October really is the perfect time for Halloween. As the days grow shorter, the sun sets earlier, and the leaves start to crackle, the idea of staying in with a bucket of popcorn and a scary book or movie grows more appealing. At least, it does to me!
I’ll admit I’m a bit of a coward when it comes to horror flicks, but there is something fascinating about the psychology of scaring yourself on purpose. Maybe we are compelled toward the dark side of the human psyche. Maybe we enjoy the allure of the supernatural because it’s the ultimate escapism from real life. Or maybe we just like the idea of facing a monster and knowing we’ll come out alive . . . but not unscathed.
A few weeks ago, I tweeted about “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”, a long-running show on Nickelodeon that was like “The Twilight Zone” meets “Tales From the Crypt” for the middle-school crowd back in my day. The show covered everything from urban legends to traditional haunted house stories to tales of demonic possession and vengeful clowns. I watched many TV programs as a kid, but for some reason, this one has stuck with me the longest. And judging by the countless responses to my tweet, many other millennials in their early 30s fondly remember running home after school to catch a new episode of this twisted, often bizarre, and sometimes terrifying show.
Here are the episodes that people seemed to remember most because they were mentioned again and again in the responses to my tweet!
- The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float: Two kids find an abandoned pool hidden in the bowels of their school that harbors a terrifying, blood-red monster. This is arguably the scariest episode ever created for this show! It’s been years since I’ve seen it, but I can still remember the image of a bright red head rising slowly from the pool. This episode was mentioned more times than any other in the responses to my tweet.
- The Tale of the Dollmaker: People also mentioned this episode over and over! It’s about a girl whose friend has supposedly moved away, but then she finds a very realistic-looking dollhouse that is an exact copy of her friend’s house . . . and begins to suspect that her friend never left at all. Listen, dolls are one of my phobias and I refused to play with them as a child, so I get why this episode has been burned into so many people’s brains!
- The Tale of the Lonely Ghost: This episode was about a girl whose rude, snotty cousin challenges her to spend a night in a haunted house. Much like the Dead Man’s Float, this one had one particular image that has never left me: that of a mirror in a dark room, reflecting the words “HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME” scrawled all over the walls. I remember my mom yelling at me because my little brother (who insisted on watching this show with me) was terrified of that scene!
- The Tale of the Prom Queen: Several people mentioned this episode as being one of their most memorable. It’s about three teenagers who go hunting for the ghost of a girl reputed to have died on her prom night many years ago. I remember the epic twist that was revealed at the end of the story, and so do many others who watched this show!
- The Tale of the Pinball Wizard: This was another favorite that was tweeted at me numerous times. This episode features a boy who gets trapped inside a pinball machine and is forced to play a larger-than-life version of the game in order to survive. I loved how campy and 90s-video-game-worthy this episode was! This is another one with an epic twist at the end. What I liked most about “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” is that the storytellers were never afraid to go super dark with the ending.
I’ve never considered writing a horror story myself, but reading through people’s tweets and the synopses for these episodes makes me really want to try. There’s no better compliment for a writer, I think, than to have your story stick with someone from the age of 13 to the age of 33, and the people who crafted this show certainly did that for a whole generation.
Are you a fan of horror? What books, movies, shows, etc. have stayed with you through the years and why?