A big part of growing up for kids is overcoming their greatest fears. In time they stop being scared of thunderstorms and visits to the doctor. Being afraid of the dark is also common, but for a lot of children, what terrifies them the most is what might be in the darkness.

The following stories from TV anthologies call attention to adolescent frights. Be it nocturnal monsters beyond adults’ understanding, or other dreadful things that go bump in the night, these episodes are the stuff of childhood nightmares.

Tales From the Darkside (1983-1988)
Ursa Minor

Monsters were not all that common in Tales From the Darkside, seeing as most episodes were about life’s less tangible threats. Yet, even with an angry bear running around, “Ursa Minor” never turns into a full-blown creature-feature. This story ends up having more in common with the series’ other eerie tales of human conflict.

This episode follows a seemingly normal family of three. That illusion of function quickly fades away after young Susie (Jamie Ohar) receives a stuffed bear named Teddy on her birthday. Meanwhile, parents Joan and Richard (Marilyn JonesTim Carhart) bicker a lot because of financial issues and the fact that Susie’s father is an alcoholic. The tension only worsens when peculiar incidents occur around the house; objects mysteriously break as well as tiny animal footprints appear on the wall.

Like clockwork in these stories, the child swears her new toy is responsible for the damage. Joan initially does not believe her daughter, but when things get too out of hand at home, she consults a magic expert. He indulges Susie’s claim, and he points out how a small bear like Teddy, an Ursa Minor, seeks to destroy humans’ complacency. This episode goes on to provide an interesting mythos for these once powerful animals that have since been reduced to the likes of “Smokey, Pooh, and little Teddy.”

Viewers expect to see Teddy eventually attack the family out in the open, but the toy does more harm hiding in the shadows. Like the scholar said earlier, entities such as Teddy want to upset the balance and remove people’s comfort. The state of Susie’s home has not been good for long time — Joan herself said she cannot stand this “polite poverty” — and truth be told, this family’s downfall was inevitable with or without Teddy around.

The Twilight Zone (1985-1989)
The Shadow Man

Director Joe Dante and screenwriter Rockne S. O’Bannon (Amazing Stories) collaborated on one of the better episodes of the ’80s Twilight Zone. “The Shadow Man” centers on a teenager named Danny (Jonathan Ward), whose crush on a classmate leads him to making poor decisions.

Danny soon discovers he has a roommate; living under his bed is the episode’s namesake. Despite its ominous appearance — the all-black being resembles a man in a long coat and a hat — the Shadow Man says he will “never harm the person under whose bed” he lives. Every night, the entity leaves the house and carries on, doing who knows what, until he slips back in before morning. Soon, Danny’s classmates become victims to an attacker who sounds a lot like the Shadow Man.

Danny’s fears of the Shadow Man go away once he realizes he has immunity. As everyone else hides after sundown, Danny stays out so he can see his crush. This brings him a sudden burst of popularity, not to mention a new streak of arrogance. Danny foolishly thinks he can then use the Shadow Man for his own bidding when a bully picks on him.

“The Shadow Man” is a high point for the first revival of The Twilight Zone. The morality lesson within is not too thought-provoking or unique, but the events of the episode make up for that. This simple yet devilish tale captures children’s anxiety about bedtime monsters.

Are You Afraid of the Dark? (1990-2000)
The Tale of the Quicksilver

Kiki’s most memorable submission during her time with The Midnight Society is without a doubt “The Tale of the Quicksilver“. The mere image of the cloaked specter evokes childhood nightmares of yesteryear. In this iconic episode of the original Are You Afraid of the Dark series, two is a significant number; twin sisters, two brothers, second chances, and a pair of unalike spirits all make for a haunting story.

Tatyana Ali pulls double duty as twins Laura and Connie, although their sisterhood is not revealed until later. In a chilling flashback, Laura dies after failing to wrangle the malevolent phantom hiding in her bedroom walls. In the present day, a new family has since moved into the house where Laura mysteriously died in a fire. Brothers Aaron and Dougie (Kyle Alisharan, Stuart Stone) are then menaced by the same otherworldly threat, and the only way to stop history from repeating itself is asking Connie to finish what Laura started.

Even hardened adults can agree this Are You Afraid of the Dark episode has some effective scares. The bad spirit’s gaunt makeup and a tatty cloak go a long way, as do the lighting and editing. The Creature of Darkness comes off as one of the most imposing monsters in the whole series.

Beneath the physical frights lies a stirring ghost story. Alisharan — whose real-life brother played fellow Midnight Society member Frank — and Ali deliver solid performances, with the latter especially manifesting her character’s remorse. The sentimentality adds to an already remarkable episode.

Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction (1997-2002)
Kid In the Closet

Children with an overwhelming fear of the dark can attest to closets being one of the most dreaded places in their bedroom. Windows can at least provide a modicum of natural light until dawn breaks, but all bets are off once a child is sealed inside a shut closet.

No segment in Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction stays as glued in people’s heads as “Kid in the Closet.” The interactive anthology only sometimes dabbled in overt horror, but when it did, the result was often horrifying. In only its second episode ever, the series suggested a creature was inhabiting young Danny’s (Jordan Warkol) closet. He spends most of his nights on the couch, but eventually his mother insists he conquer his fear and sleep in his room. One thing leads to another, and Danny’s jerk of a brother goes missing when he enters the fearsome closet, all in a bid to embarrass Danny in front of their peers. However, the joke is on him because he is never seen again.

The adults in these horror narratives tend to forget what it was like to be a kid. They do not necessarily summon these monsters, but they do end up making them stronger, one way or another. Danny’s mother is convinced this closet phobia is all a phase for her son, all the while ignoring her other son Brian’s (Colin MacDonald) abusive behavior toward Danny. She even asks in the opening narration, “Could I have done something to change things?”

The show claims this yarn is based on fact, yet a fan’s research concludes things happened much differently in the real-life basis. A boy really did “vanish” inside a closet; he did so by slipping out of a hole, then hiding out in a friend’s attic for a few weeks. So, much like a child with an overactive imagination, this Beyond Belief story gets carried away with the truth.

Just Beyond (2022)
My Monster

R.L. Stine‘s series of books Just Beyond inspired the newer Disney+ anthology of the same name. This is more of an “in name only” deal since very little of the source material wound up in the show itself. For instance, “My Monster” appears to be an original story.

After her parents’ separation, Olivia (Megan Stott) moves into her mother’s childhood home. She swears she is fine with both the divorce and the move, but as time goes by, it becomes clear she is far from okay. Making friends at school comes easy enough; not only is she immediately invited to a group hangout, Olivia is on the fast track to joining the cheerleading squad. Unfortunately, something is holding her back. When she least suspects it, a sinister creature only Olivia can see comes out of nowhere.

“My Monster” easily could have gone down the route of something more hoary, but the creators do the opposite. They also shirk subtlety and say the quiet parts out loud. While making the undertone explicit may sound like a lack of creativity, the execution is clever. And best of all, the scares, albeit juvenile ones, are not sacrificed to tell an important message.

Much like The Babadook, the monster here is a metaphor for internal issues. That movie is too heavy for the younger set, but Just Beyond ably puts the same big ideas in child-friendly terms. Adults certainly can get something out “My Monster” as well.

Series of Frights is a recurring column that mainly focuses on horror in television. Specifically, it takes a closer look at five episodes or stories — each one adhering to an overall theme — from different anthology series or the occasional movie made for TV. With anthologies becoming popular again, especially on television, now is the perfect time to see what this timeless mode of storytelling has to offer.

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