Why Gilbert Gottfried Was One Of The Best Are You Afraid Of The Dark Villains

The 1990s were the perfect time to be a kid who liked all things scary. Thanks to shows like "Goosebumps," "Eerie, Indiana," "AAAHH!!! Real Monsters," "The Addams Family," "Mona the Vampire," "The Real Ghostbusters," and "Tales from the Crypt Keeper," youth-friendly horror shows were plentiful. It feels unfair to pit the abundance of quality programming against one another, but if any show served as the king of the castle, the distinction belonged to Nickelodeon's "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" The horror anthology series centered on the members of "The Midnight Society," a group of teenagers who gather each week in a clearing in the woods to share original horror stories around a campfire. The episode includes a dramatization of each story, acting like the child-friendly version of "The Twilight Zone."

"Are You Afraid of the Dark" is home to some of the strongest presentations of kindertrauma, like The Ghastly Grinner, The Crimson Clown, Zeebo the Clown, the Dead Man's Float, and a gaggle of ghosts, goblins, and other monsters. Every once in a while, the show would introduce a human character to give us the creeps and in "The Tale of Station 109.1," Gilbert Gottfried's Roy twisted his iconic voice into nightmare fuel for kids everywhere.

Eat your heart out, Miss Argentina

In "The Tale of Station 109.1," a death-obsessed kid named Chris Leary (Zachary Carlin) gets more than he bargained for when his brother Jamie (Ryan Gosling, no really) lets Chris check out a hearse he's working on at his job. Jamie powers up the battery of the hearse, which cues into radio station 109.1 "for the dimensionally challenged." A DJ with an odd accent informs listeners that sometimes when people die, they miss their chance to cross into the afterlife and may need special assistance. As long as you follow his voice, he'll help you find the way "home." The voice is, of course, Gilbert Gottfried, putting on a kind-hearted and soothing voice to help lost souls make it beyond the mortal coil. Chris tracks down the address of the radio station and comes face to face with the voice, a radio DJ named Roy who talks like, well, Gilbert Gottfried when he's not on air. He's a lot like Miss Argentina in "Beetlejuice," except he's the one processing whether or not your soul is going to cross over to a heaven-like eternity, or torturous pain in proverbial Hell.

Gottfried's voice is typically played for laughs, but not on "Are You Afraid of the Dark." His shrill, loud, screeching voice is meant to strike fear in the heart of young Chris Leary. Unfortunately, Roy believes Chris is dead and needs to make it to the other side, ignoring his pleas that he's just a kid with plenty of time left. Gottfried screams in this kid's face, and the voice '90s kids grew up associating with Iago from "Aladdin" immediately transformed into something horrifying. He reprimands Chris for knocking on his window, and after assigning him a number to cross over, the camera zooms into Gottfried's face on a dutch angle as he lets out a maniacal laugh.

Subverting a familiar voice

What makes Gottfried's performance in this episode so memorable, is the subversion of associating his memorable voice with something worthy of fright. We witness his character seamlessly flip between the calm and gentle voice on the radio to a shrieking harbinger of death. His character is responsible for organizing lost souls' transition from our world into the next, and he mistakenly assigns Chris as another dead person needing to cross over. Throughout the episode, we see elderly people dragged away by terrifying ghosts in black cloaks as they shriek "You've made a mistake!" before being taken to the afterlife. Knowing that Chris almost shared the same fate, we can't help but wonder how many other mistakes Roy has made over the years. How many confused old people did he send to the nether realm?

Most of the human characters in "Are You Afraid of the Dark" leaned heavily into the camp nature of the show, but despite Gottfried's natural comedic charm, his character is genuinely unsettling. Despite being the most popular horror shows of the 1990s, the low-budget series seldom had known actors appear in the episodes. A handful of the Canadian child actors featured throughout have gone on to have successful careers, but Gottfried was one of the most recognizable performers to ever appear on "AYAOTD," which only added to the terror. For many of us '90s kids, this episode was the first time we saw the face of Gilbert Gottfried and implanted a tiny seed of fear in our subconscious that awakens each time we hear his voice cutting through the air.