody who is anybody, especially a fan of this series at any age, will instantaneously mention not only this episode but ZEEBO the gangster/now clown as well. Josh, played memorably by Christian Tessier swipes Zeebo’s nose on a dare then proceeds to get a consistent series of visits by the deceased clown. Zeebo’s costume/outfit and the fact it smokes a cigar is indelible to the minds of many along with its infamous red nose. A rare case where the villain may have become so memorable that it overshadowed the episode but the episode itself has some good tension and the Zeebo character has some sinister overtones rarely seen in a kid’s show.
Number 3: The Tale of the Super Specs
Air Date: October 1st, 1992
Director: Ron Brown
Writer: Chloe Brown
I really like this episode a lot more after having re-watched it. I remembered it vaguely but man it held up really well. The general synopsis is that two kids buy a pair of glasses and proceed to start seeing mysterious black shadow people where they don’t appear without the glasses on. This story is notable for the debut of Sardo (No Mister, accent on the Do!) and the incredibly creepy black shadow people littered throughout the episode. Also starred a young Eugene Byrd as the character, Weeds, who would become a notable cast member for Bones. The ending itself is incredibly creepy and plays with the viewer as much as the characters in the story.
Number 2: The Tale of the Whispering Walls
Air Date: April 28th, 1993
Director: D.J. MacHale
Writer: Allison Lea Bingeman
Storyteller: Betty Ann
Man this episode stunned me as I had zero recollection of it as a kid. Maybe I blocked it out because it’s just a really bizarre yet weird & creepy little episode. A babysitter and her two kids arrive at a house to call for help after their car breaks down, only to find out something is seriously wrong with the house and its patrons. The house is a great set piece, very evocative mood wise, and the pacing of the story itself is fantastic. The house serves as yet another character in addition to everything else and pretty soon the viewer finds themselves just as confused and wary as the main protagonists trapped in a place they cannot escape.
Number 1: The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float
Air Date: June 3rd, 1995
Director: D.J. MacHale
Writer: Will Dixon
This is Stig’s debut story and it’s a colossal whopper of a home run. His second story, The Tale of Station 109.1 (starring Gilbert Godfried, a young Ryan Gosling, and David Francis) is an equally solid little tale worth watching too.
Nearly every fan knows this episode. Zeke, a school geek played by Kaj-Erik Eriksen, befriends a girl named Clorice, played by Margot Finley, by helping her study for Chemistry in exchange to show him how to get over his fear of the water. Upon the reopening of an abandoned swimming pool due to a series of drowning deaths, they soon find out what was in the pool has never left (or maybe just returned).
The pacing is absolutely superb, the character’s relationship is built up well (even if the character’s themselves are a little thin), and the creature design is the best that the show ever pulled off in my opinion. The creature itself is one of the scariest things I’ve seen transcending television and film and the shot of it rising to the surface is incredibly tense.
And there we have it, my Top 5 Are You Afraid of the Dark episodes! Feel free to chime in below with your own Top 5s or hit me up on Twitter @DH523 with your own lists! Which episodes gave you the frights? To see my other articles, simply click on this URL.