If you were a child of the 90s (and budding horror fan), there’s a good chance that R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books loomed large in your life. They were just scary enough to give you the horror fan clout you craved, but kid-friendly enough to be stocked throughout school libraries. The stories have become beginner horror classics in their own right, but we all know it was the covers we remember most of all. In my case, at least, it was all about the covers. I was a strange sort of mini horror fan. As a kid, I was incredibly fascinated by the scary and macabre, but I was also kinda chicken. I was never brave enough to sit down and read a Goosebumps book cover to cover, but I did look at the covers. A lot.
We had most of the original run Goosebumps books in my elementary school library, and I would spend many after-school afternoons gazing at the incredible cover art in wonder, imagining all sorts of terrifying possibilities based on the images alone. I now realize that often my ideas for the stories were scarier than the tales themselves, but that just speaks to the magic of Goosebumps covers. As a certified 90s kid who fully judged these books by their covers, let me be your guide to the top ten best Goosebumps covers! Turns out even non-readers needed to beware of a scare sometimes…
10. Welcome to the Dead House (1992)
We’ll kick things off with the very first Goosebumps cover, illustrated by the stalwart artist behind almost every cover on this list, Tim Jacobus. He kicks things off showing just why he was the go-to for grabbing the eyes of scare-seeking kids. He delivers a classic horror scene with his signature saturated colors and clever bursts of originality. The cover of the very first Goosebumps book features a classic haunted house image, with the distinctive difference of a mysterious, not quite ghostly figure peering out from a glowing window. It’s perfectly ominous without trying to reinvent the basics of horror novel covers. Instead, it’s a perfect intro to what the Goosebumps books are all about, an entry into the rich world of horror writing for children. Bonus points for the hilariously blunt tag line “It will just kill you.” Thanks for the heads up!
9. You Can’t Scare Me! (1994)
This is a true case of judging a book by its cover. You Can’t Scare Me! is one of those Goosebumps books that didn’t feature any real horror, just a bunch of petty kids trying to pull scary pranks on each other. These installments were pretty rare, but they were always a disappointment to the budding horror fans who expected the true terrors promised by the cover art. But since we’re ranking the best Goosebumps covers, the actual contents of the book don’t really matter. All that does matter is that these terrifying mud monsters rising from the ground on the cover scared the crap out of nine-year-old me. Another win for Mr. Tim Jacobus!
8. Monster Blood (1992)
The first book in the most enduring saga of the Goosebumps series features a frightfully ominous and ambiguous cover. The flood of green goo rushing down a set of stairs and the abandoned pair of glasses suggest some sort of deadly accident, steeped in gore of the monstrous variety. As a kid, I had no idea the titular Monster Blood was actually cursed fun shop toy slime and not the literal bodily fluid of Frankenstein. As usual, a young imagination creates horrors far scarier than the story actually contains, and this cover plays right into it!
7. The Horror at Camp Jellyjam (1995)
The Horror at Camp Jellyjam isn’t one of the most popular or iconic of the numerous summer camp-set books of the original Goosebumps series, but the cover is one of the most unnerving, earning it a spot on this list. Yep, Camp Jellyjam beat out the far more beloved Welcome to Camp Nightmare (1993) based on the uncanny cover alone! The focus is all on the terrifying camp counselor, who boasts an unnaturally wide grin and odd hunched posture. And why are his pants so high!?!?! It’s enough to make any kid swear off summer camp for the rest of their days.
6. The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight (1994)
Scarecrows are terrifying. I think we can all agree on that. They have the word “scare” in their name after all. And yes, they’re meant to deter birds, but why do they always need to be horrifying to humans as well? Questions aside, it didn’t take long for R.L. Stine to employ the rural stalwarts to scare 90s kids. And Tim Jacobus didn’t have to work too hard to deliver an incredible cover to match. All the focus is on the titular scarecrow, draped in fabric that creates an unnerving scowl and some surprisingly lifelike eyes. It’s pretty clear what you’re gonna get from the ominous art — a book about terrifying scarecrows! But don’t let that diminish the restrained impact of this classic Goosebumps cover.
5. Night of the Living Dummy (1993)
The theme of the sentient ventriloquist dummy is widespread in horror, from Dead of Night (1945) to Dead Silence (2007). But there’s a reason 1993’s Night of the Living Dummy looms large in the minds of many horror fans. Even surrounded by formidable competition, it’s hard to beat being stared down by a terrifying dummy from the cover of a kid’s book. Given that traditional ventriloquist dummies were a relic of the past by the 90s, it’s safe to say that Slappy the Dummy was for many of us our first exposures to the terrifying, dead-eyed concept supposedly from the realm of comedy. Tim Jacobus’ simple cover art, featuring Slappy staring down the reader with terrifying malice, cemented dummies as major players in the nightmares of an entire generation of horror fans.
4. The Curse of Camp Cold Lake (1997)
A terrifying semi-human skull hybrid rises halfway out of the surface of a misty lake. Its glaring eyeballs, hair, and eyelashes (!!!!) are the only sign that this is more than a skeleton. The ghost in the actual story, one of the darkest of the original Goosebumps series, appears far more flesh and blood, but Jacobus continued his habit of taking the horror to the next level in this cover. It’s reminiscent of the poster and imagery from 1971’s Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, through the sugar-high fueled lens of a Scholastic book fair.
3. Monster Blood II (1994)
The cover of this book was the stuff of a 3rd grader’s nightmares. Don’t ask me why, but of all the many Goosebumps covers I encountered as a kid, the monstrous hamster breaking from its cage on the cover of Monster Blood II was the one that messed me up. Maybe it was the idea that such an adorable staple of elementary school joy could be warped into a monster? I think it speaks to Tim Jacobus’ ability to make traditionally cute creatures disarmingly threatening. Those huge teeth, the dripping saliva, the malicious beady eyes, the boney, rat-like claws! When I perused a lineup of Goosebumps books as a kid, I would be careful to never pull Monster Blood II off the shelf for fear of more nightmares of being chased by a giant hamster.
2. The Haunted Mask (1993)
The Haunted Mask is one of the most enduring classics of the Goosebumps series for good reason. It’s a simple premise with timeless appeal, it’s set on Halloween, and it’s unnervingly believable to a kid with a big imagination and a love of make-believe. The cover art is similarly impactful through simplicity, with the protagonists highly relatable (to 90s kids at least) hair and overalls obscured by the hideous, evil mask. It was dangerously easy for a similarly shy 90s girl (who may or may not have been me…) to imagine herself in the same predicament as Carly Beth, slowly being possessed by an evil Halloween mask, and the cover art brought that possibility to life.
1. Stay Out of the Basement (1992)
Our number one spot goes to the only cover on this list not illustrated by Tim Jacobus! All due respect to Jacobus’ brilliant vision; after all, he illustrated sixty out of the sixty-two original run Goosebumps covers and dominates this list for good reason! But despite the formidable Jacobus legacy, Jim Thiesen brought his own unique style to the second Goosebumps book, Stay Out of the Basement, and he hit it out of the park. Theisen’s art is more restrained and realistic, granting the perfect amount of believability to the horror of the image. Stay Out of the Basement is body horror for kids, of the plant-based variety, which is a particular fear of mine even in adulthood (I’m looking at you, Annihilation). Maybe I can trace that back to this cover, with its sinewy plant hand, complete with lettuce red knuckles and ragged fingernails. It’s the stuff of horror for any age and a fitting image for our favorite gateway horror series’s second installment!
That’s it for our countdown of the best original run Goosebumps covers. What do you think of our list? Did your favorites make the cut, or did we get this horrifyingly wrong? Let us know on our Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, and at The Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!