Are You Afraid of the Dark? is a joint Canadian-American horror/fantasy-themed anthology series. The original series was a joint production between the Canadian company Cinar and the American company Nickelodeon. The show was filmed in Richmond,British Columbia and Montreal, Quebec.
The episode "The Tale of the Twisted Claw" was aired as a pilot on the evening of October 31, 1991 in the USA and more than a year earlier in October 1990 in Canada. Are You Afraid of the Dark? was aired from August 15, 1992 to April 20, 1996 on Nickelodeon's SNICK. Are You Afraid of the Dark? also aired on the Canadian television network YTV.
A revived series with new directors, writers, and cast was produced by Nickelodeon from 1999 to 2000 and also aired on SNICK. The sole member from the original lineup to return for the sixth and seventh seasons was Tucker (Daniel DeSanto), although Ross Hullreturned for the concluding miniseries, which notably broke from the show's established format by blurring the line between story and reality.
Both series of Are You Afraid of the Dark? revolves around a group of teenagers who referred to themselves as "The Midnight Society". Every week, at a secret location in the woods, one member would tell a scary story to the group. The actual story, rather than the telling, was displayed to the television viewer. The story was shown between the group's arrival at the site and their departure. Each storyteller would begin their story by saying "Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story..." at which point they would toss out a handful of regular sugar(which the characters referred to as "midnight dust") from a leather pouch into a campfire to heighten the flames and produce an eerie white smoke. The storyteller would continue by announcing its title (The Tale of...).
The themes of the stories usually revolves around a variety of paranormal phenomena, such as ghosts, goblins, magic, Dragons, haunted houses, magical curses, aliens, witches and the like coming into contact with average youths. Usually, the episodes were either filmed in the woods, in abandoned houses, or in public places like schools or libraries.
Sources of these tales vary in different ways; many were adaptations of public domain fairy tales and short stories or urban legends. For example, the episode "The Tale of the Twisted Claw" is an adaptation of W.W. Jacobs' legendary short story "The Monkey's Paw".
Sometimes, the stories were inspired by a certain event in the life of the storyteller. In the episode "The Tale of the Crimson Clown", for instance, Tucker blackmailed his brother Gary with a poem he had found, which Gary had written for Samantha. Gary then told a story in which a naughty younger brother was punished cruelly for his evil deeds. At the end of the episode, Tucker gave the poem back to his brother.
Many of the horror stories on Are You Afraid of the Dark? ended with a "happy ending"; for example, in the episode "The Tale of the Lonely Ghost," a dead child and her elderly mother are reunited. Nearly every story focused on ending with a resolution and the main character's safe escape from whatever trouble had come upon them.
However, the occasional episode would deviate from this formula, usually ending with the demise of the character. In one notable case, "The Tale of the Dark Music", the unseen monster offers the lead character anything he wants in exchange for humans as food (which could still be interpreted as a happy ending for the lead character). Another, more extreme example, is seen in "The Tale of Vampire Town", where the lead character, a goth character who is obsessed with vampires, abandons the dark clothing and such by the end of the episode, only to be killed by a vampire himself.
At the end of most episodes, one character (usually Gary in the first run and Tucker in the second run of the show) would throw a red bucket of water onto the fire, stating "I declare this meeting of the Midnight Society closed," and the group would leave the campsite, thus ending the storytelling. Sometimes, the story would be related to an event (e.g. in "The Tale of Laughing in the Dark," Kristen, who was afraid of clowns, ran off when Eric put on a clown mask. Then, everyone chased after her). This would cause either Gary or Tucker to hurriedly dump the water on the fire and the Midnight Society would run off to wherever they go after meetings.
The Midnight Society
Each member of the Midnight Society from 1991-1996 has a distinct personality, and a notable trend in their story telling. Though not all of their stories have similar styles and plots, many of the stories each character carries a unique aspect that reflects the nature of the storyteller, and what they find to be most important to themselves. In the second generation, the characters derive their stories more from events that happen during the days leading up to the society meetings instead of from their personal interests and views. Many of the later episodes were simply given to a random society member to tell.
Gary: An unassuming, bookish looking young man. The founder of the Midnight Society. Gary has a distinct fascination with magic, especially where the magician Houdini is concerned. His stories tend to revolve around cursed or enchanted objects with supernatural properties, and how in the wrong hands they can cause disaster for both the holder, and those around them.
Betty Anne: A vibrant girl who has an open and eager passion for the bizarre and twisted. Her stories often include themes where an alien or supernatural force is either trying to break into the world of the characters, or else trying to drag them into their own unnatural realms. Her stories tend to have twists reminiscent of Twilight Zone episodes, hinting that the protagonists of her stories have not yet escaped danger.
Kiki: A spunky, tomboyish girl who often makes fun of others. Many of her stories involve plots where the danger of carelessness or deceitfulness, as well as the danger of the past repeating itself. Also notable is that large number of the characters in her stories are also of African American descent, though the trend dies off later on in the series.
Frank: A punkish teenager with an in-your-face attitude. Though his stories don't often have a running theme, they do often have the recurring character Dr. Vink appear as the villain, or at least, the creator of the story's antagonist.
Tucker: Gary's younger brother, and the youngest member of the Midnight Society. Due to his age, he is often portrayed as youthfully obnoxious. His stories tend to involve family relationships that are at first sour, but grow in strength in the face of adversity, possibly reflecting his relationship with his brother Gary. There is also a running theme of the characters accidentally unleashing evil upon their world. After Gary left, he took over his place as the president of The Midnight Society. Once Tucker is in charge, he's less of a brat and more of a serious leader like his older brother. Though its never mentioned, the notable difference in their ethnicity may hint that Gary and Tucker are actually step brothers, and underline the difficulties of their relationship.
Sam: A shy girl with an obvious mutual crush on Gary, which becomes one of the highlighted arch of both their developments in the series. Reflecting this affection for Gary, Sam's stories tend to have more of a strong theme of love, and its endurance even beyond death.
Kristen: A girl who though squeamish about much else, has a fondness for ghost stories and fairy tales. She has a growing crush on David, and their affection for each other is a developing arch in the first few seasons. She likes to dress up for her storytelling, and her stories almost always deal with ghosts from the past who have unfinished business that they cannot complete without the aid of the living.
David: A quiet boy with a mysterious expression. Reflecting his introverted nature, and need to deal with his crush on Kristen, David's stories tend to be less about malignant outside forces, and more to do with the evil of past events left unresolved, or the darkness inside normal people, and the consequences of not dealing with their actions.
Stig: His nickname may come from the term stigma, as he is marked an outsider for his notable lack of hygiene, Stig is the last initiate to be entered into the Midnight Society's generation at the time. As such, he has only two stories in the series before the cast is changed. Due to the aversion people seem to have against him for his looks, both his stories seem to revolve around outsiders judged for their appearances and tastes.
Eric: Eric is portrayed as a diminutive teenager with visible Irish ancestry that influences his first story. As he has only had two stories in the first season before his character was cut, there is no visible theme in his storytelling. He is the least charismatic character after Frank, making it easy to understand why he was cut so quickly. He is the only character to leave the show without any explanation for his departure.
Several years after the last meeting of the Midnight Society, Tucker returns to reinitialize the meetings, inviting his own circle of friends to reform the Midnight Society.
Quinn: Quinn is usually getting in trouble at school and at home, but he is a smart kid that likes to make fun of Andy teamed up with Vange. His stories will make you cringe.
Vange: Vange (short for Evangeline) is the youngest of the New Midnight Society. She is a tomboy and doesn't have a problem with speaking her mind. Teamed up with Quinn she makes fun of Andy a lot.
Andy: As mean as he may look to you, Andy is very sweet and kind. He is always being made fun of by Quinn and Vange for having more muscle than brains. He lives on a farm with his family. He often works there before and after school.
Megan: Megan is a rich kid who is not very comfortable in the woods. She would rather hold the New Midnight Society Meetings in her own, well-managed, backyard. Tucker, not being the stickler his brother was, lets Megan refurnish the campfire with some comfortable old couches.
The Midnight Society (1991–1996)
|Ross Hull||Gary||1991–1996 (also appeared in "The Tale of the Silver Sight", 3 episodes, in 2000)|
|Raine Pare-Coull||Betty Ann||1991–1996|
One of the more significant recurring characters was Sardo (Richard Dumont), owner of "Sardo's Magic Mansion" (a magic shop). He would often attempt to sell a character a "prized" item, succeeding almost every single time. He often had items in his shop that contained real properties of magic, yet did not know until it was revealed in the story. One of the most memorable recurring jokes in the series occurred when someone would address him as "Mr. Sardo". He would then get irritated and exclaim: "That's SarDO! No mister; accent on the doh!" Another recurring line was: "Have you seen our vomit?" Additionally, when selling someone an item, he would often ask a rather high price. The main character would mention how much money they had, and Sardo would grab the money saying, "But I'm losing on the deal." Although he rarely got what he wanted, he would often end up helping the characters, often unintentionally. He appeared in Gary's stories although in the later seasons, he appeared in a two of Tucker's and one of David's in the episode "The Tale Of The Dark Dragon".
Another recurring character was Dr. Vink (Aron Tager). He was a physically imposing man who would often appear as a mad scientist, sorcerer, and the like. When he enters, he introduces himself by saying, "Vink's the name. Dr. Vink." He would also get his name mispronounced, usually something like "Dr. Fink?" When this happened, he would respond "Vink. With a va-va-va". Often, the protagonist would call him a "nutbag" behind his back, assuming he could not hear him, only to have him reply later, "...and I am not a nutbag." Unlike Sardo whose character was set in a magic shop, Dr. Vink had many 'unique endeavors' as he called them, for his stories. These ranged from living deep in the woods conducting strange nature experiments, being a retired filmmaker, owning his own restaurant as head chef and lastly a barbershop. His activities were usually villainous and designed to put the characters in peril and allow him the last laugh. However in his last appearance, "The Tale of Cutter's Treasure" (which was told by both Frank and Gary), he allied himself with Sardo and the main characters without his usual maliciousness. He appeared in Frank's stories. Aron Tager also played the carnival worker who stands in front of the Funhouse and invites people to go inside in the episode "The Tale of the Laughing in the Dark".
The character of Zeebo the Clown, also played by Tager, who appeared in "The Tale of Laughing in the Dark" is referenced in several other stories, for example, in the episode "The Tale of the Whispering Walls", two children mention seeing him at a fun park, in the episode "The Tale of the Mystical Mirror", a girl says she will look like Zeebo if she wears too much lipstick, and in the episode "The Tale of the Crimson Clown" in the boys room a video game called Zeebo's Big House can be seen on the desk with a picture of Zeebo on it as the title character. The video game was also mentioned in the episode "The Tale of Train Magic". Finally, in the episode "The Tale of the Night Shift", the teenage janitor is called Zeebo by his supervisor a few times at the beginning of the episode.
The villain, the "Ghastly Grinner" (star of "Tale of the Ghastly Grinner"), like Zeebo the Clown, appears in a comic book that "Dark" characters read. In "Tale of the Ghastly Grinner", The Grinner is shown as being the star of a comic book.
Although not nearly as prestigious as the guest stars of similar shows such as Tales from the Crypt, The Twilight Zone and Tales from the Darkside there were a fair number of notable actors, many of whom would become much more famous later in their careers. Some of these include Mia Kirshner, Bobcat Goldthwait, Charles S. Dutton, Ryan Gosling, Neve Campbell, Will Friedle, Melissa Joan Hart, Kim Schraner, Frank Gorshin, Hayden Christensen, Daniel Clark, Ryan Cooley, Tia Mowry, Tamera Mowry, Laura Vandervoort, Danny Cooksey, Tara Lipinski, Jay Baruchel, Jewel Staite, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Gilbert Gottfried, Jennifer Finnigan, Tatyana Ali, Jennifer Irwin, Aaron Ashmore, Christopher Castile, Colin Ferguson, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Gregory Smith, Harold Howard, Richard Church and Laura Bertram.
Reruns of the series have since been broadcast internationally, including airings in the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Germany, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Spain, Serbia,Italy, India, Venezuela, Israel, France, South Korea, Japan, Chile, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Poland, Russia, Kazakhstan, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Norway,Macedonia, Sweden, Portugal, the Netherlands, Malaysia and the Philippines.