Blogtober 2020 – Are You Afraid of the Dark?

The 90’s had an impressive variety of kids tv shows. Nickelodeon was home to many of them and was perhaps the channel I spent the most time viewing as a kid, followed by Cartoon Network and Fox. I have many, many memories of sitting watching Nickelodeon shows as a kid, one of the shows I remember watching was Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Are You Afraid of the Dark? was a sci-fi/horror anthology series that first premiered on Nickelodeon on Oct. 31, 1990 and ran through 1996 in its original run. The series was brought back again in 1999 for two seasons and was revived, most recently, this past October for a three-part mini-series. The show acted somewhat as a children’s Twilight Zone, airing alongside other spooky, young adult programming like the Goosebumps tv series, which I also watched. Are You Afraid of the Dark? takes place in the woods where a group of friends, calling themselves The Midnight Society meet every Saturday night to exchange ghost stories; each episode featuring a different member of the group telling the story. The beginning of each episode would give a bit of a hint as to what the storyteller’s tale would contain, including interpersonal drama between friends or family members or something like being afraid of clowns.

The show’s inspiration from The Twilight Zone was pretty evident throughout the show, with each story being led with the line “Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I give you ‘The Tale of…” in clear reference to Rod Serling’s unmistakable introduction to each episode. In contrast to The Twilight Zone, the show typically had a happy ending – the kid would typically escape from the monster or haunted area all while learning a lesson. There were a few exceptions to this, but the show was directed at 8-15 year olds and any unsettling or twist endings were kept to a minimum. The stories told within the episodes were often based on stories like Sleepy Hollow, Phantom of the Opera, or the Monkey’s Paw(Simpsons did it!).

As one would expect from a Nickelodeon show produced in the 90’s it contained episodes with Melissa Joan Hart, Will Friedle, Tia & Tamera Mowery and many others as guest stars. The show itself was the effort of a Canadian production studio – Cinar(now known as Cookie Jar Group) and includes a list of up-and-coming young Canadian actors such as Hayden Christensen, Neve Campbell, and Ryan Gosling in guest starring roles.

Are You Afraid of the Dark? spent most of its time as part of Nickelodeon’s Saturday night programming block(SNICK) with daytime reruns of the episodes in the summertime. I still remember watching episodes like ‘The Tale of the Midnight Madness’ or ‘The Tale of the Prom Queen’, but there was a particular episode that scared me more than any other as a kid – The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float. I can almost feel all those childhood nightmares just mentioning it…

The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float begins in the 1950’s with a kid named Joe swimming in the school swimming pool. Suddenly, Joe is grabbed by something from the bottom of the pool and ultimately drowns. The story then switches to 1994 where science geek Zeke, seeking to impress Clorice, a member of the school swim team by showing her his discovery – a closed off section of their school that houses an abandoned swimming pool. They bring this discovery to the attention of the school board with a request to re-open the pool area, we then see the janitor glance at the pool and see what appears to be the shape of a body floating underneath the tarp covering the pool(ominous).

Jump forward a few weeks and we see Zeke suggesting to tutor Clorice with her Science assignment as she needs a passing grade to keep her place on the swim team. In return, she offers to give swimming lessons to Zeke. While Clorice attempts to instruct Zeke while in the pool, he confesses to having a fear of swimming as the result of a near-accident years earlier…establishing a personal obstacle for which he may need to overcome? Only moments later, both Zeke and Clorice are pulled underwater by something or someone before fortunately being aided by the school janitor, who then divulges the reason the pool was closed down and hidden away. The janitor, who happened to be the lifeguard on duty the day that Joe was drowned in the pool decades earlier, states an old cemetery once stood where the school was built. He then concludes the presence in the pool must be the spirit of a body not properly removed prior to construction as its slumber had been disturbed, though no one has ever seen anything. The encounter with the spirit had been preceded by a strong smell similar to rotten eggs, which leads Zeke to believe it is composed partially of an acid and suggests dumping Methyl Orange into the pool to cause a chemical reaction turning anything in the pool red(Science!). Mere seconds after pouring the compound into the pool, we finally get to see the terrifying crimson ghoul as it emerges from the water…

This scared the hell out of me as a kid…wait, why does it have a beard?

Zeke and Clorice are then pursued by the pool monster throughout the pool house as the monster is….made of water and can travel through the locker room pipes(EVERYONE in the school would have been dead by this point, right? All of a sudden it can travel OUTSIDE the swimming pool?). They get the idea to replicate a science class experiment of Zeke’s from earlier when he explains adding Mangenite to water causes a chemical reaction(like a volcano, more Science!) and rush to the science lab to conduct such an experiment. The Mangenite is dumped into the pool, causing the hideous monster to screech and melt away, all before cutting away to a happy ending showing Zeke and Clorice relaxing on a raft in the pool…

Having watched this episode in recent years, it’s somewhat laughable the things that once seemed so scary, but now just look dated to the point of almost comical. The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float is typically considered among the scariest episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? and was the cause of nightmares as a kid, very much the same way the “Return of the Mummy” episode of Goosebumps caused so much terror as a 9-year old. I will still go back and watch a few episodes here and there of Are You Afraid of the Dark? and in many ways may be more entertaining as an adult that has learned to appreciate these campy, cheesy horror stories. The Halloween season seemed like a perfect time to mention that stupid pool monster that seemed so scary 25 years ago…

Anyone else remember Are You Afraid of the Dark? or this particular episode? Thanks for reading!

Note: I intended to have todays’s post about F.E.A.R ready to go, but playing through it has gone much slower than intended due to being only able to play in short sessions before the motion sickness sets in(much like Half-Life 2). I decided to switch around my planned Monday and Friday posts…

3 thoughts on “Blogtober 2020 – Are You Afraid of the Dark?

    1. Yeah, I think I remember that episode! The Tale of the Laughing in the Dark also scared me pretty bad as a kid who was(is?) afraid of clowns…

      It’s funny how many of the 90’s Nickelodeon shows I still enjoy as much, if not even more than when I was a kid. I have a few of those old episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark I bought on Amazon Prime a couple years ago. I’m thinking I gonna have to go back and watch some before Halloween🎃

      Liked by 1 person

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