If you were a child of the 90s, you grew up reading or watching scary stories via two classic Children’s Horror franchises: Goosebumps and Are You Afraid Of The Dark?
In my humble opinion, and in the opinion of many other contemporaries that I’ve spoken to over the years, both of these classic franchises are worthy of revisiting this side of adulthood. Moreover, if you have young kids at home, I fully recommend that you introduce them to the fantastic worlds and creatures presented in every episode.
But with two equally loved IPs, how do they compare?
This is Goosebumps vs Are You Afraid Of The Dark?
Fearful Children Vs Fearful Adults
Before we get into what sets Goosebumps and Are you Afraid of the Dark? apart, allow me to get something off my chest.
It continues to amaze me that there are grown adults who say that these products aimed at children are scary.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pretending to never have been scared by an episode of Goosebumps or Are You Afraid Of The Dark, but most of these moments were specifically tied to personal phobias of mine, rather than with the product itself.
As a child, many of these episodes gave me the creeps, and a few of them actually scared me. However, as an adult, the question about which show is superior could never be based on how “scary” they are.
If a grown adult tells me that these two shows are still scary, I won’t argue otherwise, but what scared my 12-year old self is vastly different than what scares me at 35.
Therefore, how scary these shows were is highly subjective and won’t be my focus for this analysis.
Differences And Similarities
One of the biggest differences between the two shows is the narrative setup. Are You Afraid Of The Dark used a powerful narrative tool that added depth and relatability to the show: The Midnight Society!
The Midnight Society was a group of teenage friends who would regularly meet in secluded woods to tell each other tales of horror, terror, and the paranormal. Each telling would begin with a Twilight Zone episode inspired “Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society”, and segue into the actual story being told.
Each member of the Midnight Society had a distinct personality that differed from everyone else’s, and this meant that each narrative had a distinct voice and storytelling style. I loved Kiki’s tomboyish penchant for carelessness and Betty Ann’s passion for the truly supernatural.
Even though the members of the Midnight Society did not actively appear or participate in the tales they told, over the years we grew to know them and it was obvious that their personal lives informed the direction their scary stories would take.
Goosebumps had a fantastic intro sequence featuring a super catchy and instantly recognizable theme song. However, the show’s classic anthology format, albeit great, lacked the deep narrative structure afforded to Are You Afraid Of The Dark by the inclusion of the Midnight Society.
One aspect in which Goosebumps must be lauded was in the “Ending” department. Without a doubt, Goosebumps’ stories had consistently better endings than those presented by Are You Afraid Of The Dark.
And the reason why is that the books on which the episodes were based were known for their delightfully unexpected twist endings.
Here are some of my absolute favorites:
- Our main character goes to a very strange and spooky Summer Camp which, as it turns out, is an elaborate training ground for a mission to a horrifying planet called Earth.
- Our main character has been majorly freaking out throughout the episode because she found out an employee at her local public library is a monster. Except, it turns out that both her parents AND herself are monsters as well.
- Our main character is convinced that a ghost has moved next door. Only we find out he is the ghost after all.
Predicting the twist when watching an episode of Goosebumps became a game in and of itself.
A difficult one at that!
The Power Of Cameo
Cameos by famous actors can be powerfully nostalgic and increase your preference of a show simply by the fact that years later you can say, “Hey, I remember when so-and-so was in an episode of this or that tv show.”
Goosebumps had its fair share of future-to-be stars. The likes of Christopher Castle, Jay Baruchel, Elisha Cuthbert, Ryan Gosling, Neve Campbell, and Hayden Christensen, played some of my favorite characters in some episodes.
A Matter Of Taste
At the end of the day, this versus battle will come down to a matter of taste.
These two Canadian tv staples of 90’s childhood can be described as two sides of the same scary coin. Rating them, beyond personal taste, can be a tricky thing to achieve.
Whatever your personal preferences may be, I would never dare say that one is “better” than the other.
In much the same manner that Friday the 13th movies can stand side by side with the various Halloween movies, Goosebumps and Are You Afraid Of The Dark can stand side by side without one being objectively the superior product.
Which show is better?
I personally like Are You Afraid Of The Dark more because of its inclusion of The Midnight Society’s Meta-narrative and what it added to the genre.
Watching an episode of Are You Afraid Of The Dark felt like telling scary stories with your tight group of friends, which made the show, for me at least, significantly more engaging.
However, Goosebumps, which is based on a mightily successful franchise of novels and short story collections beloved by millions of children the world over, was a far more popular tv show.
Both shows had the same ultimate purpose, that is, to tell entertaining stories to a younger generation using horror tropes and themes.
Are You Afraid of the dark? and Goosebumps are both fantastic shows whose true value all these years laters lies in their power to elicit powerful nostalgia. At least for me, watching these shows in my thirties takes me back to a time when I still believed that the world would become a better place.
Today, the world is being consumed by an unprecedented climate crisis, while some of our strongest democratic institutions fall apart, the economy contracts to the point of implosion, and a viral pandemic of biblical proportions ravages the world and locks us in our homes.
Now THAT is truly terrifying