While my first article was about Rocko’s Modern Life, it was not my favorite show on Nickelodeon in the 90s. This honor is bestowed upon a little program known as Are You Afraid of the Dark. I credit both Goosebumps books and Are You Afraid of the Dark as my gateway drugs into the world of horror, a love which has grown in me, like some sort of tumor; a pleasant tumor which makes me happy, and doesn’t kill me slowly.
Are You Afraid of the Dark?
If you never saw the show, it was a horror anthology program of sorts, designed for the kiddies (cue Cryptkeeper laugh). Much like The Twilight Zone, but told by children, for children. The Midnight Society, a gang of kids (all Canadian I found out later, but they were supposed to be playing Americans… I think?) met at night in the middle of the woods, to tell each other spooky stories, and give each other the willies. What parents let their children hang out at night in the middle of the woods, and on a school night sometimes, I have no idea, but it made for entertaining television.
There were two Midnight Society crews. I grew up with the first crew, the crew from 1991 until 1996. I’ve since watched every episode, with both the first and second crews (though not recently, only so much free time).
In the first episode, Gary (description of Gary to follow) explains The Midnight Society consists of very different kinds of kids, who even go to different schools. This makes me wonder how they managed to meet in one area so often, as all they appear to have for transportation are bikes, and their feet. Did their parents drop them off?
“Okay honey, have fun at your little midnight club, I’ll pick you up at 10, like usual.” Also, in the first episode one of the girls mentions the meeting place is secret, hence why new members are brought there blindfolded. It sounds more and more like a pint-sized cult when I analyze it. Whatever, this was a show for children, who cares, suspension of disbelief, and such.
The first generation consisted of…
Gary, the ringleader in glasses. His word was law, and he ruled, with a nerdy fist.
Betty Ann, the girl I had a crush on. Always had a thing for latin women, and she told creepy stories, and they were gross sometimes too. Oh, the memories, of a youth, longing for a latin girl to tell me scary stories…
Kiki, the sassy black girl in the backwards hat. She’ll sass you silly, bitch.
Frank, the fiery-tempered, latin bad boy, who is inducted into the society in the first episode, after he tells The Tale of the Phantom Cab. This is when we meet one of the first recurring characters in the Tales, Dr. Vink, with a V. Dr. V is not a nutbag, as he keeps reminding everyone. More on him and the other major recurring character in The Tales later.
Tucker – Gary’s little brother. Fuck I hated him. Even when he calmed down and took the reigns as leader in the second generation of The Midnight Society… I just can’t handle him, particularly when he was first introduced in the third season. Annoying as all Hell.
Sam – Short for Samantha, Sam was tomboyish (that role was obviously filled by Kiki first) though I’d be lying if I said I remembered anything except her hair. She wasn’t as stuck up as Kristen, at least. Gary develops a crush on her. I would have gone with Betty Ann, Gary, watchu thinkin’?
Kristen, the pretty blonde, who was kind of stuck up as I remember it. Gary explains she “moved” in the first episode of the third season.
David, the black haired kid, with a penchant for sweaters. Although a lot of them wore sweaters. Okay, look, I don’t remember shit about him, are you happy?! He left very little impression! He also “moved,” so he was only around for the first two seasons, much like Kristen. I mean, they all live in different towns according to Gary in the first episode, first season, but perhaps they moved 40 miles away, as opposed to the normal 15 they usually lived…
…I need to stop dissecting a show made entirely for kids.
Stig – The Booger of The Midnight Society. Stereotypical smelly, rude kid from the 90s. He came on in season 5.
Eric, the total dweeb, who was Irish, so told one story, The Tale of Jake and the Leprechaun, that was downright offensive in its depiction of the Irish. And it was supposed to be in memory of his grandfather, who died that week, who was Irish. Fuck you, Eric. You sucked. I’m not sure what happened to him. But then, I’m not watching every episode in chronological order, so they might have mentioned it.
If anyone knows, tell me what happened to Eric! Maybe he tripped on a root, and broke his leg on his way to the meeting place.
Fuck you, Eric.
My favorite cast member was obviously Betty Ann, though Frank was cool too. I’m going off personality right now. Its hard to remember which member told what story; as, well…my memory is terrible, and there are a lot of The Tales.
The intro to the show was fucking terrifying. It is nightmare fuel. The combination of the theme, and the images they showed…I don’t know why really, they just did, and continue to creep the shit out of me. Perhaps, it is the lack of animate objects.
The show was very formulaic. Each would have an intro with The Midnight Society crew, and they would talk about their personal lives. This would inevitably always segue into one of the members gearing everyone up for their story. Hilarious reaction shots would flash of each member, as the story teller for the evening went into their spiel. Before each tale, they would say “submitted for the approval, of the Midnight Society, I call this story…” and then say the name of the story. It was always, “The Tale of the” followed by the rest of the title.
The first episode I can remember, which really fucked with me was The Tale of Laughing in the Dark. Coincidentally, this was a Betty Ann tale (luh you Betty A). It was, in essence, about a haunted carnival fun house. A boy steals the nose of a pop up clown manikin at the end of said fun house, on a dare. Legend has it the clown is based on a real guy who was a clown at the carnival, Zeebo, who died one night in a fire.
What really messed me up was that the spirit of the dead clown, named Zeebo, came after the kid who stole the red, honky nose (said child being a redhead, might I add) one night while he was home alone. So, picture an eight-year-old Sean, having recently moved from a house on a busy street, to a new town, and a new house in the middle of a dark street with very little light. Little eight-year-old Sean’s new house is much larger, and darker than his old one. There are no longer cars rushing past at all hours. Instead, all Sean hears are crickets, and silence. And then he watches a show about a ghost clown who performs a home invasion on a redheaded kid. Much of the fear was obviously circumstantial, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was creepy as shit, even without the extenuating circumstances. I applaud this episode, and episodes like it, for just going for it, and not caring whether or not kids got nightmares.
Most of the episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark are simply formulaic, cheesy, 90s nostalgia fun. However, there are a few others that struck a nerve. Here is a list, as you know how I love lists, and putting things into order. Be still my OCD heart. In chronological order, biatches.
The Tale of the Twisted Claw.
A David story. An obvious adaptation of the famous tale of The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs. You’re probably familiar with the plot, even if the name escapes you. Its about a magical monkeys paw, or in the case of the episode, a magical bird claw, and it gives you wishes. Each wish you ask for turns out horrible. Each time you make a wish, one of the digits on the paw, or claw in this case, lowers.
The best part of this episode is at the end, when one of the boy’s wishes his grandfather could be there. Only, his grandfather died. Way to think over your wishes, kid.
The Tale of The Dark Music.
An Eric story. An evil being comes out every time this dude plays music in his basement.
The Tale of the Shiny Red Bicycle.
Another David story. A boy who stills mourns his friend who fell while on his bike, and died by drowning, starts to see his dead friend’s bicycle, and eventually, his dead friend. Surprisingly powerful for a kids show.
The Tale of Watcher’s Woods.
A Sam tale. Two girls camping get lost in the woods, which happen to contain witches, and some fucked up spirit of the forest. His face pops up in trees, I mean, holy crap obviously this one scared me as a kid!
The Tale of the Renegade Virus.
A Gary tale. This one is about a computer virus. What creeped me out, was they hired a little person to play the virus, and he had this weird silver make up on, and his voice was modulated. I barely knew what a computer virus was when I first watched it, so that probably made me more afraid of the concept of one. Especially of one becoming a person, and trying to hunt me down.
The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float
A Stig tale. A secret pool discovered in a high school, built on top of an old graveyard. A haunted pool people! This one also messed me up when I was wee. Between this and Jaws, jeez, I was practically hydrophobic.
There are many other tales which I loved, that just didn’t impact me in the same way. These episodes I picked because I remember watching them as a child, and I remember they freaked me out. I can still remember images from them. There are many great episodes, but those would be a cheat if I listed them, as A) they didn’t scare me as a child, and B) I barely remember watching them as a child. You also have to remember, that this was in the days before entire seasons of shows got rushed to DVD. Usually, they’d release one or two episodes on VHS, but whole seasons wouldn’t fit onto the tape. So, what I saw was just what I happened to catch, a simple case of luck. Had I seen, say, The Tale of the Dark Dragon as a kid, it would have undoubtedly freaked me out, but it didn’t.
There were a ton of people who guest starred on this show who are now big names, or were at the time. Bobcat Goldthwait, Gilbert Gottfried, Melissa Joan Hart, Neve Campbell, Ryan Gosling, Jewel Staite, Charles S. Dutton. Its super funny to see that a lot of the child actors grew up and became established stars. Its equally funny to see actors who were already established that were on the show.
Now, to mention the first epic saga that was the first two part episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark. I remember the event vividly. It was in season 4, and aired near the end of October, in 1994. I was 10. This was a big deal! Gary and Frank teamed up to tell this beast known as…
The Tale of Cutter’s Treasure.
Starring Charles S. Dutton as the ghost of the pirate Cutter, this episode was not only the first two parter, and the first collaboration between group members, but it was also the first time that Sardo and Dr. Vink met. Since I haven’t gone into them yet, let me enlighten you.
Dr. Vink was a mad scientist type, who was a recurring villain in many of the episodes. Sardo was a bumbling magician (who’s extremely Tim Curry like) who also appeared as a recurring, albeit inadvertent villain, merely because he was ignorant of the fact his magic shop legitimately contained magical things, that he sold to kids. You’d think he would have learned after the first time, but he didn’t.
Its a great episode, and I won’t spoil it by going into the plot too much.
I will say there are some interesting episodes in the newer version of Are You Afraid of the Dark, with the second generation of The Midnight Society, where Tucker became the leader. And there is a three part episode that incorporates the cast that was really entertaining. This three parter even brings back Gary!
But, I was never aware they even brought the show back, as by the time they did, it was 1999, and I was 16, and past watching Nick.
I have many fond memories of Are You Afraid of the Dark, and every once in a while, I still like to watch an episode or two because it reminds me of being a jumpy little kid. It reminds me of when I first found myself drawn to scary things, even though they really freaked me out. And because it makes me incredibly happy to revisit the show. I loved the show so much I bought a bootleg of it off eBay in my senior year of college, around 2001, which was so shoddy, the top of the dvds were covered with a cheap dvd covering that came off in my parents dvd player, and broke the fucking thing. I swear, it looked like they just used paint, or White Out or something. You can find the episodes, but its still tough to cull all of them. I hope someday they’ll put all of the episodes into a box set of DVDs, and maybe track down some of the old cast to do commentaries. That would be rad.
And some day, I want to start my own Midnight Society, albeit one that is more adult. I’ll keep you posted on how that turns out.
I declare this meeting of The Midnight Society closed.