Growing up in the 90’s was wonderful. Horror was actively marketed towards us kids and teens and we had all sorts of franchises like Goosebumps, Fear Street, and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark to fuel our love of the macabre. One of my personal favorites was Are You Afraid of the Dark, an anthology series by Nickelodeon that aired from 1990-1996 and again in 1999-2000.
Each show began with a group of teens around a campfire and each week a different teen got to tell a story. The stories ranged in quality like all anthology shows do, but for the most part Are You Afraid of the Dark was a great show. The scares were legit and the atmosphere was wonderful. I honestly think the atmosphere is what truly made the show unique and such a fun watch.
Nickelodeon was a branding machine in the 90’s, and almost all of their shows got all sorts of merchandise tie-ins. Are You Afraid of the Dark had books, VHS tapes, and a board game. They also had three cassette tapes that were released featuring new Are You Afraid of the Dark stories. I recently came across a copy of all three tapes and decided to give these forgotten Are You Afraid of the Dark stories a listen.
The first tape released was Are You Afraid of the Dark Tales from The Midnight Society Virtual Nightmare and Other Scary Stories. According to a reddit post, this tape was given away as part of the Nick or Treat contest. I remember it also being sold in stores. It came packaged with a forty page flipbook and featured the cast (Ross Hull as Gary, Jodie Resther as Kiki, and Joanna Garcia as Sam) from the television series reading the stories.
Four stories were found on the cassette tape and they were described on the back of the package like this:
A Tale of the Virtual Nightmare
Mr. Fernandez knows Jay love scary movies. So he’s saved Jay an especially frightening new one at his video store. But when Jay comes to pick it up, Mr. Fernandez is nowhere to be found. And what are those four deep scratches on the floor?
The Tale of the Lonely Doll
“Hi. I’m Talking Terry and I want to be your friend.” Janine’s little sister Merrie has found a sweet little talking doll. But something in those staring eyes and eerie voices gives Janine the creeps. What is Talking Terry really trying to say?
The Tale of the Locked Door
In the midst of a blizzard, Dad has taken off into town for supplies. Lisa and Shawn are alone in the dusty Vermont cabin. Or they think they are, until those unearthly howls begin to come from the basement.
The Tale of The Mysterious Mall
There’s something weird and spooky bout the eyes of those store mannequins. When Denny and his sister Liz decide to tell the store manager, she offers them no assistance. But she does give them some strangely powerful milk and cookies.
The stories were written by Susan Kim, who also wrote four episodes of the television series in 1994 (The Tale of the Jagged Sign, The Tale of the Quiet Librarian, The tale of the Curious Camera, and The Tale of the Carved Stone.)
Tale of the Virtual Nightmare
This story starts off great and is very nostalgic. Jay, our young protagonist is a huge horror movie fan. He loves renting tapes from his local video store and has even becomes friends with the owner Mr. Fernandez. One day he shows up to the store to pick up a tape that Mr. Rodriguez had pulled especially for him, but when he arrives at the store Mr. Fernandez is nowhere to be found, instead Jay sees four huge scratch marks on the floor. He finds the tape with a note on it saying “For Jay” so he takes the tape and heads home and doesn’t bother calling 9-11 for missing friend. (Some friend Jay is…)
That night, Jay attempts to watch this “ultra-scary” horror movie but all he sees on the tape is a giant dragon flying clutching something in his hands. Bored with the lack of narrative, Jay turns the video off. Before returning the tape, Jay decided to give the film one more shot. He pops the tape back into the VCR and notices the dragon seems to be closer to the screen this time. Suddenly, the dragons eyes notices Jay and the dragon begins flying towards the screen. In a panic, Jay ejects the tape and decided to return it immediately.
On his way to the video store, he notices a series of TVs in a shop window and one by one they all change to an image of the dragon flying closer and closer to the screen. Jay runs home in a panic and finds his father watching football. The TV is fine for a while, but then suddenly flicks, and the dragon returns flying closer and closer to the TV. Jay screams and his father inquires to why his son is acting like a freak, and when Jay looks back to the TV, it’s just a regular old football game.
Jay runs upstairs to his room hoping to avoid any and all TVs, but forgets he has a small TV in the corner of his room. Once in the room, he notices the dragon is super close to the screen and this is when Jay finally realizes that what the dragon is clutching in his claws is Mr. Fernandez. The sound of the wings flapping is almost deafening and in the midst of all the chaos, Jay hears a voice cry out, “Wake up Jay…. Wake up!” Jay notices a glass of lemonade on his nightstand just as the dragon comes bursting through the TV. He thinks about throwing the lemonade at the dragon, but knows it will do no good. Right as the dragon is about to devour Jay, he takes the lemonade and pours it on his head. He wakes up screaming and covered in sweat. His mother comes running into the room and chastises Jay for falling asleep while watching another horror movie and then asks him why does he smell like lemons.
Jay waits for his mother to leave and that is when he finally pulls his covers down to reveal his t-shirt, which contained four large claw marks through it.
The story started off strong, but I don’t find dragons scary now and didn’t when I was a kid either. Totally skippable.
Tale of the Lonely Doll
Janine’s little sister Merrie was in the backyard playing when she discovered a dirty, torn up doll named Talking Terry. Talking Terry has the unique ability to speak and seemingly understand what is going on around her. She immediately gives Janine the creeps, but she feels bad for Merrie. Merrie doesn’t have any friends, and Janine had spent the day playing video games, so Merrie went out and found a toy to play with.
Throughout the night, Talking Terry continues to give Janine the creeps, and she begs her mom to dispose of the doll. Her mom said the doll was Merries and she was allowed to keep it, and before going to bed, Talking Terry was placed in the toy box. Janine had a nightmare that Talking Terry was cutting up all her other dolls and proclaiming, “I’m your only doll now” and then she woke up and found the toy box in shambles. It looked like a bomb had gone off. When Janine’s mother came into the room, she yelled at Janine, who attempted to play the mess on Talking Terry, only to get a stern talking to in response.
Talking Terry started threatening Janine and Janine took it upon herself to throw Talking Terry out the window. Merrie found Talking Terry and Janine only got into even more trouble, but while being dressed down by her mother, Merrie began to scream. Talking Terry had shoved a toy box over the top of Merrie and had trapped Merrie in the dark.
Terry continue to torment Janine and Janine managed to rip her head off. Fed up with the creepy doll that was terrorizing her family, Janine took Terry outside and hovered around a neighbor’s yard where he was burning leaves. She waited for the neighbor to turn his back before tossing Terry into the fire, finally destroying her once and for all.
Our story ends with a young girl walking down a sidewalk when she stumbles upon a black ball of some sort. She picks it up to throw it away when suddenly, two bright blue eyes open up and Talking Terry asks to be her friend.
Ever seen The Twilight Zone’s Talking Tiny episode? Yep, well, this is it in kids form. The voice of Talking Terry was disturbing, but the story was weak. I don’t see this keeping anyone up at night even if they are a child.
Tale of the Locked Door
Lisa and Shawn are snowed in during a blizzard. Their father had yet to return which had Lisa quite worried. Shawn continued to reassure her, but Lisa was put at ease easily. Her father had told her the story of someone who lived in the house forty years ago who got lost in a blizzard and died, and that had weighed heavily on Lisa’s mind whenever it snowed a lot.
While discussing her fears with Shawn, Lisa noticed a loud banging sound on the cellar door. This door always remained locked and there was nothing in the cellar that should be banging on the door. Shawn dismissed it at first as being her imagination, but the banging and growling grew too loud to ignore for long. After a minute or two, the door finally burst open and a large beast emerged barking and snarling. This epic beast was a St. Bernard.
The dog led the kids out into the snow, barking and leading them to some place in the distance. After walking a little ways, the barking stopped and Lisa and Shawn found their father, stranded in the snow with a sprained ankle. Relieved and amazed that he was found by his children, their father asked how they were able to find him in this blinding snowstorm. That’s when Lisa told her father about the dog, which by this point, had magically disappeared.
Lisa managed to find the dog’s footsteps in the snow, but they ended right near where her father was found. It seemed the dog had disappeared.
Her father, despite freezing, decided to take a second to think about a story he had heard about the man who had perished in the snow forty years earlier. Apparently, people had forgotten about his trusty St. Bernard that had been locked in the cellar. The dog had starved to death, but apparently his spirit had never left the home and he was finally able to save someone lost in the snow since he wasn’t able to save his owner.
In the distance, the family heard a tragic howl.
This was the simplest of the stories and the best. It’s a very generic ghost story that actually worked. I felt like this was the type of story you’d see on the show and could invoke some chills. Loved it!
Tale of the Mysterious Mall
Denny and Liz are at the mall shopping when Liz starts getting creeped out by a store mannequin. The mannequin has life-like blue eyes and feels like it’s watching them wherever they go. Infatuated by the mannequins, the two children end up losing their parents and are lost in the department store. So like all resourceful young children, they head to the manager’s office, who is very nice and offers them milk and cookies while they page their parents. Liz eats the delicious milk and cookies, but Denny is bothered by the lack of urgency in the manager’s voice and just eats a couple of the cookies. A few seconds later everything goes black.
Denny wakes up and can’t find Liz. He runs into another room where he sees the store manager fixing up young female mannequin. When the manager turns around, her face looks like that of a witch. He’s startled, but more startled by the mannequin that has a single tear drip from its bright blue eyes. That’s when he realizes that the mannequin is his sister Liz.
Upset, the store manager tells Denny he shouldn’t be awake yet and tries to get him to drink some milk. He decided to throw it onto the witch, who starts screaming as her skin turns milky white like that of the mannequin. She becomes frozen in a pose of pain and agony with fear and anger in her bright blue eyes.
Suddenly Denny is surrounded by children, including Liz, who were all released from the witches spell once the witch was turned into a mannequin.
Ahh…. I don’t know. It was interesting, and felt like one of the bad episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark. So, I gotta give it credit for feeling like a true Are You Afraid of the Dark story, but it was pretty weak. Definitely skippable.
The second cassette tape released is titled More Tales from the Midnight Society. This tape included a 19 page book of illustrations, and the same cast that returned from first tape. This time Susan Kim wrote some of the stories along with Charles Platt.
The stories included on this cassette tape were:
The Tale of the Black Cat
The Tale of the New Kid
The Tale of the Strange Snowman
The Tale of the Strange Storybook
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to locate any images of the back of the packaging, so I don’t have any official descriptions like the first tape.
The Tale of the New Kid:
Hiram is the new kid in school, and he’s a little weird. He carries a small troll with him, which startles Pete, a good young man. Dwayne is the school bully and tires steal Hiram’s doll. Pete interferes and Dwayne insists that he will get his revenge. After school, he drags Pete to Hiram’s house, which they find abandoned all but the lifeless body of Hiram inside. The troll attacks and touches Dwayne and Pete manages to escape. The next day Dwayne shows up with the troll.
This was a pretty solid story to begin with. It’s a classic, with a creepy doll running the show instead of the human like you expect. All I could think about was Puppet Master when I listened to this and that is not a bad thing.
The Tale of the Strange Storybook:
Sherry is babysitting Alex. Alex cries out for Sherry and says that there is something under the bed. She knows this is ridiculous, but when she goes to check she notices a large creepy storybook on the nightstand. She opens it up and discovers a picture of the house that she is in. Then the hallway. The bedroom. And then a little boy under a bed. She finds Alex under the bed, clutching a piece of paper. She puts the paper in her pocket once she hears Alex’s parents coming home. She gets home and the paper opens up on its own and it shows a large, creepy monster under the bed. Suddenly Alex hears a sound under the bed.
Babysitter stories are often found in children/teenage horror because its something that kids can relate to. Many young girls end up doing some sort of babysitting so the thought of something going horribly wrong is something they can relate to. This story feels like a story I’ve heard before, but that’s okay. It was solid and I loved the twist ending that I saw coming from a mile away.
The Tale of the Black Cat:
Jane was not a fan of her family cat Sooty. She always had a bad feeling and she attempted to avoid the cat. She didn’t feed the cat and would shut it out whenever possible. Then she found books, tapes, and dresses torn up. Then one morning, she woke up feeling suffocated and found Footy on her chest. Then Sooty spoke. Sooty said, you’ve kicked me, forgotten to feed me, and locked me out of the house and it was time to get even. Suddenly Jane shrunk down and fell to the floor. She was the size of a mouse, and Sooty slapped her and threatened to eat her if she tried to run. Just as Sooty was about to eat her, she woke up. Her little brother Gordon walked in and Jane noticed Sooty was sitting on her chest. Just as Jane convinced herself it was an nightmare, she watched Sooty stare her down, pull out her claws, and destroyed the rag doll she had stolen from Jane’s room.
Probably my least favorite story of the group, this was just weak.
The Tale of the Strange Snowman:
Something was chasing Ben… and then he woke up to find his brother Eli jumping on his bed. Overnight, it had snowed and the world was white, but school was still on. Ben and Eli began to shovel the driveway, which turned into a snowball fight. In the midst of the snowball fight, Eli noticed something watching them. Eli ran after it, and Ben caught up and noticed a six foot tall snowman standing in the middle of the road. It was odd that it was built in the middle of the road, and even more odd that no disturbed snow was found around it. It was if it just appeared.
Eli had a little ESP and felt that the snowman wanted something or someone. Eli snapped and began smashing the snowman with the shovel but Ben stopped him and then their mother called out. Eli felt ill, and when their mother took his temperature it was four degrees lower than normal. Eli crawled into bed under covers, while Ben went to school.
When Ben got home, the snowman was gone and Eli had gotten sicker. Their mother decided to go borrow a heater and Ben thought it would be a good idea to run Eli a hot bath. Suddenly, he began to hear the sound that he heard in his dreams again. This slushing sound that was coming down the hall.
When Ben opened the door, he noticed a trail of water going to Eli’s room. Ben opened the door and found a cruel wind blowing and the huge snowman heading towards Eli. Ben hit it and ran to the bathroom. He was trapped, but just as the snowman almost got him, he pulled the bathmat and the snowman fell into the bathtub and began screaming and melting. Eli walked into the bathroom and asked what was happening. He was no longer sick. The only thing in the tub that remained was two black stones, a carrot, and an old hat.
This was a fun story and a snow story as well! I love winter horror! I wrote the longest recap for this particular story because it seemed to have the most depth and was quite entertaining.
You can listen to More Tales from the Midnight Society on YouTube thanks to uploaded ZakBabyTV.
The final Are You Afraid of the Dark cassette was different. It wasn’t a collection of stories like the previous two, but instead was a choose your own adventure style story for the Tiger 2XL Robot. The 2XL was an educational robot released in the late 70’s by the Mego Corporation and then re-released in the 90’s by Tiger Electronics. You could play trivia games with it, it told jokes, and it had a slew of pop-culture tie in cassette tapes to interact with. You’d simply pop in the cassette tape into the front of the robot, press play, and then interact by pressing one of the four buttons on the front. There were buttons labeled “Yes” “No” “True” “False” “A” “B” “C” “1” “2” “3”. You gotta give Mego/Tiger credit, they got a ton of mileage out of four buttons.
They buttons acted as preset rewind/fast forward buttons. So when you’d answer a question, the cassette tape would move and start playing at the next section that corresponded with how you responded. It’s a real ingenious concept for an educational robot and I’m not surprised that they were so popular.
The Are You Afraid of the Dark cassette tape was reminiscent of a “Choose Your Own Adventure Book” which were extremely popular in the 90’s. You’d basically read a story and then decided at the end of the chapter how you wanted the character to proceed. The book would then direct you to what chapter to skip to based on your decision and you’d continue the story from there. The cassette worked in a similar manner with the story being told and the listener using the buttons to answer questions on how the story should proceed. The cassette tape would fast-forward/rewind and the story would then continue.
The story told in this release was called The Tale of the Phantom Manor and was released in 1994. Unfortunately, unless you have a 2XL Robot and a copy of the cassette, it’s quite difficult to listen to the story and all the different paths it takes. Luckily for us, one YouTuber has constructed one complete story and uploaded it for our listening pleasure.