If you were a kid growing up in the ’90s, then chances are good your parents didn’t let you watch a ton of scary movies. You may have heard your older sibling talk about how scary Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhes were, and you wanted that same sensation, too. Fortunately, you had some luck back then because Nickelodeon aired a fantastic anthology series called Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Each episode would begin with a group of teenagers known as the Midnight Society who would gather around a campfire and tell scary stories. Since it aired on Nickelodeon, you might assume that most of the spooky tales were toned down and not that creepy to anyone over the age of five. However, if you look back on the show, you’ll find that there are some episodes so disturbing that we wonder how they made it through the censors.
From terrifying monster designs to creepy moral quandaries, some episodes will still shake you to your core. Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, we call this article "The Scariest Episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark?"
The Tale of the Midnight Madness pays homage to classic cinema
There’s something special about a children’s TV show that introduces youngsters to classic cinema, and that’s exactly what you get with this Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode. In "The Tale of the Midnight Madness," we’re introduced to a struggling movie theater. Suddenly, the mysterious Dr. Vink appears and promises to pack the houses as long as the theater plays his films. Business turns around, but eventually, the theater goes back on its promise. To enact revenge, Dr. Vink brings the terrifying vampire Count Orlock to life to terrorize the theater’s employees.
If you’re a fan of Dracula films, then you’ll know right away that Count Orlock is from the 1922 silent film Nosferatu, and while the movie may have come out almost 100 years ago, that vampire design is still frightening to this day. As a result, this episode is super creepy, but it’s also great for how it kind of breaks the fourth wall. It has a similar concept to The Last Action Hero in that movie characters can enter the real world, and real teens can enter the world of the film. It’s one of the more postmodern episodes of the series, but it never loses sight of the horrifying central concept.
The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float is like Friday the 13th meets Jaws
Sometimes the thing that separates a fine episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? from a great one is the creature design. And if you want to see one of the greatest monsters in the series’ history, look no further than "The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float."
The first episode of season five, this particular tale proved the show had plenty of gas left in the tank for some terrifying stories. (Plus, it features a young Jay Baruchel, if you want to see where he got his start.) The episode is about two kids who uncover a hidden pool located at their school. But it’s not long until they discover why the pool was tucked away. It harbors a curse that comes complete with a creepy water zombie that quickly returns to life to haunt the teens.
The monster design is positively grotesque. It looks like something you would find in a Friday the 13th movie instead of a Nickelodeon show. Plus, there’s some excellent camerawork where you get underwater shots of the zombie hunting its prey. It utilizes a similar approach to Jaws where you don’t see the threat at first, and that only ramps up the fear.
The Tale of the Super Specs is one of the scariest episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark?
The premise for "The Tale of the Super Specs" may sound silly, but it’s one of the most haunting episodes from the series. A young girl gets a hold of a pair of special glasses, but something very unusual happens when she puts them on. She begins to see mysterious, cloaked figures everywhere she goes. At first, they disappear when she takes off the glasses, but as she uses them more and more, they begin sticking around longer.
Seeing a bunch of creepy figures pop out of nowhere is definitely startling. But part of what makes this episode so memorably scary is its ending. Many episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? go out on a happy note. The protagonist defeats the monster, and everything is all right. However, that’s not the case for "The Tale of the Super Specs," which sees our main characters meet a particularly sad end. While we finally get an explanation for what the figures are, the episode ends on a dour note, making it really stick with you.
The Tale of the Crimson Clown teaches a terrifying lesson
Many episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? tried to teach its young audience moral lessons. After all, if you really want someone to learn, what better way than to terrify them? And when it comes to imparting a bit of horrific wisdom, it doesn’t get any scarier than "The Tale of the Crimson Clown."
"The Tale of the Crimson Clown" follows a teen named Mike who’s just so tired of his younger brother, Sam, getting away with everything. And when Sam lies and gets Mike in trouble, well, that’s the last straw, and he suffers the consequences in the form of the curse of the Crimson Clown, a nasty little doll from a creepy antique store. The clown continues taunting Sam until he finally learns the error of his ways, and when he has the opportunity to do right once again, Sam finally does the moral thing.
Clowns are already scary. That’s probably why there are multiple episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? dedicated to those creepy guys. But there’s something particularly traumatizing about seeing a toy clown come to life and look like it’s about to straight-up kill a little kid. At least this episode has a good lesson for children. Don’t be a little jerk or else a murder-clown will come after you.
The Tale of the Lonely Ghost is a classic haunted house story
Are You Afraid of the Dark? wasn’t scared to get super real with its viewers. That’s the case with "The Tale of the Lonely Ghost." The episode starts out as your typical ghost story with a bullied girl trying to fit in with her cousin and her cool friends by staying the night in a haunted house. But throughout the course of the evening, she comes into contact with a ghostly little girl, and if we know anything about the horror genre, it’s that dead kids never mean something good happened.
What makes this episode so depressing is the backstory behind the ghost. She’s deaf, and she passed away due to starvation when her mother was gone. It’s pretty heavy stuff to lay out on a kids’ program, but fortunately, it does have a happy ending. The ghost girl gets a second chance to have a good life with her mother, and it looks like our hero will be able to join the friends’ group without worrying about getting bullied any longer. Everyone wins. Except for the kids frightened at home, worried that a ghost might pop up behind them after the episode ends.
The Tale of the Dollmaker is one of the eeriest episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark?
It’s easy to see the appeal of dolls in horror stories. They’re made to look exactly like us, and in "The Tale of the Dollmaker," we get a chance to see just how terrifying something resembling humanity can be. The episode follows Melissa, a young girl who learns that her best friend has gone missing. She then ventures into her friend’s house to try to find any clues about what may have happened to her. It’s here she discovers a dollhouse in the attic, and that’s when the true horror begins.
When Melissa goes to break into the house, she soon finds herself actually inside the dollhouse, and that’s where Susan is … and now she’s turning into a porcelain doll. It only gets freakier from there, as Susan reveals that she already lost a hand from trying to escape her prison. It’s pretty macabre stuff. There’s no word yet on how this episode impacted the sales of dollhouses that year, but we’re guessing kids probably weren’t putting them on the top of their Christmas lists.
The Tale of the Whispering Walls gives a bit of humanity to a ghostly character
The next time you feel like taking a quick pit stop at a spooky looking mansion, you’re probably better off continuing on your way. Need proof? Well, then you should watch "The Tale of the Whispering Walls." In this Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode, Louise is babysitting two youngsters. However, she gets lost when she’s trying to drive the kids back home and stumbles upon a mansion. There are some rather unusual characters occupying the building, and our heroes soon learn that not everything is as it seems and that these creepy figures are bit more on the supernatural side of things.
Seeing the inhabitants of this building pop up through the floors and walls is a really creepy effect. The horror is only enhanced by the tinge of sadness present in the character of Violet. A ghost in the form of an elegant lady, she wants to spare the children and save their souls from a villainous ghoul because they remind her of her own child. She’s a truly heartbreaking character, and her little arc is a rare example of when the people haunting the protagonists are humanized, and it shows just how willing the show was to dive into more adult themes and ideas.
The Tale of the Water Demons has some scary lessons about stealing
You shouldn’t need to be hunted down by zombies to know that stealing is bad, but different strokes for different folks. In "The Tale of the Water Demons," Shawn takes on a new job, and over the course of his work, he steals something that belongs to a former sea captain. Now, every time he falls asleep, he’s haunted by images of watery demons, and they’re getting closer all the time.
The biggest props go out to the creature design department on this episode as the zombies look really freaky, especially considering they were made for a kids’ TV show. Plus, the fog that accompanies them and the water surrounding them really helps make them stand out from other undead creatures of the time period. Naturally, everything works out for the best in the end. Shawn learns a lesson, and the zombies won’t haunt him any longer. If it takes a scary story to convince viewers they shouldn’t steal, then all the more power to the show.
The Tale of the Many Faces is a freaky Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode about beauty and horror
Are You Afraid of the Dark? could be enjoyed by little children and preteens alike. However, it’s around this preteen age range where kids start becoming self-conscious about their appearance, and "The Tale of Many Faces" uses this idea to bring us a horrifying story. The episode follows teenage Emma, who wants to be a model. Sadly, she fails to make the cut of a photoshoot, but that’s when she learns of Madame Visage, a beautiful woman who sees a lot of potential in Emma. However, Emma soon learns Madame Visage wants a lot more than to simply have her as a client.
There are many ways you can design a monster. Freaky colors and an excessive use of blood are easy ways to get the job done. But sometimes, the best way to create a memorable villain is to go down a more simplistic path. Seeing Madame Visage’s true face is a haunting sight to behold, and when Emma takes on this appearance, it’s easy to see why this is one of the freakiest episodes in the series.
The Tale of the Shiny Red Bicycle deals with death
You may not expect death to play a prominent role in what’s essentially a kids’ show. However, Are You Afraid of the Dark? wasn’t skittish when it came to being real with its viewers. In "The Tale of the Shiny Red Bicycle," a boy named Mike continues to be haunted by the memory of his friend who drowned in a river five years ago. In fact, Mike still has night terrors about the tragedy. And then, Mike begins to see his deceased friend everywhere with the titular shiny red bicycle.
Granted, it turns out the ghost is just trying to prevent another tragedy from occurring, but the episode is still spooky. The ghost is scary enough as is, but the real horror of the episode comes from the idea that even kids can die. There comes a time in every child’s life where they realize people can pass away at any moment, and sadly, there are plenty of kids out there who’ve lost a loved one far too soon. The episode deals with heavy subject matter and makes death all too real for its audience.
The Tale of the Nightly Neighbors is a scary little vampire story
Movies like Twilight and What We Do in the Shadows may have made vampires more endearing for some, but they can still be outright terrifying with the right source material. That was definitely the case with "The Tale of the Nightly Neighbors." In this episode, two siblings believe their neighborhood has been completely overrun by the undead. Their new neighbors are from Eastern Europe and collect blood, so surely they must be vampires, right?
Various twists and turns ensue as the kids make one horrifying discovery after the next. Throughout the episode, you’re constantly questioning whether the new neighbors are, in fact, bloodsuckers, or if this is all one big misunderstanding. Luckily, all your questions are answered by the twist in the end, and it seems like the story’s protagonists aren’t going to be around much longer. It’s a tale that does everything a good episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? should do, and it chills you to the bone with that final scene.
The Tale of the Ghastly Grinner is a truly frightening episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Pop culture is full of terrifying clowns, from the Joker to Pennywise. There’s something about their pale makeup and ever-smiling faces that’s just plain creepy. And that’s probably what makes the episode "The Tale of the Ghastly Grinner" so chilling.
The story is about a young comic book artist who could be one of the all-time greats. The only problem is that he’s having trouble getting his books off the ground. Making matters worse, he eventually walks into a particular comic shop where he unleashes the curse of the Ghastly Grinner, a court jester-style monster. This villain has the power to come to life off the page, and he transforms anyone he comes into contact with into a zombie that drools a weird blue goo. The only problem is that there’s no superhero in the real world to save the kid and his friends.
The design of the Ghastly Grinner is pretty freaky, especially if you already have a fear of clowns, and the off-putting yellow makeup and messed-up teeth are enough to give nightmares to any kid. Seriously, one viewing of this Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode, and you’ll never want to visit a circus again.