Was there anything better than tuning in to SNICK every Saturday night to watch what Nickelodeon had in store for you before bed time? One of the most memorable facets of SNICK—heck, one of the highlights of the 90s—was Are You Afraid of the Dark?. A horror anthology series that dripped pure horror and fantasy from every pore, the series was bold enough to scare the pants off of its young viewers, while also appealing to older audiences, with tales that were thematically edgy and atmospherically dark.
Are You Afraid of the Dark? featured various horror oriented short stories as told by a collective group of teenagers named “The Midnight Society.” Every episode began with the group of kids gathering in the woods around a campfire*, united by their love for terrifying tales. Though the series itself was an anthology, the show’s bookends revolved around the recurring characters of “The Midnight Society.” Every episode began with some minor conflict or occurrence at the start of a meeting which would inspire one of the members to tell a haunting campfire tale. This story almost always reflected the incident we’d just witnessed.
While every episode garnered creative and original stories (as well as twists on classic urban legends), the writers also made sure to include subtle life lessons. Each story explored the concepts of dealing with grief, the consequences of stealing, lying, the price of superficiality, and claiming responsibility for your actions. The themes were always subtle, though, and never actually preached to the intended audience. It also helped that the characters from “The Midnight Society” were genuinely likable individuals, relatable in their utter enthusiasm and creativity.
Beyond that, the show captivated viewers because it tapped into a common ritual…who among us hasn’t, at one time or another, told a scary story in front of a campfire or by candle light? It’s a practice that goes back to the earliest history of storytelling. The key was, if you followed the show every week, that you were let in on these secret meetings…effectively making you one of The Midnight Society’s unofficial members.
Among some of the best episodes was “The Tale of the Twisted Claw” in which two young boys receive a magical claw from a neighbor that grants them three wishes a piece. As with the classic “The Monkey’s Paw,” the boys learn to be careful what you wish for, and that every wish has a morbid consequence. There’s also “The Tale of the Midnight Madness” in which a local multiplex is granted a rare print of “Nosferatu” on the stipulation that they play the owner’s other films. When they go back on their promise, the films begin taking on a life of their very own. Another classic is “The Tale of the Water Demons” in which two cousins steal from a collector of sunken treasures, only to learn that the owner of the artifacts is menaced by deadly water demons that rise from their watery graves whenever the owner sleeps.
Are You Afraid of the Dark? is still a treasured horror series that brought to life some of the most haunting monsters and demons imaginable. Lasting six whole seasons on Nickelodeon, the series was briefly revived in 1999 for a whole season before finally ending with 91 episodes under its belt. The show has since become a mainstay on the network, appearing on the channel occasionally for Halloween, and even shows up on Teen Nick’s late night line up around the fall.
*One of the more interesting production aspects of the series was noted in the book “Slimed!” in which one of the crew members recalls that they were never allowed to show the Midnight Society starting a fire, for fear kids at home would try to duplicate it.