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Book Recs Based On Your Favorite 'Are You Afraid of the Dark?' Episode

If you were a weird little kid in the 1990s who watched a lot of television, you probably loved Are You Afraid of the Dark? even though it could scare the absolute crap out of you.

This anthology series was like The Twilight Zone for kids during its run on Nickelodeon between 1990-1996 and again between 1999-2000. A group of kids who called themselves The Midnight Society gathered round a campfire each episode to take turns telling each other scary stories. In the United States, it was one of the last kid shows of the evening before Nick at Nite ( which aired The Brady Bunch and I Love Lucy) kicked off. This placement in the lineup made Are You Afraid of the Dark? exquisite nightmare fodder.

Those of us who grew up watching the series on television are now in our thirties and many of us remain loyal horror weirdos. But, times have changed. And so have we. So, today, I'm rounding up 10 horror book recommendations (nine adult titles and one YA title) based on your favorite episode of the ghoulish classic. Granted, favorites are definitely subjective and there were over a hundred episodes total. I can't cover every one (at least in this post). So, to be fair I'm going by the ten highest rated episodes on IMDB as of April 2023.

Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story...

10. "The Tale of Prisoner's Past" (season 5, episode 6)

Two fighting stepbrothers encounter the ghost of an old inmate while on a field trip at a former prison.

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Blood Mountain by Brenda S. Tolian

From the publisher:

"In this mosaic of Southwestern Gothic Horror tales, a primordial goddess awakens deep within the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The mountain hungers for revenge as invaders leave her emaciated with their greed and brutality. She cries out for blood, infusing the minds of those who do not belong—twisting them outwardly into the dark forms of their true intentions."

9. "The Tale of the Final Wish" (season 2, episode 1)

After the Sandman grants her wish for a different world, a girl finds herself trapped in a frightening fairy tale land.

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The Between by Ryan Leslie

From the publisher:

"While landscaping his backyard, ever-conscientious Paul Prentice discovers an iron door buried in the soil. His childhood friend and perpetual source of mischief, Jay Lightsey, pushes them to explore what’s beneath. When the door slams shut above them, Paul and Jay are trapped in a between-worlds place of Escher-like rooms and horror story monsters, all with a mysterious connection to a command-line, dungeon explorer computer game from the early ‘80s called The Between. Paul and Jay find themselves filling roles in a story that seems to play out over and over again. But in this world, where their roles warp their minds, the biggest threat to survival may not be the Koŝmaro, risen from the Between’s depths to hunt them; the biggest danger may be each other."

8. "The Tale of Watcher's Woods" (season 3, episode 3)

Two girls who don't get along must work together at summer camp or face the same fate as three campers who mysteriously disappeared in the forest years earlier.

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The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

From the publisher:

"Two Truths and a Lie. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and Emma played it all the time in their cabin at Camp Nightingale. But the games ended the night Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out into the darkness. The last she—or anyone—saw of the teenagers was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips…. Fifteen years later, Emma is a rising star in the New York art scene, turning her past into paintings—massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches over ghostly shapes in white dresses. When the paintings catch the attention of the wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale, she implores Emma to come back to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor. Despite her guilt and anxiety—or maybe because of them—Emma agrees to revisit her past. Nightingale looks the same as it did all those years ago, haunted by a midnight-dark lake and familiar faces. Emma is even assigned to the same cabin she slept in as a teenager, although the security camera pointed at her door is a disturbing new addition. As cryptic clues about the camp’s origins begin to surface, Emma attempts to find out what really happened to her friends. But her closure could come at a deadly price."

7. "The Tale of the Quiet Librarian" (season 4, episode 4)

An evil spirit is snatching up noisy kids at the local library one by one.

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It by Stephen King

From the publisher:

"Welcome to Derry, Maine. It’s a small city, a place as hauntingly familiar as your own hometown. Only in Derry the haunting is real.

They were seven teenagers when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they are grown-up men and women who have gone out into the big world to gain success and happiness. But the promise they made twenty-eight years ago calls them reunite in the same place where, as teenagers, they battled an evil creature that preyed on the city’s children. Now, children are being murdered again and their repressed memories of that terrifying summer return as they prepare to once again battle the monster lurking in Derry’s sewers."

6. "The Tale of the Dollmaker" (season 3, episode 5)

A mysterious dollhouse might reveal what happened to a little girl's next door friend who vanished without a trace.

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The House Next Door by Darcy Coates

From the publisher:

"Josephine began to suspect something was wrong with the crumbling gothic monstrosity next door when its family fled in the middle of the night, the children screaming, the mother crying. They never came back. No family stays at Marwick House for long. No life lingers beyond its blackened windows. No voices drift from its ancient halls. Once, Josephine swore she saw a woman's silhouette pacing through the upstairs room… but that's impossible. No one had been there in a long, long time.

But now someone new has moved next door, and Marwick House is slowly waking up. Torn between staying away and warning the new tenant, Josephine only knows that if she isn't careful, she may be its next victim..."

5. "The Tale of the Dangerous Soup" (season 3, episode 13)

A restaurant employee discovers the terrifying secret ingredient in the chef's most popular dish.

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The Auctioneer by Joan Samson

From the publisher:

"In the isolated farming community of Harlowe, New Hampshire, where life has changed little over the past several decades, John Moore and his wife Mim work the land that has been in his family for generations. But from the moment the charismatic Perly Dinsmore arrives in town and starts soliciting donations for his auctions, things begin slowly and insidiously to change in Harlowe. As the auctioneer carries out his terrible, inscrutable plan, the Moores and their neighbors will find themselves gradually but inexorably stripped of their freedom, their possessions, and perhaps even their lives..."

4. "The Tale of Laughing in the Dark" (season 1, episode 2)

The vengeful ghost of a funhouse clown follows the little boy who stole his red nose.

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Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare

From the publisher:

"Quinn Maybrook and her father have moved to tiny, boring Kettle Springs, to find a fresh start. But what they don’t know is that ever since the Baypen Corn Syrup Factory shut down, Kettle Springs has cracked in half.

On one side are the adults, who are desperate to make Kettle Springs great again, and on the other are the kids, who want to have fun, make prank videos, and get out of Kettle Springs as quick as they can.

Kettle Springs is caught in a battle between old and new, tradition and progress. It’s a fight that looks like it will destroy the town. Until Frendo, the Baypen mascot, a creepy clown in a pork-pie hat, goes homicidal and decides that the only way for Kettle Springs to grow back is to cull the rotten crop of kids who live there now."

3. "The Tale of the Night Shift" (season 5, episode 13)

Things get weird when patients and night shift employees at a hospital begin acting strangely.

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Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James

From the publisher:

"In 1919, Kitty Weekes, pretty, resourceful, and on the run, falsifies her background to obtain a nursing position at Portis House, a remote hospital for soldiers left shell-shocked by the horrors of the Great War. Hiding the shame of their mental instability in what was once a magnificent private estate, the patients suffer from nervous attacks and tormenting dreams. But something more is going on at Portis House—its plaster is crumbling, its plumbing makes eerie noises, and strange breaths of cold waft through the empty rooms. It’s known that the former occupants left abruptly, but where did they go? And why do the patients all seem to share the same nightmare, one so horrific that they dare not speak of it? Kitty finds a dangerous ally in Jack Yates, an inmate who may be a war hero, a madman… or maybe both. But even as Kitty and Jack create a secret, intimate alliance to uncover the truth, disturbing revelations suggest the presence of powerful spectral forces. And when a medical catastrophe leaves them even more isolated, they must battle the menace on their own, caught in the heart of a mystery that could destroy them both."

2. "The Tale of the Midnight Madness" (season 2, episode 2)

A struggling movie theatre starts screening an old film that turns out to be way more than the employees bargained for.

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Experimental Film by Gemma Files

From the publisher:

Former film teacher Lois Cairns is struggling to raise her autistic son while freelancing as a critic when, at a screening, she happens upon a sampled piece of silver nitrate silent footage. She is able to connect it to the early work of Mrs. Iris Dunlopp Whitcomb, the spiritualist and collector of fairy tales who mysteriously disappeared from a train compartment in 1918.

Hoping to make her own mark on the film world, Lois embarks on a project to prove that Whitcomb was Canada’s first female filmmaker. But her research takes her down a path not of darkness but of light—the blinding and searing light of a fairy tale made flesh, a noontime demon who demands that duty must be paid. As Lois discovers terrifying parallels between her own life and that of Mrs. Whitcomb, she begins to fear not just for herself, but for those closest to her heart.

1. "The Tale of Dead Man's Float" (season 5, episode 1)

There's something sinister lurking in a school's long-abandoned swimming pool.

Check out....

Dark Water by Kōji Suzuki

From the publisher:

"A selection of deliciously spooky short stories from the Japanese master of suspense, the acclaimed author of RING. The first story in the collection has been filmed as DARK WATER.

Suzuki demonstrates the power of his psychological insight into the mechanics of fear in this highly atmospheric collection of stories unified by the theme of water.

Following her divorce, Yoshimi Matsubara lives with her five-year-old daughter Ikuko in a depressing and damp apartment block on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay. But when a child’s red bag keeps turning up in unexpected places, Yoshino’s sanity seems to be threatened, and she soon begins to fear that her daughter’s life is at risk.

Kensuke Suehiro jumps at the chance to visit a restricted island in Tokyo Bay, about which he once heard a rather strange story. But when he arrives, he finds far more than he bargained for.

Fisherman Hiroyuki is embittered and unhappy in his marriage. But getting rid of his wife turns out to be anything but easy, especially when his own boat seems to be against him.

Family man Sugiyama finds himself trapped in an underwater cave. Can he find a way to communicate with his beloved son one last time?

Just four examples from this beautifully crafted collection of stories filled with suspense, tension and drama. A perfect introduction to one of Japan’s top literary stars."

"Laughing in the Dark" and "Dead Man's Float" are two of my personal favorites. What's your favorite episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?

[Image Credit: thumbnail from Wikimedia Commons, screenshots included under Fair Use]

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