Are You Afraid of the Dark?

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If not, you're about to be!

Are You Afraid of the Dark was a children's horror show made by YTV in Canada and aired on Nickelodeon in the US. The pilot of the show was broadcast on October 31, 1990. The original show lasted from August, 1991 to April, 1996. The show was then revived in February, 1999 and lasted until June, 2000.

The story revolved around a club of teenagers called the Midnight Society who meet around a campfire in the woods once a week to tell horror stories. Each of the members had their own quirk and storytelling style; one specialized in fairy-tale like stories, one specialized in Trapped in Another World stories... The show was just your typical Speculative Fiction/horror anthology series like The Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt, but for kids. The nature of the show's scariness can be likened to R.L. Stine's Goosebumps novels (Stine's books themselves were later adapted into a TV series as well). Creative plots, readiness to completely eschew formula, and genuinely frightening imagery more than made up for the limited budgets. "AYAOTD" introduced many a child of the 90s to some of their first Horror Tropes, not to mention Sci-Fi and the occasional dose of Kafka.

While the original Midnight Society went through a few new additions and farewells over the seasons, a drastic change came when a new production team picked up after a three year gap in new episodes. The entire cast was replaced except for Tucker, the previous leader Gary's little brother, who now led the new Midnight Society. The entire flavor of the stories also changed, becoming less creepy and surprising, and more about leading up to an Anvilicious Aesop. This Retool lasted all of a year.

The show also had a tie-in video game, The Tale of Orpheo's Curse, released in 1994. It was a DOS-based point-and-click adventure game (think Myst, but with more character interaction). The framing device is that you are a potential new member of the Midnight Society telling a story to gain admittance; the actual game is the story, about a brother and sister stuck in a haunted theater, trying to break the curse on the place before they end up as the next victims.

No description of the series would be complete without mentioning its terrifying opening credits sequence. If you grew up watching the show, chances are there was a time when you or a sibling would run from the room within seconds of it turning up on the TV screen.

Tropes used in Are You Afraid of the Dark? include:
  • Alien Among Us: "The Tale of the Thirteenth Floor".
  • Afterlife Express: The radio station in "109.1".
  • Ambiguously Gay: Sardo. Just look at him: Earrings, effeminate mannerisms, high voice, quasi-obsessive tidiness...Everything about him screams of Camp Gay.
  • And I Must Scream: Several examples, including Susan in "The Doll Maker" (until Melissa found her), Karin at the end of "The Thirteenth Floor" (she literally has no mouth and is stuck in a suspended animation-type state, although her species doesn't seem to need a mouth to communicate), Ross at the end of "Pinball Wizard" (trapped in the pinball game), and Cutter in "Cutter's Treasure" as Cutter's punishment of eternal life stuck guarding his treasure.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: In The Chameleons, Janice gets permanently turned into a chameleon and drowned in a well by the chameleon that was disguised as her (after Sharon failed to Spot the Imposter), who also plans to turn the other protagonist and her family into chameleons as well.
  • Artifact of Doom: The clown's nose in "The Laughing in the Dark", the titular Twisted Claw, the Curious Camera.
  • Attack of the Killer Whatever
  • Bad Dreams: In the "Tale of the Shiny Red Bicycle", where the main character has recurrent nightmares of his friend's death.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Happened with many episodes, including "Super Specs", "Pinball Wizard", and most (in)famously, "Chameleons".
  • Be Careful What You Wish For
  • The Blank: "The Tale of the Thirteenth Floor", "The Tale of Many Faces".
  • Cassandra Truth see also Adults Are Useless
  • Catch Phrase: Sardo has two: "It's Sar-DO. No mister, accent on the 'do." and "All right, but I'm losing on the deal." The second one gets Lampshaded in one episode, when an old acquaintance of Sardo gives him a box containing a genie for free and says "For once Sardo, you really are losing on the deal."
    • Dr. Vink has "It's Vink, with a vah-vah-vah" and "I am not a nutbag." He often busts out the second one even when no one calls him a nutbag.
  • Celestial Bureaucracy: The plot of The Tale Of Station 109.1 involves by none other than Gilbert Gottfried.
  • Clingy MacGuffin: The Curious Camera in the episode of the same name.
  • Creepy Child: Several, but the Waif Kid from "The Tale of the Silver Sight" is particularly memorable.
  • Creepy Doll
  • Dead All Along
  • Diabolus Ex Machina
  • Don't Fear the Reaper: Played with in "The Tale of Station 109.1." The station was a set-up to give ghosts that somehow got stuck on Earth a way to cross over to the afterlife. A couple of the people seen are terrified and forced to go in, but an old man that had been looking for "home" welcomes the opportunity. The station manager Roy (played by Gilbert Gottfried) explains why:

"It's only horrible if you've led a bad life. If you led a good life, it's the best thing goin'."

  • Downer Ending: Quite a few, but the "Tale of the Chameleons" especially.
    • It should be noted that most episodes had (somewhat) happy endings.
      • Not that it didn't play with the idea. In "The Tale of the Dark Music," after the monster in the basement eats the neighborhood bully, he gives the protagonist a new bicycle (said bully had previously thrown his old one under a street sweeper). The monster then says that he'll give the protagonist anything he desires as long as he keeps feeding him people. This is considered a happy ending, even though the final scene is him smiling evilly as his annoying little sister is shouting at him.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Some episodes ended in this way.
  • Eyeless Face: The Keeper in "The Tale of the Wisdom Glass".
  • Fairest of Them All: "The Tale of the Mystical Mirror".
  • Fauxlosophic Narration: The introductory speeches given before starting every story.
  • Framing Device: The entire series was a bunch of kids telling stories around a campfire.
  • Gainax Ending: The final scene of the last episode, where it is shown that Gary's grandfather was telling "The Tale of the Silver Sight" to that generation's Midnight Society. Did the events of those episodes really happen, or was it just shown with familiar characters and a modern setting we know for our convenience? He could not have possibly known all the names of the Midnight Society members yet to come or that he'd have grandchildren for sure.
    • Given the nature of the show, he could've known.
  • Genre Savvy: "The Tale Of The Bookish Babysitter".
  • Grand Finale: "The Tale of the Silver Sight", also the only episodes to have the Midnight Society as the characters in the main plot.
  • Headless Horseman: "The Tale of the Midnight Ride".
  • Hoist By Her Own Petard: Marie wanted Catherine's ring, but she couldn't give it to her since she values it so much. But in the end, to spare her sister the curse she decided to give Marie her ring saying it doesn't mean anything to her anymore. Once Marie got the ring, the curse on both Catherine and her sister were lifted. And Marie is forced back into her position again.
  • Horror Anthology
  • Honest John's Dealership: Mr. Sardo.
    • "It's Sardo. No mister, accent on the 'doh'!"
    • Played with in "The Tale Of The Vacant Lot", which crosses it with The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday. You can buy anything you need from it, but if you don't have the money to pay for it, the proprietor will take something else in exchange. She steals the protagonist's outer and inner beauty, turning her from an kind, attractive girl into a hideous Jerkass. Don't worry, she gets better at the end.
  • Hypno Trinket: In "The Tale of the Hungry Hounds," a girl finds a horse-riding jacket worn by her aunt that possesses her into feeding the dogs that she left to starve when she died.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: "The Tale of the..."
  • Insistent Terminology: That's Sar DO. No 'mister', accent on the 'do'. Lampshaded in one of the later episodes where someone actually says his name right, and he launches into the correction anyway, stopping short with surprised when he realized someone pronounced his name right.
  • Internal Homage: Zeebo the Monster Clown is appearently the writing team's favourite character: in later episodes, "zeeb" is a common insult, people reference his carnival ride and such. Heck, the guy even has a couple of video games dedicated to him in-universe. Interestingly, almost every single one of these Call Backs come from a different writer.
  • Just Woke Up That Way: The Tale of the Hunted, in which after a girl named Diana finds a necklace in the woods and has a strange dream about a wolf known as The Blaze, ends up in the body of a wolf to learn what it feels like to be hunted down like an animal.
  • The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday: "Sardo's Magic Mansion" was a recurring setting in several episodes. Unlike many examples of this trope, however, Sardo did not appear to make the magical items in his shop, or often that he was ever even aware that he was selling anything that was actually magical.
    • Also appeared in "The Tale of the Vacant Lot," a Deal with the Devil episode, where the more magic stuff a girl bought from the owner, the uglier she became.
    • The toy factory in "The Thirteenth Floor".
  • Monster Clown: Zeebo the Clown and the Crimson Clown.
    • The Ghastly Grinner, an evil jester who stares into people's eyes and leaves them grinning, drooling idiots.
  • More Than Mind Control: In "The Tale of the Mystical Mirror", Ms. Valenti uses the titular device to entrance her beauties showing them their desires to be beautiful. Cindy is able to defeat her by having a purer heart and just wanting her friends back.
  • Never Split the Party
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Everyone in the Mignight Society to a certain extent, but Betty Ann in particular.
  • Nineties Anti-Hero: "The Tale of the Ghastly Grinner".
  • Poor Communication Kills: The aliens in "The Tale of the Thirteenth Floor" cloud have saved themselves a lot of trouble if they had told Karin she was an alien early on instead of waiting until after they were forced to leave the planet.
  • Portal Book: Appears in "The Tale of the Bookish Baby-sitter" and "The Tale of the Ghastly Grinner."
  • The Power of Rock: Invoked in "The Tale of the Hatching"
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The actors of the original series all left to go to college (which was written in the series), which is why the later episodes have new people (except for Gary's brother, Tucker).
  • Recurring Character: "Sardo" and "Dr. Vink" were the pet characters of their particular Midnight Society storyteller, so whenever their turn came up there was a good chance you'd see them put in an appearance. If you'd been paying attention, then, the implications of a story they announce had been a collaborative effort were immediately apparent.
  • Rewriting Reality: "The Tale of the Dream Machine."
  • Running Gag: Vink, not Fink--with a "va-va-va." And he is "not a nutbag. (As he is fond of reminding people, whether or not they have called him a nutbag.)
    • Any one of Vink's, erm, endeavors is called The Wild Boar.
    • Subverted in "The Tale of Cutter's Treasure". Rush, the boy lead, calls him Dr. Vink (instead of Dr. Fink, like every other episode) the first time, and even Vink has caught on that everyone thinks he's a nutbag.
    • Also, it's "Sar-DOH"! No Mr., accent on the "do". And he's losing on the deal!
      • Have you sampled his vomit?
  • Scary Librarian: The Quiet Librarian, who sucks sound into a magic box (including human voices).
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Many examples, e.g. "Pinball Wizard": "Enjoy your free games, you'll be playing them FOREVER! BWAHAHAHAHA!"
  • Shout-Out: "Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society" is a direct reference to The Twilight Zone, in which stories were always "submitted for your approval."
    • The high speed tracking shot used in "The Tale Of The Frozen Ghost" is possibly an homage to the The Evil Dead movies.
  • Spooky Photographs: "The Tale of the Curious Camera".
  • Spot the Imposter: Notably subverted in the Tale of the Chameleons when it is revealed that Janice's best friend made the wrong choice.
  • Taken for Granite: "The Tale Of The Stone Maiden".
  • This Is Reality
  • Tomato in the Mirror
  • Trickster, drifting into Magnificent Bastard: Dr.Vink.
  • Twist Ending: You better believe it.
  • Unfinished Business
  • We Need a Distraction
  • Vain Sorceress: Two of them.
  • You Look Like You've Seen a Ghost
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: "The Tale of the Dangerous Soup".

The video game provides examples of:

  • Abandoned Area: A vaudeville theatre.
  • And I Must Scream: The ghosts, the real Orpheo, possibly Elizabeth.
  • Bag of Sharing: Averted; when the siblings are separated, they only have the items they individually picked up, and one of the puzzles is getting a critical item from one to the other.
  • Body Motifs: A significant number of puzzles involve eyeballs, fake or... otherwise.
  • Cain and Abel: Orpheo's daughters, Mary and Elizabeth
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Mary turned Orpheo into a wax statue and took his appearance and identity.
  • Escape Artist: One of the ghosts, Aldo.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Orpheo; subverted, as the evil Orpheo is actually Mary.
  • Framing Device / Leaning on the Fourth Wall: You the player are a potential new member of the Midnight Society; "The Tale of Orpheo's Curse" is the story you're telling to determine your membership.
  • Ghostly Goals: Prevent more innocents from falling victim to the curse, breaking the curse and ending their undeath.
  • Guide Dang It: The spectres puzzle. Even walkthroughs are baffled. Luckily, clicking randomly often results in the puzzle being solved anyway.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Twofold, the first is Mary using a curse to get rid of her father and sister so she can be the star. This backfires however as the curse affected the whole theater and prevented her from doing the magic tricks properly, resulting in a lot of deaths for the volunteers (though one wonders why they would hang around after that many failures). The second is when the siblings finally break the curse. Causing it to rebound on Mary and turn her into an old woman till she eventually dies.
  • It's a Wonderful Failure: Mess up, and you get a cutscene showing the characters' Fate Worse Than Death, followed by a return to the Midnight Society campfire where the members vote on the story and give you hints on how to improve it.
  • Jump Scare: So, you can interact with this wax statue. Will it give you a hint or just make a scary face at you? Or will it come to life and start chasing you?
  • Mad Artist: Orpheo's obsession with putting on a successful magic show probably qualifies. Turns out it was Mary trying to prove she a competent magician.
  • Magicians Are Wizards: A lot of Orpheo's former magic show was standard stage magician stuff, but then there's the teleportation booths and all the black magic Mary did.
  • No OSHA Compliance: The catwalks. Justified Trope, as the theater predates OSHA and has been abandoned for decades, [but that doesn't make it any better for the players.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: The theater ghosts are apparently created when magic tricks went wrong and killed them and are stuck as they did when they died (e.g. beheaded, stuck full of swords, drowned in chains), and they can only appear to the living for a short amount of time.
  • Pensieve Flashback
  • Portal Network: The teleportation boxes, though usually they don't teleport directly into another box.
  • Saw a Woman In Half: One of the ghosts. Her bottom half keeps drifting away on its own. Less fatally, Alex gets cut into three pieces at one point.
  • Stage Magician: Orpheo by profession, though there's definitely real magic involved.
  • Wax Museum Morgue: Possibly. It's assumed that the wax statues have always been wax, but you have to wonder when you find wax molds in the shapes of the main characters...