90’s Horror Kid TV Spotlight: ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?
Over the years I’ve received a great deal of discrimination from the horror community based solely on my young age. I was born in 1990 and luckily raised on a healthy diet of all things creepy and cooky (Thanks, Mom!). While I may not have grown up during the age of rampant VHS horror distribution or iconic slasher films, 90’s kids like myself were given the gift of quality scares in the form of “kid appropriate” horror television. In celebration of Icons of Fright’s 10 Year Anniversary, I will be spotlighting a different 90’s Horror Kid TV show that helped shape the film interests of many young horror fans.Submitted for the approval of The Midnight Society, I call this article…ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? Airing on Nickelodeon from 1991-1996 and again from 1999-2000, ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? was a show that dramatized the scary stories we tell each other around the fire. The members of The Midnight Society were kids, just like us, meeting at their secret hideout in the woods away from adults in order to try and scare each other silly. While the members rotated out every so often, Gary, the leader and founder (and total nerdy heart throb) always made sure to keep the society alive. Stories ranged from supernatural phenomenon, mythical creatures, haunted objects, time travel, movie monsters, childhood fears come to life, possession, urban legends, haunted houses, curses, and just about every other horror story imaginable. A majority of the stories ended on happier notes leaving a moral, (IE: don’t steal from gypsies, don’t go where you’re not allowed to be, etc. etc.) but every so often the show would tell a story where the ending wasn’t so happy…something pretty ballsy for a kid’s show to pull.
In traditional horror style, many well-known actors got their start as children on episodes of ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? Melissa Joan Hart, Jewel Staite, Ryan Gosling, Hayden Christensen, Mia Kirshner, Tatyana Ali, Elisha Cuthbert, Neve Campbell, Jay Baruchel, and Rachel Blanchard are all AYAOTD? alumni.
Perhaps most interesting about the show is while the actual stories were the main focus of each episode, the members of The Midnight Society had a distinct personality, and a notable trend in their story telling. The pattern was much more noticeable in the “First Generation” cast. For example, Gary often told stories that had to deal with magic and created the popular character Sardo. Betty Ann was the “Twilight Zone” story teller hinting that the protagonists of her stories have not yet escaped danger. Kiki told stories about the danger of carelessness or deceitfulness (as well as featured many African-American characters). Frank is the mind behind the iconic character Dr. Vink. Gary’s younger brother Tucker often featured fractured families or people accidentally unleashing evil. Sam told tragic love stories. Kristen told ghost stories and fairy tales. David discussed the dangers of leaving past events unresolved or the darkness within “normal” people. Stig (only featured in two stories) told stories about the dangers of judging others by their appearance, and Eric (again, only two stories) didn’t really have an underlying trend with his two stories. The “Second Generation” cast tried to emulate this with their new characters, but it wasn’t nearly as noticeable.
But was it scary?
Uh. Yeah. For a little kid, ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? at times was pure nightmare fuel. Looking back, the stories are a little corny and the acting is a little rough, but I had plenty of nightmares that were 100% at the fault of ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? Even today, “The Ghastly Grinner” and “Dead Man’s Float” are two characters that still give me the creeps. The fact that this show came off of the same network that gave us SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS and THE BUBBLE GUPPIES still blows my mind. ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? was just scary enough to give kids the creeps, but not so scary that it was ever banned like the Nickelodeon horror film CRY BABY LANE. People try to say that right now is the time of horror television with shows like THE WALKING DEAD, BATES MOTEL, and HANNIBAL, but if you were a kid in the 1990s, children’s horror television reigned supreme.