An empty rowboat sways back and forth in black shallow waters. You hear the sound of a squeaky swing as the wind rustles through an abandoned playground. Shutters crash against the windows during a thunderstorm. A rickety attic reveals a disturbing toy with a menacing grin in the darkness…
If you’re a twenty-something American, then you know exactly what these disturbing images have in common — they could all be found in the opening credits of Nickelodeon’s half-hour horror TV show, Are You Afraid of the Dark? A group of thrill-seeking teens — known as "The Midnight Society" — would meet every Saturday night in a secret spot in the woods to take turns telling ghost stories to the rest of group. Each narrator would begin their tale by saying, “Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story…” and then toss a handful of “midnight dust” (it was actually non-dairy creamer) into the fire.
Premiering in 1991, nearly 100 episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? aired on Nick’s Saturday Night line-up — better known as the beloved 2-hour amazingness, Snick—and nearly all of the episodes left us wanting to sleep with the lights on for all eternity. Whether it be ghosts, clowns, vampires, or just fear itself, it seemed that every time a child was sent to their aunt or uncle’s house they were just begging to be tormented by some kind of supernatural unknown. In the spirit of All Hallows’ Eve, we at Hollywood.com have painstakingly faced our childhood fears to present to you the 13 most terrifying episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark?.
We hope you enjoy your trip down a spine-chilling Memory Lane…
13. The Tale of the Twisted Claw
Made us scared of: Witches, and getting what you wished for
Remember when… Two friends, Dougie and Kevin, decided to grow some balls and go trick-or-treating at Miss Clove’s house, aka the neighborhood witch. Too bad she was still super pissed at them for playing a trick on her the night before, because she gave them a twisted claw, granting each of them three (consequence-filled) wishes. After being attacked by Halloween hoodlums, causing a classmate to break his leg, killing Dougie’s parents, and raising a grandparent back from the dead, the boys finally apologized.
20 Years Later: We still overanalyze every hypothetical wish we make.
12. The Tale of the 13th Floor
Made us scared of: Aliens, and our own siblings
Remember when… Billy and his adopted sister Karin used to play on the abandoned thirteenth floor of their apartment building... until the super weird new tenants moved in. After appearing to Karin through her TV late at night while she was sleeping, the neighbors beckoned Karin to come upstairs and test out some games in the toy factory that they magically built overnight. Karin brought her brother, and quickly learned that she had telekinetic abilities. When the strangers revealed that they were blank-faced aliens — and that they were taking her back with them on the mothership — Karin rightfully freaked the eff out. But, as it turned out, she was an alien too.
20 Years Later: The aliens’ hands beckoning from the ceiling are still super creepy.
11. The Tale of Watcher's Woods
Made us scared of: The woods, and old ladies
Remember when… Three young girls went hiking through the Watcher’s Woods in 1919, and were never ever seen again. The only clue the search party ever found was their whistles. Exactly 75 years later, too-cool-for camp Kelly and goody-goody Sarah got lost in the same woods, and discovered that the three girls —now super creepy old ladies — had been cursed for all eternity by The Watcher, to be trapped in the woods until they found their whistles. To save Kelly from torture, Sarah had to navigate past the uber creepy creatures in the woods to bring the women their whistles.
20 Years Later: The thought of reaching our hand into a bucket of mice is still terrifying.
10. The Tale Of The Pinball Wizard
Made us scared of: Arcades, and pinball games
Remember when… The only thing that Ross was ever good at was playing pinball, so when he found a new machine in the back of Mr. Olson’s store he was desperate to play it — even though the shopkeeper specifically told him not to. Ross lost track of time playing the game, and was locked inside the mall after it closed. Then the characters from the pinball game came to life, and Ross had to defeat a wicked witch, a group of zombies, and power hungry knight to escape. After several tries Ross finally crowned the princess and beat the game, but we soon learned that Ross was forever trapped in Mr. Olson’s pinball machine, and would never ever get out.
20 Years Later: Do pinball arcades still exist?
NEXT: The Tale of the Prom Queen
9. The Tale of the Prom Queen
Made us scared of: Being stood up for prom, and ghosts
Remember when… Dee Dee, a new girl in town, became friends with two thrill-seeking boys, who told her the treacherous tale of the Prom Queen. Back in 1956 a girl named Judy was killed by a hit-and-run on prom night, just outside of the cemetery. From then on, every year the ghost of the girl would appear amongst the headstones to wait for her boyfriend, Ricky, to finally pick her up for their special night. Dee Dee and the boys held a séance to find out why Ricky never came, and it turned out he was so upset by his girlfriend’s death that he drove his car off a bridge. On prom night, Ricky and his ghostly Chevy finally arrived in the cemetery, and it was revealed that Dee Dee (a nickname for Judy) was the Prom Queen ghost all along!
20 Years Later: Still one of the most shocking twists in Are You Afraid of The Dark? history.
8. The Tale of the Dark Music
Made us scared of: Basements, closets, and the dark
Remember when… A boy, his mom, and his bratty sister moved into their uncle’s old house. The basement was beyond creepy, and every time loud music was played, something evil — like a life-sized doll, or a skeleton — escaped from the closet to terrorize whoever was near. When the boy had multiple run-ins with the neighborhood bully, he locked his tormentor in the basement and turned the stereo up full blast. The bully was dragged into the pits of hell, and the boy was left with a shiny new bike and the knowledge that if he fed the closet, he would be rewarded with whatever he wanted. Looks like his sister is next…
20 Years Later: Hell no. Dark basements will always be scary.
7. The Tale of the Frozen Ghost
Made us scared of: Ghosts, and dying without a jacket on
Remember when… A pretentious little boy named Charles and his babysitter Daphne (Melissa Joan Hart!!) were sent off to Charles' aunt's house in the country. Charles was immediately haunted by a pale little ghost boy, dressed in all white, who kept repeating the words “I’m cold” over and over again. Very creepy. While running away from the ghost in the woods, Daphne and Charles found a red jacket stuffed in an old log. They returned the coat, and the little ghost boy was able to move on (warmly) to the afterlife.
20 Years Later: The only thing worse than being cold is hearing someone else constantly complain about it.
6. The Tale of the Dollmaker
Made us scared of: Dolls and attics
Remember when… Melissa used to enjoy spending the weekends at her Aunt and Uncle’s house, so she could play with her best friend Susan Henderson in the house next door. One weekend, Melissa learned that her BFF had mysteriously disappeared, and Susan’s parents had moved out of the house to get away from their grief. When Melissa saw something in the Hendersons' attic, she went in to investigate, and soon found a dollhouse that was an exact miniature of the Hendersons' house. She found that Susan had been trapped in the dollhouse, and that her limbs had been turned into porcelain. To save her, Melissa entered the miniature house and ended up jumping out of a second story window with Susan to avoid the curse.
20 Years Later: Eff that. Porcelain dolls will always be creepy
5. The Tale of the Lonely Ghost
Made us scared of: Ghosts, mirrors, and backwards writing
Remember when… Bookworm Amanda was sent to live with her aunt for the summer, and had to put up with her obnoxious cousin Beth and her bratty friends. Before she was "allowed" to hang out with them, Amanda had to stay the night in the abandoned house next door, that was rumored to be haunted by the ghost of a young girl. As it turned out, when she was alive the mute little girl was tormented by her peers and locked in her bedroom, but because she couldn’t talk she was never found. After scaring the crap out of everyone by appearing in the mirror and scribbling “HELP ME” backwards all over the walls, Amanda reunited the young girl with her mother.
20 Years Later: We still jump watching the clip above
NEXT: The Tale of Laughing in the Dark
4. The Tale of Laughing in the Dark
Made us scared of: Clowns, funhouses, and second-hand smoke
Remember when… The cigar-loving Zeebo the Clown stole money from the circus, and hid from the authorities in the funhouse. But before he could make off with the cash, Zeebo’s bad habit accidently sparked a fire, and everyone believed that the clown was burned alive. Years later, Josh — an obnoxious, cocky redhead —decided to steal Zeebo’s nose to prove that the funhouse wasn't haunted. It was all fun and games until that freaky-ass clown starting leaving threatening calls, and terrorized Josh at his home. The little punk returned the nose, and gave Zeebo a full box of cigars to say he was sorry.
20 Years Later: F*** clowns.
3. The Tale of the Dead Man's Float
Made us scared of: Pools, lakes, and basically all bodies of water (including bathtubs)
Remember when… Zeke, a chemistry nerd, was hopelessly in love with swimming superstar Clorice, and he agreed to tutor her in science if she taught him how to swim. The two set out on a raft in the school’s pool, unaware that it had been built over an old graveyard many years ago and that now, one of the spirits was super pissed. After being chased around the pool and withstanding a foul, rotten-egg smell, Zeke used his chemistry knowledge to destroy the monster, and in the process he learned how to swim.
20 Years Later: The creature that emerges from the pool is without a doubt one of the scariest things ever seen on Are You Afraid of the Dark?.
2. The Tale of the Ghastly Grinner
Made us scared of: Clowns, comic books, and stupid people
Remember when… Ethan went to the grand opening of a comic book store, and received a one-of-a-kind copy of the Ghastly Grinner — a comic about a Joker/Clown villain who turns his victims into brainless, blue-goo sprouting, laughing idiots. When his comic book got wet Ethan thoughtfully put it in the microwave, but instead of drying the pages, the radiation brought the Ghastly Grinner to life. The creep terrorized the entire town, just like in the books. In an attempt to destroy the cackling clown, Ethan created a new comic book, but ended up getting trapped inside. Just as he was about to be turned into a mindless zombie, Ethan’s friend Hooper erased the Ghastly Grinner from the comic book, and destroyed him for good.
20 Years Later: Once again, with feeling: F*ck clowns!
1. The Tale of Midnight Madness
Made us scared of: Vampires, movie theaters, and silent movies
Remember when… Pete and Katie worked at an old movie theater, and were desperate to do whatever it took to keep it from getting shut down. So when Dr. Vink showed up and promised increased ticket sales if they showed his films, of course they agreed to the deal. But when Pete and Katie didn't hold up their end of the bargain, Vink allowed his most terrifying movie villain, the classic Vampire-Demon Nosferatu, to emerge from the movie screen. Even though he never said a word, Nosferatu and his long pointy fingernails truly terrified the cinema co-workers, and chased them around the theaters in an attempt to suck out their blood. Eventually Pete jumped onscreen and destroyed Nosferatu’s coffin, killing the vampire. But that’s not the end of the tale — Dr. Vink got the deed to the movie theater, and gleefully claimed that he would continue to show his movies each week... assuring us that his other films are far more terrifying than this one.
20 Years Later: We’ve spent many a sleepless nights hiding under the covers because of this one half-hour episode.
I declare this meeting of the Midnight Society closed. Which episode of Are You Afraid of The Dark? scared you the most? Scream it out in the comments below!
Follow Leanne on Twitter @LeanneAguilera
[Photo Credit: Nickelodeon]
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