These ‘Are You Afraid Of The Dark?’ Episodes Will Still Mess You Up As An Adult

Embarrassingly honest disclaimer: I had never watched an episode of the for-kids horror anthology Are You Afraid of the Dark? before writing this. That fact is embarrassing for many reasons, mainly because I’m a ’90s kids and this show was one of the great gifts of that decade. Unfortunately for my pre-teen self then and my pre-thirties self now, I have never been a fan of things that go “bump” in the night. Those nightmare-inducing Saw movies? Nope. Weird serial killers sporting hockey masks? Definitely not. Texas chainsaw massacres? Hard pass.

But for Halloween, I thought I’d revisit a spooky childhood favorite of many others. After all, this is just a kid’s show, how scary can it really be?

A bit of background first: Are You Afraid of the Dark? was a horror anthology series that premiered on Nickelodeon in 1990. Its basic premise centers on a group of kids who dub themselves the Midnight Society and sneak out at night to some undisclosed location in the woods to tell creepy tales around a campfire. Each episode brings a different society member’s story to life.

Usually those stories come with some kind of moral lesson. This is for kids after all, so they need to be learning something while watching ghosts haunt families and killer clowns terrorize neighborhoods . But most of the Midnight Society’s stories are just plain disturbing, regardless of how old the person watching them happens to be.

Looking back, it’s hard to imagine why any parent would let their kid watch this show. But I’m not here to gripe about a lack of parental guidance – ironically a big theme of the series – or mull over why the fictional adults on this show would ever let their kids visit the woods so late at night without supervision.

The only thing really worth talking about when it comes to Are You Afraid of the Dark is the scares, and there are plenty of them. So in case you’re planning to celebrate Halloween by bingeing the scariest show of your youth, here are six episodes from the series guaranteed to frighten you.

“The Tale Of Laughing In The Dark” (Season 1)

A cigar-loving crook of a clown dies in a circus fire and decides to get his kicks by haunting a newly rebuilt funhouse. That’s pretty terrifying no matter how you slice it but watching this episode after hearing all of the creepy clown nonsense that’s been flooding our news lately made me regret ever thinking a man with a painted face that goes by the name of Zeebo could never be that scary.

Of course, what makes this episode great nightmare-fuel isn’t seeing Zeebo but not seeing him – and hearing his horrifying laugh in the dark.

“The Tale of the Chameleons” (Season 5)

Besides introducing us to a truly strange tagline – “Bite you once, bite you twice, a little water, pay the price” – this episode also reaffirms everyone’s mistrust of color-morphing lizards. When Janice (oh hey there, Tia Mowery) enters a pet shop, she gets bitten by a chameleon. She quickly learns said reptile has morphed into her evil twin (what’s up, Tamera Mowery) with the purpose of taking over her life, and the world, it falls to Janice’s best friend to save the day.

Creepy shower scenes aside, this episode also features one of the Mowery sisters eating a raw fish, which is just gross. What was truly terrifying about Betty Ann’s evil alter-ego story though is its ending. (Spoilers?) Janice’s friend Sharon discovers the Evil Chameleon’s plan but must figure out which Mowery sister is the real Janice. It’s only at the episode’s end when “Janice” sneaks out at night to rescue a box of lizards from the family well that we find out Sharon has made the wrong choice. Now an army of chameleons are probably silently invading your neighborhood, and your mom might not really be your mom and what is this life?

“The Tale of the Quicksilver” (Season 3)

Quicksilver is a ghost who lives inside the walls of an old home brothers Aaron and Doug move into. Almost immediately after the move, weird things begin to happen – beds shaking, Doug getting sick, Aaron having strange dreams about the dead twin sister of one of his new classmates. It turns out, the house was built on top of a cemetery and the poltergeist haunting it has an affinity for children. Any ghost story is terrifying in my opinion, but this one made me distrust everything about the new apartment I just moved into. I’ll never lean on a wall again.

“The Tale of Old Man Corcoran” (Season 2)

Another new kids in the hood tale – seriously, never move, bad things happen when you move! – this one features brothers Jack and Kenny transplanting to a nicer neighborhood but struggling to make friends. When the pair comes across a bicycle gang with a penchant for playing hide-and-seek at the local cemetery, they decide to prove themselves by playing along. Unfortunately for them – and pretty obvious to anyone who’s ever seen the beginning of any slasher film – nothing good happens when you visit a cemetery after dark. Soon the kids are on the lookout for Old Man Corcoran – the groundskeeper who got swallowed up by a grave he dug with his bare hands. He haunts the place now, and he’s not a fan of trespassers. What makes this episode so disturbing, besides it being set in a graveyard late at night, is that Jack and Kenny spend the entire episode looking for the wrong ghost.

“The Tale of the Dollmaker” (Season 3)

Melissa is excited to spend the summer with her aunt and uncle in the country but she’s devastated when she finds out their neighbor, and her best friend, Susan Henderson has gone missing. Melissa visits Susan’s old home, looking for clues to her disappearance and finds a dollhouse replica of the Henderson’s house in the dusty attic. Eventually, we discover that Susan got sucked into that dollhouse after Melissa is trapped in there as well and the two slowly begin to turn into porcelain dolls. Dolls and dollhouses are inherently creepy but seeing a little girl slowly transform into a porcelain figurine is truly disturbing. Luckily this episode had a happy ending, but you’ll probably never look at your childhood toy set the same way again.

“The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float” (Season 5)

Zeke is a science nerd who never learned to swim. Chloe is the pretty swim star in need of tutoring. The two pair up to help each other out but when they choose the school’s hidden, boarded up lap pool for Zeke’s lessons, they learn why no one’s been treading those waters for 40 years.

This was the episode that introduced many to water zombies long before The Walking Dead cornered the undead market. Some classic underwater Jaws shots and a disgusting water-logged creature that gurgled red liquid and liked to attack novice swimmers makes me feel better about my choice to never join my own school’s swim team.