Editor’s Note: Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? returns tonight with the second installment of its revival: Curse of the Shadows. The six-part season will premiere on Friday February 12th with a new episode to follow each week. To get your goosebumps ready for the new season, we’re revisiting our definitive ranking of every original episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, which was originally posted in 2015.
“Separately, we’re very different. We like different things, we go to different schools, and we have different friends. But one thing draws us together: the dark. Each week, we gather around this fire to share our fears and our strange and scary tales. It’s what got us together, and it’s what keeps bringing us back.” –Gary, Midnight Society President
The premise of Are You Afraid of the Dark? is ridiculous: a handful of pre-teen/teenage strangers traveling from all across a city to tell scary stories out in the woods in the middle of the night. (How’d they meet? What kind of parents allow their kids out like that? How’d they never burn the forest down?) But the infeasibility of The Midnight Society didn’t stop the show from becoming a weekly staple for a generation of tweens. We were old enough to stay up but not old enough to stay out, so we spent nearly every Saturday night huddled around our television sets with friends or siblings, pretending not to be terrified by that week’s tale.
Some of us took it a step further. I recall multiple Midnight Societies popping up around our school in Fight Club fashion soon after the show premiered. Mine met at 8 p.m., lasted one meeting, and consisted of my two friends and I throwing anything granular — dirt, sand, sugar — we could find into my parents’ fireplace, trying to get that eerie Midnight Dust poofing effect. We never figured it out before our Society disbanded about 15 minutes later without a single tale ever being told.
Looking back, it’s easy to dismiss the show as a purely nostalgic wedge of ’90s cheese, and, admittedly, many of the tales haven’t aged particularly well. But there’s also a lot to admire in the care that went into trying to frighten us. We saw the protagonists encountering the creepy and supernatural in the same suburban settings we hailed from. They were remarkably vulnerable and insecure kids, too, ones with problems we could relate to; they were new kids, outcasts, rival siblings, and children experiencing rough patches like deaths in the family or parents filing for divorce.
While re-watching these episodes again, what struck me most is how isolated nearly every tale’s children are from caring and capable adults. The kids are almost always on their own throughout these ordeals — parents and adults either absent, feckless, or the ones instigating the evil in the first place. To a generation of kids who were always taught to run to adults for help, Are You Afraid of the Dark’s message was to trust and rely on nobody, especially those who are supposed to be looking out for you.
Submitted for the approval of our readers, here are the 65 episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark’s initial run ranked and dissected (including drinking cues guaranteed to help you survive the tales that don’t quite hold up). Also, feel free to huddle around the campfire in our comments section and tell us your favorite tale, preferred Midnight Society storyteller, and what creepy or spine-chilling moments from the show have followed you into adulthood.
65. “The Tale of Badge”
Series #: 65
We all have talents. Some of us can draw. Others can flip their eyelids inside out. Gwen, as she learns, can play a flute that keeps an ancient hangman Goblin named Badge (speaks like Yoda, he does, for some reason) imprisoned in a crystal for centuries at a time. It’s all part of the magic that gets passed down from grandmother to granddaughter in Gwen’s partial witch family. Mind you, within five minutes of Gwen gaining this remarkable power, Badge escapes, so, yeah, that’s not boding too well. And with that, the original series goes out with a head scratch, shrug, and yawn instead of a resounding scream. Thanks, Gary!
Moment We First Reached for the Lights: When Badge uses Gwen’s grandmother’s voice to gain entrance into the house.
Nagging Question: How come villains can always do spot-on impressions of our loved ones?
Drinking Cue: Whenever someone says “setterwind,” set up shots. I have no idea what it means either, but you’ll wake up in the morning with a lampshade on your head — or maybe Badge’s stupid beret.
State of the Midnight Society: Little brother Tucker does a mean (both accurate and cruel) Gary impression, a bit of foreshadowing because Tucker will be the next president of the Midnight Society when meetings resume three years later in the revamped series. He’s got a lot of growing up to do in the meantime.
64. “The Tale of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice”
Series #: 09
Villain/Monster: Goth and Dr. Oliver
Storyteller: Betty Ann
Plans set in motion long ago place socially invisible teen Dean under the control of an evil ancient magician named Goth, who manipulates him and other students (the Goth kids, I guess) into resurrecting him. Luckily, Dean’s see-through-the-b.s. best friend, Alex, is onto the plot, which is fortunate because apparently everything you need in order to awaken Goth from ancient slumber can be found in a high school chem lab (goggles please!). The all-is-not-actually-well ending offers more chills than anything else, as we learn that Goth is coming soon to a school near you. Um, too late, buddy.
Moment We First Reached for the Lights: When Dean starts pronouncing Alex’s name “Uh-lux.” Apparently, that’s the difference between Good Dean and Evil Dean. That and a black shirt.
Nagging Question: Just how many all-powerful ancient sorcerers, wizards, magicians, etc. waiting to be released on an unsuspecting modern world can there actually be? And what happens when they all arrive at the same time? Royal Rumble?
Drinking Cue: Whenever Dean says “Alex” or “Uh-lux,” mispronounce your best friend’s name and chug-a-lug.
State of the Midnight Society: Frank and Kiki rig a fake skeleton to pop out of a fresh grave and scare the others. Those two hooligans deserve each other.
63. “The Tale of the Hungry Hounds”
Series #: 05
Villain/Monster: Deceased Aunt Dora’s spirit
Aunt Dora’s childhood horse-riding accident has haunted Pam and Amy’s family for years. When Aunt Dora uses her old riding jacket to possess Pam’s body and right previous wrongs (like “not feeding the hounds”), this murky, half-baked tale turns into a 24-minute Kibble commercial. Apparently, everything turns out alright in the end, I think? This one lost me at “submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society…”
Drinking Cue: Whenever you don’t understand what’s going on and realize that you no longer care.
Status of the Midnight Society: Kristen brings her hound dog, Elvis (groans), for sound effects, which leads to bad Elvis jokes (“He ain’t nothing but a hound dog.”) and awkward exchanges like this one:
Frank: “Sounded like a hound dog.”
Eric: “Maybe it was Kristen.”
Frank: “She’s no dog.”
Go take a cold shower already, Frank.
62. “The Tale of the Renegade Virus”
Series #: 42
Villain/Monster: The virus
Simon is winning the prank war against his friend Evan, so when their science teacher makes a breakthrough in virtual reality technology (because high school teachers are always making these types of world-changing advancements while you’re at PE), Evan plants a virus in the program to teach Simon a lesson. However, Evan doesn’t count on the rogue pint-size virus recoding itself in order to take over Simon’s brain and make the leap from virtual reality to actual reality. If you can get beyond the cringe-worthy, awkward attempt to inject computer technology into an episode and decode this mess of a tale without calling IT, then you’re far more computer savvy than me.
Moment We First Reached for the Lights: When Simon finds a computer input/output port embedded in his palm. Oddly enough, we’ll probably be paying for this upgrade in a few more years. Chin up, cheer up, Simon.
Drinking Cue: Every time you cringe at a painful attempt to explain ’90s computer technology to kids.
State of the Midnight Society: Gary’s computer gets a virus, a misfortune he’s apparently able to spin into a story on the way to the meeting. He declines, however, to share his browsing history with the rest of the Midnight Society. I’m sure the Geek Squad got a chuckle, though.
61. “The Tale of Watcher’s Woods”
Series #: 29
Villain/Monster: Old hags and the watcher
Storyteller: Sam (initiation story)
Odd-couple campers Sarah and Kelly are sent off on an assignment into Watcher’s Woods, where a forest demon is said to “blip” children who get lost within. When Kelly tries to ditch Sarah in the woods, the two end up meeting the three girls — now insane, ghastly, old ghouls — who once disappeared in the forest and now remain there in some sort of woodland purgatory. Sam delayed telling this story for two weeks in order to perfect it, but I don’t think a month’s worth of midnights could’ve saved this one. Woods are creepy on their own, Sam. This tale got convoluted hella-quick and shook the fright right out of the forest.
Moment We First Reached for the Lights: When the wind whistles and the woods start shifting shape around Kelly.
Drinking Cue: Whenever you feel the urge to dangle a rodent in Kelly’s face.
State of the Midnight Society: Betty Ann introduces Sam (a girl!), and within five seconds, Tucker calls her a “babe,” and Frank tells her, “You’re the hottest thing around this campfire.” Gary, I think it’s time to show that Midnight Society sexual harassment training tape again. Oh wait, Gary’s too busy drooling (“I think you’re perfect, um, for the Midnight Society”). Welcome to the Lonely Hearts Club, Sam.
60. “The Tale of the Final Wish”
Series #: 14
Villain/Monster: The Sandman
Okay, looks like Kristen wore out her VHS copy of Labyrinth. Only instead of a giant maze and David Bowie sporting a suspicious bulge, her protagonist Jill’s wish sends us to the Land of Nod with Bobcat Goldthwait. (The premise has somehow lost its magic, hasn’t it?) If Jill can’t fashion a fairy-tale ending for herself, then her family and friends will sleep forever — too late for the audience. The scariest moment in this tale is the fear that Bobcat may at some point break out into the “Magic Dance”.
Moment We First Reached for the Lights: Jill pulls back the skirt of her bed to reveal Bobcat Goldthwait there in purple pajamas. Only if Mahoney, Jones, and Captain Harris were also there could this be any more disturbing.
Drinking Cue: Whenever Bobcat’s voice turns grating. Plan on a designated driver.
State of the Midnight Society: Frank learns reading can be fun-damental. Ya know, with heads getting hacked off and stuff in fairy tales. Fret not, Pizza Hut. Your Book It! personal pan pizzas are safe.
59. “The Tale of the Unexpected Visitor”
Series #: 61
During a break from rehearsal, bandmates Jeff and Perch (the name suits him) accidentally contact a music-loving extraterrestrial using Jeff’s dad’s deep-space messaging equipment (why couldn’t they just peek through his old man’s stack of Hustlers like normal kids?). Unfortunately, their song gets misinterpreted, and the alien comes for a visit so boring that Mulder and Scully wouldn’t even bother investigating it. The Midnight Society mostly eschewed alien stories, and this episode reminds us why that’s a wise move.
Moment We First Reached for the Lights: When Jeff’s dog, Montana, goes out into the woods alone at night. Please, take Perch instead. Just leave the pooch alone!
Nagging Question: Why are there practically no pets in this series? Montana feels like the first.
Drinking Cue: Whenever you see the glowing, yellow spiderwebs, snag yourself a brew.
State of the Midnight Society: Kiki’s exhausted thanks to her visiting Aunt Stephanie keeping her up every night with buzz-saw snoring. Her plight inspires a story, which ironically puts everyone right to sleep.
58. “The Tale of the Carved Stone”
Series #: 33
Villain/Monster: Brother Septimus
New girl Alison (yawn) buys an amulet from Mr. Sardo (“It’s sar-DO. No Mister. Accent on the DO!”) that’s supposed to make her popular but instead sends her back in time where she meets Tom (shrug), another kid who could really use a friend. That’d all be fine if an ancient evil monk named Brother Septimus (typical) wasn’t after the amulet for his own wicked ambitions. This is yet another tale where the excellent running gag of that shyster Sardo actually selling someone something that turns out to be magical — besides his fake vomit, of course — suffers from Gary’s inability to deliver a decent scare.
Moment We First Reached for the Lights: Okay, when Septimus reveals that Krueger-esque pinky nail, I found a whole new level of respect for him as a baddie — for a moment.
Nagging Question: Isn’t Alison played by the same actress as Gwen in “The Tale of Badge”? Wow, this girl starred in two god-awful episodes.
Drinking Cue: Every time Sardo offers a fun diversion from an otherwise snooze fest, drink and pretend to upchuck some fake vomit.
State of the Midnight Society: Gary does some cape theatrics and nearly burns the forest down. Capes and campfires don’t mix, bro.
57. “The Tale of the Closet Keepers”
Series #: 51
Villain/Monster: The zookeepers
Billy underestimates his deaf classmate, Stacy, due to her hearing impairment. However, her handicap becomes the very thing that saves them both when aliens capture them and several other Earth children for their zoo. While not an original concept, the human zoo does intrigue, and seeing a heroic protagonist with a disability was a bold move for the series. Also, strange to find out the girl playing the part — which included speaking as though deaf — wasn’t actually hearing impaired. Seems like one of those PC things that would cause an uproar today.
Moment We First Reached for the Lights: Seeing the zoo exhibit, which simulated a child’s bedroom, felt eerily similar to the fabricated environments we see in real zoos.
Nagging Question: Why did Kiki name this story “The Tale of the Closet Keepers”? I don’t think there’s a closet in the whole damn episode.
Drinking Cue: Whenever a zookeeper fires a “noise taser,” bottoms up and then mock cover your ringing ears.
State of the Midnight Society: Gary lets Kiki tell stories in back-to-back weeks, and the Society speculates that she swayed Gary by threatening bodily harm. When the tomboyish girl shows up in a dress a couple seconds later, she sure doesn’t look like the type of girl who would beat up a boy just to be that night’s storyteller — or is that what she wants us to think? Welcome to Midnight Society Mind Games 101.
56. “The Tale of the Jagged Sign”
Series #: 54
While her parents are away on business, Claudia goes to stay with her Aunt Yvonne, who runs a retirement home. When Kate, the only person in the neighborhood Claudia’s age, takes her out hiking, they encounter a local ghost on a cliff beside the famous jagged sign. Why does the ghost continue to lure Claudia to that dangerous cliff, and what light can Aunt Yvonne’s ailing resident Marjorie shed on the matter? The Midnight Society love a spooky ghost story, but anybody telling Kiki “good story” after this yawner is just being polite.
Moment We First Reached for the Lights: When the jagged sign is being drawn in the mud at the girls’ feet by an invisible entity.
Profound Observation: For every ghost, there’s a broken heart.
Drinking Cue: Whenever you see the jagged sign.
State of the Midnight Society: In protest, Stig refuses to take the bag (blindfold) off his head until he’s officially admitted to the Midnight Society. Hope he could hear Kiki’s story with that thing on. Actually, probably better if he couldn’t.