1. Zeke the Plumber.
Also known as the most terrifying monster ever featured on a children’s TV show. I had actual nightmares about Zeke the Plumber, who popped up in one infamous episode of Salute Your Shorts, and I still don’t like looking at his picture.
2. The Ghastly Grinner.
Yeah, yeah, Are You Afraid of the Dark? loved to ruin our sleep with ghost girls and scary clowns, but none of those were as horrifying as the Ghastly Grinner. Who knew a comic book character turned real could ruin me for life?
3. And the girl who got turned into a doll.
Yeah, thanks, Are You Afraid of the Dark? Because childhood wasn’t scary enough.
4. “I’m not Tommy.”
Straight out of Freud’s essay on “the uncanny,” the Rugrats episode in which Chuckie has recurring nightmares made me question the thin line between fantasy and reality — not to mention my sanity.
5. Also, Angelica’s nightmare.
What the hell, Rugrats. Angelica’s dread over her new baby brother forced her parents to take her to a therapist. I think the creepy manbaby she dreamt is what sent me to a psychologist.
6. Ren’s tooth decay.
You know that dream where all your teeth fall out? I swear I never had that until Ren let his teeth go to hell on Ren & Stimpy.
7. The Tooth Fairy.
Ren & Stimpy also introduced me to this abomination. I already knew the Tooth Fairy wasn’t real, but you better believe I never left anything under my pillow again.
8. Alex Mack’s evil scientist pursuers.
Good news: you’re getting super powers! Bad news: you’re going to be hunted down by scientists and government agents who want to dissect your body and study it under a microscope. A healthy fear of authority is one thing, but The Secret World of Alex Mack gave me full-blown paranoia.
9. Catalina’s death.
OK, so Catalina doesn’t actually die on Space Cases, but it sure seemed like she did. And this was before I could go online for spoilers or casting information — I spent a whole summer mourning her demise.
Here’s what Rocko’s Modern Life taught me: the devil is real, his name is Peaches, and his head is a cow’s udder. I’ve feared the afterlife ever since.
11. Clarissa’s home invasion.
Remember that episode of Clarissa Explains It All where Clarissa and Ferguson are home alone? It turns out the intruders trying to break in are actually their parents, but that doesn’t make the lead-up to the reveal any less terrifying. The only scarier episode is the one in which Janet smokes — super unsettling.
12. The “Doug” Halloween episode.
This one left its mark on me. How about that moment when it looks like Doug, Skeeter, and Roger are going to fall to their deaths?
13. Also, the screaming salad.
Seriously not OK.
14. Ellen questions math.
Scary? Not really. But the “X = Why?” episode of The Adventures of Pete & Pete haunted me for years. What if nothing I learned in school mattered? What if there was no method to the madness of algebra? The show had planted in me a seed of existential dread from which I would never fully recover.