It’s October now, which means basic boys and girls across the land are celebrating the return of Hocus Pocus-watching season. To be fair, that movie is incredible, Bette Midler is everything, and as far as “scary movies” are concerned, HP is about as terrifying as Eloise at the Plaza. In essence, the film is 100% my speed, my innermost basic self is not ashamed, and it’s most definitely my go-to for fall/Halloween binge watching. It’s the only Halloween-centric thing, besides the Disney Channel Original classic, Halloweentown, that I can manage to watch without peeing my pants.
This is why I cannot for the life of me understand that when I was in college, I asked my mom for the entire series of Are You Afraid of the Dark? on DVD. Actually, there were three reasons:
A) I was making my Christmas list (Yes, I still make a Christmas list, get off me).
B) I vaguely remembered being too scared to watch the show when I was within the actual viewing demographic, and thought I would give it another shot.
C) It was only $15 on Amazon.
So once I got my bounty, I sat down with a couple of roommates and a plan to watch the entire series from start to finish. Turns out, I’m a total masochist who is still legit terrified of the dark because WTF WAS THIS SHOW? How was this geared toward kids? Don’t get me wrong — I’m a total scaredy-cat and I hate horror movies. It just does not compute to me that people will pay to see something on a giant screen that makes them want to pee their pants. However, this was a show, on Nickelodeon, starring teens, for teens. Can’t be that bad, right? LOL, of course it can. So, here is a list of episodes that I cannot get through without wanting to puke:
1. The Tale of The Closet Keepers: In this lighthearted story, a middle school-age deaf girl named Stacey gets abducted by aliens on her way home from school and put into a human zoo, you know, like you do. The head of the zoo, “The Keeper,” basically tells her that she needn’t try to escape because if she does, the alien alarm will sound and its pitch is so high it will make her brain goo come out of her earholes. Oh, and the cherry on top of Stacey’s super awesome day? Some little dweeb named Billy who literally just made fun of her for being deaf ALSO gets abducted by the human zoo, and now it’s up to Stacey to figure out how to get both herself and awful Billy back to Earth or else they’re doomed to a lifetime of being gazed at by vaguely steampunk aliens. She does — because she can’t hear said brain goo-inducing alarm and therefore can craft an escape plan. Obviously, there’s a Very Special LessonTM in here about how one’s differences are what makes them unique, which is an excellent moral and not scary at all. But let’s just throw this out there: As she’s escaping, The Keeper vows that he will come back for Stacy, maybe even years later. This poor girl has to live the rest of her life in sheer terror that one day she’ll be found and taken back to a human zoo where she’ll remain in captivity. Forever. Have a great night’s sleep!
2. The Tale of The Midnight Madness: An empty, old-timey cinemaplex ranks somewhere between The Shining hotel and Buffalo Bill’s basement as one of the most terrifying places on earth. So when you combine that concept with a truly evil theatre where the movies come to life and stalk you through the aisles and back rooms, you might as well give up on being OK for the rest of your days. The scariest part of “The Tale of the Midnight Madness” was Nosferatu, an old-timey vampire who escapes the film playing in the episode and goes after the episode’s protagonist. Nosferatu is not the sexy nor the sparkly kind of vampire. You know that this Nosferatu is evil because he has ratchet yellow nails and doors make creaky sounds every time he enters a room. He also looks like if Voldemort had a baby with Jocelyn Wildenstein. If that doesn’t horrify you, I honestly don’t know what will.
3. The Tale of The Dollmaker: The Uncanny Valley, for those who are unaware, is the space between “doll/cartoon/etc.” and “human” where things begin to look a little bit too lifelike to not make your skin crawl. Enter “The Tale of The Dollmaker.” In this episode, a girl named Melissa rescues her missing friend Susan, who it turns out, was not missing, but absorbed by the energy of an evil frigging dollhouse and turned into an actual porcelain doll. At one point, to prove she’s no longer a human girl, Susan breaks off her hands and presents them to Melissa all casual, like “LOL GIRL I’M NOT EVEN MADE OF SKIN ANYMORE!” It is so disturbing. When I was a kid, I had three shelves of china dolls in my bedroom. When the lights would go off before bed, I could see their shiny white faces gleaming in the darkness. I eventually convinced my mom to move them into the back room of our house, and in turn I convinced myself they would be mad for having been relocated and take their evil doll revenge on me. Needless to say, this episode is still a big fat half-hour of nope. I should say, spoiler alert, Melissa rescues Susan by throwing them both out of a third story window, where they only sustain minor injuries, but have to somehow explain to the world that Susan wasn’t missing for legit years and years of time, she was just in her house, transformed into a mute Victorian-era American Girl doll. Classic mistake!
4. The Tale of The Laughing in The Dark: First of all, the title alone elicits enough imagery for me to stay away. People who laugh for no reason are creepy AF. Add that to the fact that this tale is about an evil clown, and it’s a definite hard pass. There are two movies I would never see for any amount of movie: The first is Marley and Me, which is arguably more horrifying than any AYAOTD? episode because it involves a dying dog. The second is It, because there is nothing in this world scarier than a clown. In this episode, a kid names Josh and his friend Weegee (seriously) go to a haunted house called, you guessed it, “Laughing in the Dark,” which is apparently haunted by a clown ghost named Zeebo. Legend has it that Zeebo lit a cigar in the original haunted house attraction, accidentally burned it down, and died in the fire. Because kids are the worst, Weegee dares Josh to go in and steal Zeebo’s nose, lest he be branded as a chicken. For the next two days, Josh is stalked by a disembodied wheezing clown voice urging him to “Give it back” while simultaneously terrorizing him by replacing his delicious home-cooked pasta with burning cigars, smoking up in his living room, and generally doing whatever it is that evil clowns do. Josh, of course, returns the nose, wherein a freaking carnie appears (a carnie being the only thing that could compete with a clown in terms of terror), laughs maniacally, and tells him “It’s the most fun in the park when you’re laughing in the dark” while smoking a cigar, proving that he is most likely the ghost of Zeebo, taking human form.
5. The Tale of the Chameleons: Tons of celebrities got their start on AYAOTD?, but the scariest one features none other than Tia and Tamera Mowry, stars of the seminal 90s classic Sister, Sister. I remember this episode scaring the shit out of me purely because it was one of the few that did not have a happy ending. “The Tale of the Chameleons” has three truly terrifying things in it: evil doppelgängers, reptiles, and a ginger child. Essentially, Tia/Tamera gets bit by an evil chameleon, which then bites her again and turns into an evil Mowry doppelgänger. They spend the entire episode staging a reptilian power play until actual Mowry’s dumb friend Sharon makes a wrong move, and commits actual Mowry to a life stuck at the bottom of a well, whereas evil doppelgänger Mowry presumably infiltrates the household and creates an army of chameleon body-snatchers. Also, remember “bite you once, bite you twice, a little water, pay the price”? Shiver. This line would only be not scary if it had been uttered by Jackée.
6. The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float: This was an episode about a demon that lives beneath a middle school swimming pool and drowns people. Drowns ‘em right to death. He looked like a walking crime scene. Once, I was at a friend’s “pool party birthday celebration” and I thought I saw something red coming up from the drain at the middle of the pool. I had what could only be described as my first ever bitch fit, and I believe running out of that pool was the first and last time I ever engaged in water aerobics. Turns out it was just a band-aid, but still. Look at this guy, you would have cried too.
7. The Tale of The Frozen Ghost: Two. Words. “I’m. CooooooOoooooOooold.”
8. The Tale of the Ghastly Grinner: I adamantly refuse to even watch a second of this episode. Screw this guy with his oozy blue mouth, and screw the writers of this episode for even thinking this was an okay thing to do to us. The Ghastly Grinner is a maniacal, laughing clown-jester thing that drools blue shit and COMES OUT OF YOUR CLOSET IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. Once, my roommates thought it would be funny to set my desktop background to a picture of the good old GG. When I opened my computer, I had a full-blown panic attack, cried for 25 minutes, and napped for the rest of the day. It was tragic.
Honorable Mentions: The Tale of the Lonely Ghost, The Tale of the Night Shift, The Tale of Apartment 2B, The Tale of the Thirteenth Floor