30 for 31: “ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?”Columns,Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
The Season of the Witch is upon us, ye ole FANGORIA Readers! And to many, Halloween means candy, costumes and creepshows of all sorts. But to the staff at FANGORIA, Halloween can mean something more entirely. Therefore, we present 30 FOR 31, in which FANGORIA recounts the cinema that most strongly represents what Halloween means to us.
Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m bending the rules of this column with today’s entry. After all, this particular series never made it to the big screen, and arguably hasn’t even had a proper home video release here in the U.S. Yet for someone who spent his pre-teen years in the ‘90s, there are few pieces of horror culture that was as influential and as tied to Halloween as ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?
In essence, ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? was the youth-oriented response to the success of horror anthology series such as TALES FROM THE CRYPT. The series offered comparatively mild horror content to children, making it a flagship of Nickelodeon’s late night and Halloween season programming. However, in that supposedly mild content, Nickelodeon had unintentionally created a show much scarier than they could have understood, and even at times created some of the strongest anthology narratives for a 30 minute program since THE TWILIGHT ZONE.
ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? has always had a strong connection to Halloween for this writer beyond just its presence on television at the time. There was a certain variety that the show carried, introducing me to various horror subgenres with excellent practical SFX to boot. The series also often starred children in the main roles with few notable exceptions, which made the show all the more susceptible to my young and overactive imagination. And the series was also something almost everyone among my age group would watch with borderline religious fervor as we’d constantly discuss our favorite monsters and tales from the series.
Still, there would be few things as iconic to my youth for Halloween then spending the afternoons watching the ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? marathon until nightfall, which was the “proper” time for trick ‘r treating. The anticipation to see which choice episodes would be selected was always a treat, especially if they rolled out ones as nightmarishly scary as “The Tale of the Ghastly Grinner” or “The Tale of the Midnight Madness.” And when Nickelodeon changed this format in later years to incorporate all of the Halloween episodes of their other programming, there was something still nostalgic when an episode of ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? slipped onto your screen.
Of course, in retrospect, many of these stories are corny, heavy-handed or plagued by their limited budget (especially when the series was revived in the late ‘90s and resorted often to bad digital SFX). Yet almost an equal amount of episodes hold up terrifically, especially in terms of some of the more atmospheric episodes such as “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark.” So even to this day, when the season of the witch creeps up on us all, I’m always tempted to hunt down a couple of classic episodes and relive that youthful Halloween experience for old time’s sake.