Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

The big screen adaptation of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark hits theaters tomorrow, and its imminent release has had me re-reading the books and reminding myself of just how creepy those stories were to me when I was a kid.

The first Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book was released in 1981. I was four years old, and it would be a couple of years before I discovered this treasure in probably the second grade.

I will never forget the first time I read those stories in our local library. Stephen Gammell’s illustrations came to life with each turn of the page, and Alvin Schwartz’s re-tellings of folklore, urban legends, and campfire stories crept into my imagination.

By the time I was in the fourth grade, I was reading Edgar Allan Poe, but I never left Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark fully behind me, and I would return to the original collection as well as the two volumes that followed it again and again over the years.

The stories have never lost their ability to chill the spine, and the illustrations, if anything, have gotten more creepy as my imagination has become more sophisticated and I have learned to look beyond the surface of those deceptively simple images.

With all of this in mind, I thought it might be fun to revisit them once again as I prepare to take a trip to the theater to see them come to life on the big screen, and share my picks for the ten creepiest entries in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

Here are my favorites with notations for the volume in which they were included in no particular order. Let me know yours in the comments!

**Author’s Note: There are indeed some spoilers ahead for these classic stories, though it boggles the mind that you might not be familiar with them if not from the books then from time around campfires or sleepovers when you were a kid. If you intend to read these books, you may want to turn back, now.**

Cold as Clay (Volume 1)

Cold as Clay Scary Stories
Cold as Clay illustration by Stephen Gammell from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Cold as Clay is essentially a precursor to modern urban legends of disappearing hitchhikers and other similar tales, but Schwartz’s special spin on the tale is one that always creeps under my skin.

A young woman is sent away from her home to live with relatives when her father deems Jim, the man she loves, unworthy. When Jim suddenly turns up at her relatives’ home many months later, she’s more than happy to go with him though she notices along the way that his skin is cold as clay.

Upon her arrival at home, Jim vanishes and her father reluctantly tells her that the young man died shortly after she went away.

Wonderful Sausage (Volume 2)

Wonderful Sausage Scary Stories
Wonderful Sausage artwork by Stephen Gammell For More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Long before I ever heard of Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett, there was Samuel Blunt, a butcher who had a great fight with his wife and in the midst of it all, killed her. To hide his crime, he buried her bones and fed the meat he cut from them through his meat grinder, seasoning and smoking it to turn it into a fine sausage.

The special sausage is a hit among his customers and to keep the money flowing into his shop, he begins to put other people through his meat grinder including some of the local children and their pets.

When the locals finally discover what Blunt has been doing…well, let’s just say it doesn’t end well for the butcher.

The Window (Volume 2)

The Window
The Window illustration by Stephen Gammell in More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

I have always had a fascination with vampires. Perhaps that’s why The Window always stuck out to me in More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. It was a vampire unlike anything I’d read in other stories at the time and its image haunted me as a kid for days after I’d read it.

Of course, I know now that the strange creature wrapped in its burial shroud is a much more traditional vampiric image pre-Stoker, and I’ve got to tell you that makes this tale of a young woman stalked by a preternatural creature in her home even creepier.

Harold (Volume 3)

Harold
Harold illustration by Stephen Gammell in Scary Stories 3 More Tales to Chill Your Bones

If Pennywise was responsible for an entire generation’s fear of clowns, then I’ve no doubt Harold can take some responsibility for the reason why many of us shudder when we see a lonely scarecrow in a field.

This particular tale centers on two men who create a scarecrow and begin to treat him like a real person. They take out their frustrations on him, laugh at him, and abuse the inanimate creature until one day Harold the scarecrow decides he’s had enough.

The ending of this particular story still gets under my skin after all these years.

Just Delicious (Volume 3)

Just Delicious illustration by Stephen Gammel for Scary Stories 3 More Tales to Chill Your Bones

Some stories are scary for what they say and others are scarier for what they imply.

Just Delicious falls squarely into this second category. George Flint was a bully who loved to eat almost as much as he loved having his way. One day, he brings home a cut of liver and instructs his wife that this is what she will cook for him for dinner.

Mina, of course, agrees because she fears her husband’s wrath. She cook the liver, slowly all afternoon, and then slices off a piece to try. It’s so good that she has another bite and another until the liver is all gone. Mina is terrified of what George will do when he gets home and there’s no liver to be had until she remembers that an old woman just died and her body has been left unattended at the local church for viewing…

The Red Spot (Volume 3)

The Red Spot Illustration by Stephen Gammell from Scary Stories 3 More Tales to Chill Your Bones

Anyone who’s ever been afraid of spiders knows the nightmare of waking and finding one crawling across your hand or face. This fear was amplified in The Red Spot when a girl wakes to find what her mother thinks is a spider bite on her face only to discover too late that that it is something far more terrible.

The Haunted House (Volume 1)

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
The Haunted House illustration by Stephen Gammell in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

I love a good old fashioned haunted house story, and this is by far one of the best I’ve ever read.

When a minister decides to get to the bottom of a local haunting, he discovers the spirit of a woman who claims to have been murdered by her lover for her fortune. She gives the minister a method to detect the killer–why she couldn’t just tell him we don’t know–and promises if he avenges her, she will give him her fortune to use for the Church.

And that’s exactly what he does.

Alligators (Volume 1)

Alligators illustration by Stephen Gammell in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Based on a folk tale from the Ozarks, Alligators tells the story of a woman who fears her husband turns into an alligator each night to go swimming in the river. When their sons are born, he begins to teach them to swim early and they, too, begin to join him on his nightly outings.

Terrified of what is happening to her family, she seeks the help of the townspeople only to find herself locked away in an institution. Oddly enough, however, the locals begin to spot three alligators, one large and two smaller, in the local river and the woman’s family is nowhere to be found.

Somebody Fell from Aloft (Volume 2)

Somebody Fell from Aloft illustration by Stephen Gammell for More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Ships and ghost stories go hand in hand and this one is an excellent revenge tale about a man haunted by something he did in his past that finally comes to a head late one night on ship at sea. You can almost hear the waves and the squelch of a body hitting the deck of the ship as you read it!

Sounds (Volume 2)

Sounds illustration by Stephen Gammell in More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Another scary story in a lonely house, Sounds finds three men seeking shelter from a storm inside what appears to be an abandoned old house. They build a fire and are just beginning to get warm when suddenly from upstairs they hear screams and thunderous footsteps as though a murder is happening over the heads.

They follow the events only by sound until it seems to finally end and they escape the house deciding to take their chances with the storm.