If you grew up in the ’90s and you watched Nickelodeon as religiously as I did, you probably remember trying to stay up late on Saturday nights enough to watch SNICK. For those who don’t remember, SNICK was the programming block geared towards teens (or, more realistically, younger kids who watched it without parental permission) and featured more of the live-action shows. Among those was the Canadian horror show Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Canadian horror? Was that really a thing? Oh yes. And it was glorious. This show was honestly one of the highlights of my childhood (and probably yours, too). Yeah, the acting was kind of lame and the fashion was pretty horrifying by itself, but AYAOTD was a great series (much better than the cheese-tastic Goosebumps).
Even if you weren’t a huge fan of this show, plenty of you may remember a certain episode or two that scarred your fragile young mind (or maybe just creeped you out a little). When I watch the series as an adult (thanks, YouTube!), I find that quite a few episodes still have a certain scare-factor. So, submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I’ve compiled a list of what I believe to be the most frightening episodes of this Nick classic.
Are You Afraid of the Dark? regularly referenced several horror movie plots of plenty of Twilight Zone episodes, but in “The Tale of the Midnight Madness,” those quirky Canadians brought a real horror classic to life. A failing movie theater gets an impromptu revival when a mysterious stranger (the one and only Dr. Vink, with a va-va-VA) brings his copy of Nosferatu. After the first showing, people start flocking to the theater again, but after the greedy owner refuses to let Vink show his own films in addition to the vampire flick, Nosferatu himself escapes from the screen and begins to terrorize the employees.
Scariest Moment: When Nosferatu stares back at the theater after the end of the film and starts to creep towards the screen.
Another vampire-themed episode, but with a little more blood. A girl volunteers to work the nightshift at a hospital only to find someone (or something) is feeding on the patients and turning them into the blood-thirsty undead. In order to save the hospital, our heroine must find and kill the head vampire. Turns out it’s the far-too-cheerful new girl that nobody knows anything about (who would have guessed!).
Scariest Moment: When we finally see the head vampire in its true form, resulting in one of the best jump scares of the series.
AYAOTD had its share of classic monsters and ghost children, but not all the scares had a (slightly) reasonable explanation. In “The Tale of the Super Specs,” a prankster visits Sardo’s magic shop and acquires the mysterious super specs, which he gives to his girlfriend. After putting on the glasses, she beings to see strange shadow people from another dimension. So Sardo and the kids do what anyone would do in this situation: have a seance and provoke the shadow people.
Scariest Moment: Honestly any time we see the shadow people. I never knew black clothes could be so unsettling.
This is one of the only good episodes from the revived series, mostly due to a few exceptionally creepy masks. In this tale, a struggling teenage model hooks up with a stage actress in the hopes of learning some pointers in the industry. Unbeknownst to our heroine, this actress possesses a magic book that allows her to steal the faces of the pretty young girls she mentors, keeping her beautiful forever.
Scariest Moment: The expressionless masks the girls wear are fairly disquieting, but it’s the faces beneath the masks that really horrify.
This was one of my favorite episodes growing up, but now that I’m older, there’s something about it that really sets me on edge. A girl visits her aunt and uncle for the summer and looks forward to hanging out with her friend from the house next door. Once she arrives, she finds out that her friend has gone missing and her parents, in their grief, moved away. The girl goes exploring in the empty house and finds a mysterious dollhouse in the attic. Turns out the missing girl has been trapped inside the insidious dollhouse and is slowly turning into a doll herself.
Scariest Moment: Seeing the missing girl slowly transform into a porcelain doll is strangely upsetting, especially considering how aware she is of it all.
This is one of the first AYAOTD episodes I remember watching, and boy did it freak me out. When their dad cancels yet another family vacation because of work, siblings Josh and Cleo decide to investigate the exhibit their father is in charge of. The specimen is the mummified remains of an Egyptian queen buried with the means to awaken the dead. Shockingly, the mummy comes to life and terrorizes the kids.
Scariest Moment: Mummies tend not to be particularly terrifying monsters, but this one was so incredibly grotesque and ominous that I kind of forgot this was supposed to be a show aimed at pre-teens. The first time you see it standing upright will haunt you for weeks.
Coulrophobics beware: this episode will fuel your clown-related nightmares. As one of the very first episodes of the series, “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark” sets the bar high for AYAOTD as a whole (it’s arguably the best episode period). When cocky kid Josh and his friends visit a carnival, they stumble upon a spooky funhouse called Laughing in the Dark. Legend has it that a corrupt clown named Zeebo stole money from the circus many years ago and burned alive in the same funhouse. Now his ghost is trapped inside. Wanting to prove that he isn’t afraid, Josh goes through Laughing in the Dark and steals the dummy Zeebo’s nose. But when he starts seeing some unexplainable phenomena, Josh begins to realize that Zeebo may just be real after all–and he wants his nose back.
Scariest Moment: Seeing Zeebo at the end of the funhouse for the first time always got me, but watching how he messes with Josh in his own home in probably more terrifying.
“Oh, this is just a kid’s show,” you say to yourself. “These monsters all look fake. They’re not even scary!” Okay, watch this episode and tell me you aren’t afraid of deformed ghosts in pools. In this tale, geeky kid Zeke wants to learn how to swim, so he makes a deal with a girl named Clarice–he’ll tutor her in chemistry if she’ll teach him how to swim. She agrees and they practice in the school pool, which is actually haunted by the ghost of a person actually buried underneath the pool. Turns out this spirit doesn’t like anyone encroaching on his territory.
Scariest Moment: THE POOL GHOST. Jesus Christ, that thing haunted me well into my teen years. And it’s probably one of the reason why I still haven’t learned how to swim.
While “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark” was a pretty unnerving clown story, this one is beyond terrifying. Mike wants to buy a birthday present for his mom, but younger brother Sam steals his money to buy a gift for himself instead. Pointing out a particularly awful-looking clown doll, Mike warns his bratty brother that if he does terrible things, the Crimson Clown will come to get him. And the clown does just that–or is little Sam just imagining it all?
Scariest Moment: The inanimate clown is creepy in itself, but when it turns into a man-sized clown with an unmoving face? You’re gonna want to leave the lights on tonight.
I feel like I’m the only person who remembers this episode, but perhaps most of you repressed this memory. In “The Tale of the Dark Music,” Andy and his family move into his uncle’s old house and, of course strange things start to happen. While doing laundry in the basement, Andy notices that the heavy locked door inside the room begins to shudder and shake whenever someone plays music. Curious, Andy leaves the music on long enough for the creature in the cellar to emerge and ask to be fed.
Scariest Moment: The creators of AYAOTD could have put a generic monster in that basement. They could have made the creature a swamp thing or a vampire or something. But no–they chose to make this bloodthirsty demon-spawn a SIX-FOOT TALL FUCKING CHINA DOLL. And that is so much more horrifying than you would think it would be. SO MUCH MORE HORRIFYING.