Early Horror Memories: A Tribute to “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”

Are you afraid 1
The ominous Are You Afraid of the Dark logo

Let me just admit this: I missed a great calling in life.  I’m fairly content with where I am now and what I do, and I feel like I’m working toward something incredibly challenging, but also valuable.  Nevertheless, every Saturday night when I was a child, I’d watch all those teenagers on Nickelodeon throwing dust into a campfire to signal the end of their meeting, and I’d grow a little envious.  Of course, I knew Are You Afraid of the Dark’s midnight society wasn’t real, but I’d imagine, dreamily, “What if there really were a midnight society?  What if a group of people with a seemingly endless supply of horror stories sat around a campfire in the woods every midnight, sharing them?  And, better yet, what if I were one of them?”  These musings were, indeed, the stuff that dreams were made of.

It’s funny, what you remember from childhood and what you forget completely.  In the car today my dad was reminiscing about how he and my mom used to eat wings from a local tavern a few miles away, and those wings were once voted the best wings in town.  “I think I’ve had their wings,” I said, and I paused, recalling nights spent at the little tavern that were only vague in my memory.  “Of course you did,” he replied, “because we used to bring them home all the time.”  I really enjoy eating (for better or worse) and I really enjoy chicken wings – especially the butter garlic kind that he was referencing –but I have no recollection of my parents bringing home chicken wings from Chipper’s tavern.  It’s a part of my childhood that I simply don’t have access to anymore; it’s slipped away like so many other tangential memories that my mind refuses to hold onto.

 

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Ahhh!  It’s the Midnight Society! I can’t even.

My point is that Are You Afraid of the Dark is nothing like butter garlic chicken wings from Chipper’s Tavern.  One of the most frustrating things about writing, I think, is the inability to recreate a feeling, an essence, that you experienced so strongly once, and that you remember with such joy and vividness, but that simply defies words.  And that’s how I feel about the sense of delicious, promising anticipation that I felt every Friday night before Are You Afraid of the Dark? came on.  I’ve seen writers write about anticipation before, and it’s a wonderful feeling – especially if it doesn’t lead to disappointment, which it never did on those Saturday nights.

I loved, to be sure, almost the entire Snick Saturday night line-up.  It’s been said infinitely but it’s true: with the emergence of Netflix and binge-watching, the simple pleasure of looking forward to a timeslot on a weekly basis has become almost non-existent.  But I would look forward to Saturday nights with infinite anticipation.  Saturday was a night to stay up late, to eat snacks, to talk on the phone during commercials while watching Snick ­– a series of four shows that started with Clarissa Explains it All, moved into All That, lapsed into the lackluster show Ren and Stimpy (there, I said it, it was a show centered around fart jokes and songs about logs), and culminated in the beautiful, wonderous, seemingly magical Are You Afraid of the Dark?

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Zebo the clown: one of the creepiest episodes!

There were no commercials, as I recall, between the Ren and Stimpy credits and the Are You Afraid of the Dark opening, which was really just a simple, ominous strand of music playing behind a few creepy clips, a recording of a hand lighting a candle, and the show’s name appearing on the top of the screen.  Perhaps that’s why the credits to Ren and Stimpy excited me, but that enthusiasm was always followed by the mounting enthusiasm that would be provoked by the Are You Afraid of the Dark theme song.  And oh, re-runs were as rapturous as original stories.  I loved re-run season, because the joy of predicting which story would play was almost more suspense than I could handle.

Would it be, maybe, Watcher’s Woods?  Watcher’s Woods was my favorite, a story about two kids who get lost in the woods and run into an insidious enclave of three incredibly unnerving witches who look grotesque and endeavor to do monumental harm to the intrepid protagonists.  There was also the very sad story about the little boy who died in the cold, whose ghost came back to life, standing outside the window, crooning, sadly, “I’m cold,” over and over again.  There was the malicious ghost who came out of the wall and needed to be contained in an amulet, and a really classic haunted library episode.  If I sat down and pondered, I could probably recall more episodes, but those were a few that come to mind.  Even as I write this I want to switch the computer screen over to Youtube and see if they have any full episodes.  Michael would run out of the room – he refuses to watch the show with me, if I ever find any episodes – but I would be delighted to re-experience the magic.  And indeed, for me, that’s what Are You Afraid of the Dark was.  It was kind of like my Walt Disney.  It was magical.

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The three “hags” in Watcher’s Woods

I stumbled upon an episode of the show again in my mid-late 20’s (I won’t say how) and I tried to watch it, but I didn’t recognize the episode and I was a little dead inside, so I don’t think I appreciated it.  I was really depressed, and because of my love-hate, fascination-terror relationship with death, I was hooked on re-runs of Six Feet Under.  But I took a break from Six Feet Under to watch one old episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark.  I imagine I watched the show hoping to find something that would light me up, something that would re-kindle some feeling, any feeling, but it didn’t – then.  I’m not so sure that would be the case now, and I may make it my mission to find out.

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Enter Sandman: This guy was no good.

And that homage pretty much concludes my tribute to Are You Afraid of the Dark.  I think I’ll always be a little plagued by those raw, unsullied, kind of scintillating emotions that childhood produces, that can’t be fully re-captured in adulthood.  It’s best not to get bogged down in a pessimistic view of what one’s lost in life, especially in the midst of (perhaps?) things gained, but I wouldn’t know how to re-capture the feeling I got on those Saturday nights, right before the midnight society came on the screen, if I tried.  They are, I suppose, the hallmark of a happy childhood, and a sweet reminder of that which is best in life.  And, they are a testament to the indisputable fact that Are You Afraid of the Dark is a really fantastic show

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Memories…light the corners of my mind…

 

 

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Early Horror Memories: A Tribute to “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”

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