I’ve thought about this topic for a while. But I wasn’t sure how to approach this because I’m a fan of both and both have huge pros and cons working against them. I’ve talked about my top 10 favorite episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark and a top 5 list about Goosebumps in the past but comparing the two? Yikes.
So today we’re gonna talk pros and cons about both series, what works for them and what they kind of lack. Will I pick one to be topped? Maybe, maybe not.
Let’s get into this little battle of Are You Afraid of the Dark versus Goosebumps.
Now, I’m going to do this differently. And for organizational purposes but each series will get its own time to shine and break down. We’re going to start with Are You Afraid of the Dark? since it is the earliest screen debut. AYAOTD began in 1990 in Canadian television, YTV but it wasn’t until 1992 when a Halloween special introduced the show to American audiences on Nickeloden’s SNICK programming. I really loved SNICK. It was shows that were more towards a tween/teen audience, with Kenan and Kel, All That, Alex Mack, Clarissa, and of course AYAOTD. The show has had 3 revivals (original, second in 1999 through 2000 and recently a third in 2019) and to be fair, I really watched the original and a little of the second.
Breaking it down into categories such as continuity, writing/material, special effects, performances/acting, legacy and best/worst episodes.
Continuity wise, it comes from The Midnight Society. Unless there’s a two parter, which rarely happens, the episodes “stories” themselves have no continuity but look to the Midnight Society themselves. The group has their signature themes in their stories. Gary likes magic, wizards, cursed objects, etc but compare it to Betty Ann’s whose stories are very gory and dark at times, very based in the supernatural or paranormal. Kiki’s stories tend to be more based around people of color and Frank has Dr. Vink pops up a lot in his.
The writing or material given is quite strong although the stories can go into goofy territory but I also blame that on the fact that it was the 90s. There are some strong and effectively written episodes which then in turns creates strong performances by the young actors. The special effects are well done as well, some of the images created are still creepy today as an adult (i.e., The Dead Man’s Float, Laughing in the Dark, the Dark Music, Midnight Madness, Quicksilver) and despite later seasons having some really odd episodes that don’t make a lot of sense, most episodes would get a 7+ out of 10. What AYAOTD contributed to the genre is that it came out at the right time for younger audiences to be exposed but on an equal playing field. They weren’t too scary but not childish. I’d compare it to The Twilight Zone (there are even nods to the show), bizarre and somewhat grounded in reality.
Personally speaking, I adore what AYAOTD brought to the table but now, let’s look at the other spectrum:
Goosebumps television debut was on YTV in Canada in 1995 and then moved to Fox Kids in the same year for American viewers with one of the best episodes The Haunted Mask part 1 and 2. The series has been recently announced to get a reboot, which is quite interesting. I guess the impact of the films Goosebumps and Goosebumps 2 showed that the audience for Goosebumps is still there for a reboot. What sets Goosebumps apart from AYAOTD is simply this: R.L. Stine.
R.L. Stine is the author of many Goosebumps novels and spinoffs through Scholastic and for a moment, was the biggest author/book franchise for the company until a wizard showed up. Scholastic on a side note is also home to Animorphs and currently the Five Nights at Freddy’s books (the original trilogy, Fazbear Frights). The material is already there, it’s been written and “scared” kids into reading more and more. I owned a few of the books, I still have some saved from when I was a child (#5 The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, #52 How I Learned to Fly and #56 The Curse of Camp Cold Lake), original cover art, barely hanging on pages and Readers Beware pages in the back for upcoming books, fanclub and future episodes on Fox Kids.
But back to Stine and the material. This is what sets it apart from AYAOTD, the material is already there, written and ready to be adapted into a screenplay for the small screen. The flipside is that there’s this liberty that the writers can change anything or exclude some things. For example, you can look at The Haunted Mask and it’s one of the better and best adaptations but you can look at Attack of the Mutant and so many things went wrong there. Could it be lack of budget or special effects or the fact that they could have taken that story in a different direction instead of looking cheap.
The acting is okay, there are some great moments but it’s not consistent. Which is odd since both shows tended to share a lot of the same actors. There’s no continuity in the series, maybe The Haunted Mask and The Haunted Mask 2 but even there, things are a bit weird. The execution for one was set high and the other was pretty… meh.
Overall, Goosebumps is a series or franchise that had some big highs and started to dip but came out on top again with the revival of the series, the films, even the series going to Cartoon Network was a big deal. If I had to compare the show, it’s Tales from the Crypt. It’s campy, more comedic moments, the overall vibes fits that niche.
The 90s themselves were full of horror genre based television shows: Crypt, AYAOTD, Eerie Indiana, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Monsters, Buffy, The X-Files, Twin Peaks, Goosebumps, Ahhh! Real Monsters, etc. It was a golden time for television.
But when it comes down to the root of it all, which one is better? The answer is both. The honest truth. I do think that AYAOTD at its core reaches more horror themes than Goosebumps and there are more pros around the series, too. So perhaps there is a slightly bigger winner.
Which one is the winner for you?