If you’re like me and grew up shivering and squealing while reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz, then you’re probably biting your nails with excitement that the film adaption from Andre Øvredal (The Autopsy of Jane Doe) is finally here! I would also guess that you’ve spent a fair amount of time attempting to find that same eerie exuberance you felt from Scary Stories in other books as well.
While nothing comes close to creeping us out like those stories did alongside Stephen Gammell’s illustrations, I have a few books that may come dangerously close.
10. Tales for the Midnight Hour, J.B. Stamper
Originally written in 1977, Tales for the Midnight Hour predated Scary Stories by more than a decade. And while it is considered a midlevel book, intended for kids between the ages of 8 and 12, the stories in this volume are a bit creepier and darker than you would expect. (Think of it as the 80s version of PG movies before Temple of Doom brought about the PG-13 rating). Boasting 17 short stories, there are tales here that have lingered in the back of my brain from when I first read it as a ten year old, including The Jigsaw Puzzle and The Gooney Birds.
9. Through the Woods, Emily Carroll
In this stunning graphic novel, Emily Carroll gives us five eerily illustrated stories, plus an intro and conclusion that will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book. While there isn’t a lot of gore, the creep-factor is off the charts and your uneasiness grows with each story. Carroll’s words are enough to give you the willies, but when paired with her art, it’s a goosebump free-for-all! This YA collection definitely harkens back to the feeling of fear and delight that Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark gave me as a kid. I highly recommend reading it in bed at night. It won’t disappoint!
8. Half-Minute Horrors, Susan Rich
Edited by Susan Rich, this midlevel collection of mini monstrosities comes from some well-known writers, including Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, Lemony Snicket, Margaret Atwood, Jerry Spinelli, R.L. Stein, Joyce Carol Oates and more. Each of these stories will take you under a minute to read, but will leave you will a chill all the same. The fun part is that there are different formats throughout the book, so while one may be a paragraph long story, another may be written in prose (such as Halloween Mask by Sonya Sones) or in comic book style art (like Trick by Adam Rex).
7. The Charles Addams Mother Goose, Charles Addams
The Charles Addams Mother Goose is a must-have picture book for horror fans of all ages, particularly those who adore The Addams Family. Originally published in 1967, a deluxe edition was released in 2002 that includes photographs of Charles Addams as well as some glimpses of his other art. The book itself is a delightfully demented collection of Mother Goose tales that feature each of The Addams Family members in ways you’ve probably never imagined. As creepy as it is charming, it’s a must-read (and own!) for lovers of the silly and strange.
6. Terrifying Tales to Tell at Night: 10 Scary Stories to Give You Nightmares, Stephen Jones
This new collection of nightmares was selected by award-winning horror editor Stephen Jones and was just released in July. Featuring art work by Randy Broecker and stories that are both old and new, the book is promising to be a devilish read for fright fans of all ages. Neil Gaiman, whose short story Click-Clack the Rattlebag is among the offerings, posted a photo of the book and mentioned that it “has stories in it that terrified me when I was young (in the Armada Book of Ghost Stories) and ones I’m really looking forward to reading for the first time.” Other writers include Stephen King, Lisa Morton, and Lynda E. Rucker, to name a few.
5. The Spider and the Fly, Mary Botham Howitt, Tony DiTerlizzi
Fans of Dungeons & Dragons or Magic the Gathering may recognize Tony DiTerlizzi’s breathtaking artwork in this picture book, which accompanies the chilling poem from Mary Botham Howitt. Written in the 19th century, this haunting tale is just as applicable in the modern age with it’s warning regarding “idle, silly, flattering words” and good old 1980s style stranger danger. DiTerlizzi gives us a mix of Edward Gorey and Charles Addams art with a silent film aesthetic. Howitt’s prose is as frightening as it is lovely and the details within DiTerlizzi’s illustrations are a wonder. This is a creepy classic that is spine-tinglingly suitable for all ages.
4. Nightmares: Poems to Trouble Your Sleep, Jack Prelutsky, Arnold Lobel
Jack Prelutsky’s Nightmares is full of every kind of monster you can imagine; vampires, ghosts, trolls, ghouls, and beyond. The poems are accompanied by fantastically freaky art from Arnold Lobel, known for his work on Frog and Toad. But don’t expect adorable art in these pages. Lobel seems to take some inspiration from Edward Gorey in his black and white drawings that fit the Prelutsky’s putrid prose. While the book is aimed at children and families, it’s actually quite a bit more macabre than Prelutsky’s other offerings like It’s Halloween or The Dragons are Singing Tonight.
3. Short & Shivery, Robert D. San Souci
While Short & Shivery may not pack as mean a punch as Scary Stories, the tales within are far-reaching and pulled from folklore from around the globe as well. The various tales are collected and retold by Robert D. San Souci (Cinderella Skeleton) and cover a wide variety of creatures like The Loup-Garou and The Golem as well as other stories from Russia, Japan, Ireland, France, and Africa. These are the type of supernatural stories that are shared around campfires or from a flashlight-lit face during a power outage.
2. Beware! R.L. Stine Picks His Favorite Scary Stories, R.L. Stine
If you’ve ever wondered what stories may have scared or inspired Goosebumps author R.L. Stine, then you’ll want to read Beware! Here the author compiles his favorite alarming adventures and even chooses a few to retell in his own way. Included in the collection are stories by Ray Bradbury, Bram Stoker, Shel Silverstein and Roald Dahl. Readers will also find a few shorts from Alvin Schwartz, proving that Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark truly is at the top of the blood-curdling books list.
1. Nightmares and Dreamscapes, Stephen King
We can’t have a list of hair-raising reads without mentioning the modern master of the macabre, Stephen King. I read this short story collection when I was in high school and still recall feeling disturbed, amused, and jittery after reading the various tales. Among those that left a lasting impression in my high school gray matter were Suffer the Little Children, The Night Flier, and The Moving Finger. While King’s content may seem more mature than Schwartz’s Scary Stories, I feel like they contain much of the same eerie energy; a sort of whimsical, playful horror that not only makes our skin crawl, but makes us giggle (and not just nervously).
What do you think boils and ghouls… will you be rushing over to your local library to pick up a few of these reads? Which books would you include on your list of scary stories? Let us know on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!