As we start to kick into high-gear for TV’s Halloween special season, I’m fondly looking back at my childhood when I was privy to creepy television all year round. Thanks to shows like EERIE, INDIANA , SO WEIRD, GOOSEBUMPS, and the life-affirming ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?, I grew up on a healthy diet of kid-themed horror and spooky after school programming. While GOOSEBUMPS saw a resurgence with the Jack Black starring feature from last year, the lack of accessibility for the ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK series means the show runs the risk of being forgotten about unless those of us who were fortunate enough to experience its wonder keep on talking about it. After seven seasons, 15 members of The Midnight Society, and 91 episodes, we’ve rounded up the top ten most terrifying monsters of the entire series.
10) THE TALE OF THE CRIMSON CLOWN
Responsible brother Mike and his dickhead little brother Sam (who grows up to play the lackey mall cop, Bart, in the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake) find themselves in an antique shop looking to buy the perfect birthday gift for their mother. In true dickhead fashion, Sam stole the money to buy himself a video game and they can’t buy an ugly porcelain statue for their mom. Before they leave, Sam is horrified and captivated by a creepy clown doll, so Mike makes up a story about how The Crimson Clown punishes bad kids as a means to get back at him for stealing his hard earned $70. Sam is then stalked by The Crimson Clown that seems to be everywhere he looks, even haunting him in his dreams. He’s a spooky ass statue, that’s for sure, but he’s not the scariest clown in AYAOTD history, which earns him the #10 slot.
09) THE TALE OF THE DOLLMAKER
Melissa visits her Aunt and Uncle pretty frequently despite finding their home and town to be a total drag, but luckily, the Henderson family next door has a daughter named Susan that keeps Melissa from resenting every second she spends with her Aunt and Uncle. In town for another visit, Melissa is stoked to hang out with Susan until her family confesses that Susan went missing and the Henderson family suddenly moved away. You know, because that’s information you don’t tell a girl’s best friend before she comes to visit. Melissa decides to do the only sensible thing and breaks into the Henderson’s home only to discover a dollhouse in the attic resembling the Henderson home. Melissa opens the door and finds herself transported INSIDE the dollhouse where she finds a painted up Susan, who has slowly begun to turn into a doll herself. There’s a traumatic moment where Susan’s porcelain arm falls off striking fear into the hearts of little girls with dollhouses everywhere. (Aka: Every single one of us).
08) THE TALE OF THE NIGHT SHIFT
Amanda (played by a very young Emmanuelle Chriqui from WRONG TURN) is an honors student that volunteers during the night shift at a hospital and somehow manages to be an honors student when this life plan would give her NO time for sleep. After her first few nights, she discovers that this hospital is overrun with blood sucking vampires with legitimately terrifying character designs. AYAOTD never shyed away from going for the terror, and the head vampire (who disguises himself as an adorable teen girl named Margot) at one point dangles Amanda off of the side of the hospital bragging about how he’s going to lick up her blood after she splatters on the ground below. HOORAY, KID’S SHOWS!
07) THE TALE OF THE SUPER SPECS
AYAOTD frequently featured haunted or possessed objects in addition to its creepy monsters, and the definitely inspired THEY LIVE super specs are easily the scariest of all. Young couple MaryBeth and her boyfriend Weeds (AYAOTD are pretty terrible at naming teens) are prepping for April Fool’s Day in Sardo’s magic shop (a staple of the series who pops up time and time again) when they are convinced to purchase special X-Ray goggles. Weeds tries them on to no avail, but MaryBeth sees a terrifying black figure whenever she puts on the googles, similar to the shadow people of THE NIGHTMARE fame. As it turns out, the duo opened an alternate dimension and when they attempt to close it, end up with almost the same fate as the family in KRAMPUS.
06) THE TALE OF THE MIDNIGHT MADNESS
This episode is probably the most blatant love letter AYAOTD ever wrote to the horror genre. Pete and Katie serve as some teens we all relate to, as they’re willing to do anything to keep their old-school movie theater afloat amongst a world being swept with megaplexes. AYAOTD favorite, Dr. Vink (with a vuh-vuh-vuh) makes a FIELD OF DREAMS style deal claiming that as long as the theater plays his films, the audiences will show up in droves. After a few successful weeks, Katie and Peter go back to showing other films and Dr. Vink decides to send friggin’ Nosferatu to step out of the film and into their lives. This is easily one of the best interpretations of the character and scared the absolute SHIT out of a generation with a monster they never knew was already iconic.
05) THE TALE OF THE 13TH FLOOR
Billy and Karen are two kids that like to break into the abandoned 13th floor of their building to play field hockey even though Karen sucks eggs at all sports and Billy likes to pick on her for being adopted. Charming. After a few hours of shitting on his sister both verbally and by demolishing her at sports, the building shakes and the two decide to catch the elevator down to their apartment only to be greeted by what appears to be a cross between Lurch, Boy George, and Fabio. The 13th floor has been bought and will soon be converted into a toy factory decorated to look like a mod-pastel nightclub from the 1980s. At night, Karen’s TV turns on by itself and she’s greeted by a grown man telling her he’s there to visit. Karen writes it off as a dream rather than calling the police to discuss a potential predator. The next day, Karen and Billy are invited to the toy factory to test out some of the new games, which aren’t really toys, but really these weird brainteasers on set pieces too large to mass-produce for a market of buyers. RED FLAG, KIDS. Long story short, the factory is all a disguise for aliens that have returned to take their daughter Karen back with them to their home planet and the aliens are these gross, faceless, pale creatures with grubby hands. Billy and Karen don’t believe them and run away, only for Karen’s true face to appear and we find out she really is an alien.
04) THE TALE OF THE LONELY GHOST
I still write “EMPLEH” on the bathroom mirror whenever I visit my parents simply to freak my sister out because of this episode. Amanda has been shipped off to her Aunt Dottie’s because her parents care far more about studying stone carvings than their teenage daughter’s happiness, instead forcing her to put up with her asshole cousin Beth all summer. Beth tortures Amanda as much as possible and forces her to spend the night in the haunted house across the street in order to be allowed to attend a pool party. Once in the house, spooky things start happening and “EMPLEH” begins showing up all over the walls. The ghost of a little girl lives inside of a mirror holding a locket, and it’s up to Amanda to finish this ghost’s business.
03) THE TALE OF THE DEAD MAN’S FLOAT
In the 1950s, a young Jay Baruchel smells something weird in a pool and is pulled underwater and dies because the lifeguard is too busy getting frisky with his sister. Fast forward to the 1990s where we have science geek Zeke Matthews and talented swimmer Clarice. After Zeke finds an abandoned pool hidden behind some lockers (because, of course) he makes a deal with Clarice that he’ll help her with school if she teaches him to swim. The two notice the weird smells and are suddenly attacked by a fucking HORRIFYING red swampy skeleton monster that can manifest as red liquid anywhere water can be present. Most AYAOTD monsters have some sort of a cartoonish vibe to them keeping them kid friendly, but this monster is straight nightmare fuel. The character design is effective and downright horrifying.
02) THE TALE OF THE LAUGHING IN THE DARK
As legend has it, Zeebo the clown stole the entire payroll of a circus in the 1920s, hiding inside of Laughing in the Dark. After throwing a still-lit cigar, the entire place burned down killing the clown inside. Playland rebuilt the “Laughing in the Dark” spookhouse with a dummy of Zeebo inside to pay homage to the ghost that apparently still haunts inside. Three friends named Josh, Kathy, and WeeGee (again with the names) decide to place a bet and dare Josh to steal Zeebo the clown’s nose. Josh does so after making it through the lackluster haunted house (including an a fake dragon that breathes LITERAL fire) and this really, really pisses off Zeebo. Suddenly, Josh finds himself stalked by cigar smoke, terrifying phone calls, clown shoes in pudding, and threatening balloons. Zeebos is one of the most recognizable characters in AYAOTD history, and is the scariest clown they’ve ever featured.
01) THE TALE OF THE GHASTLY GRINNER
Aspiring comic book artist, Ethan Wood (the wedgie kid from BILLY MADISON) meets a super hot punk comic book store owner who tells him his drawings remind him of the famed missing creator of THE GHASTLY GRINNER and gives him a free comic in the hopes that he can finish the tale. Through some crazy random happenstances, the titular Ghastly Grinner escapes the comic book and begins terrorizing everyone around Ethan’s life. Everyone turns into laughing idiots with blue slime oozing from their mouths. There’s something so unnatural about seeing slime oozing out of laughing faces while a comic book villain/clown is coming after you. This episode feels like the most perfect example of what made AYAOTD great. It’s creepy, creative, but most importantly, an absolute blast.
*All Photos: Nickelodeon Network