The Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark movie hits theaters this weekend, but true fans still remember the original book series — Alvin Schwartz’s iconic short horror stories for children. For many, they were a childhood staple: The stories, powered by Stephen Gammell’s ghastly, often unforgettable illustrations, are still etched into our memories and, possibly, inspired a passion for all things spooky.
But how good were those original stories, really? The series was published between the late ’80s and early ’90s and spans three books — Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones — yet only a handful of the 82 stories made the film cut. Judging by the trailer, this includes fan favorites like “Harold” and “The Red Spot,” undeniably two of the best in the collection.
Still, there were plenty of duds. In honor of the movie’s release, we revisited all three books to determine which of the 82 tales hold up in terms of scariness and have remained relevant over the years. This proved daunting, given that each book ends with a “funny” section devoted to lackluster gags. Still, there were plenty of undying themes of abuse and self-hatred that sent chills up our spines, along with some old-fashioned scares. So here we go — maybe don’t read this list at night.
82. “The Big Toe,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Unpopular opinion: The trilogy’s opener, which will appear in the movie, is a total dud. Tasked with catching the reader’s attention after the book’s brief explainer introduction, “Strange and Scary Things,” this story is about a filthy little boy finding and harvesting a big toe from the ground to add to his family’s soup. Problem is, the toe’s owner shows up looking for its appendage, but how? Something like 85 percent of our foot control comes from the big toe, so I call bullshit on that corpse finding the boy post-dinner, pre–physical therapy.
81. “The Dead Man’s Brains,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Some of the series’ weakest points come when the stories fit a gimmick rather than a narrative. Here, we’re told this is a game, in the same way that one of your more annoying acquaintances might trick you into a never-ending night of Monopoly or the like. You’re probably familiar with this game, however, which involves using food as a substitute for a rotting corpse and relies on a darkened room to disguise it as such. The eyeballs are grapes, which checks out. The ears are dried apricots, which is ingenious. And so it goes, each body part corresponding to another delectable — that is, until we get to the hands. They are rubber gloves, but instead of being filled with something like popcorn they’re filled with mud or ice, as if that isn’t a big WTF because both things are slightly inconvenient while also being nothing consistency-wise like a hand. Furthermore, reading this how-to isn’t even meant to scare you, just inspire you.
80. “The Viper,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Let’s dive into the funny sections of these books right away. I’m not saying there’s no room for humor in horror, and I appreciate the books ending with a little levity — sort of like when you would avoid nightmares by putting on a comedy after letting a horror movie scare the shit out of you as a kid — but most of these are instantly forgettable or frustratingly stupid. Without giving too much away, let’s just say all of this could have been avoided had the protagonist checked the peephole before opening her door and letting in a totally well-meaning, if slightly off, window washer.
79. “The Attic,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Attics have a long history of being scary. Often dark and dusty, the horrors of an attic can range from ritual sacrifice to adolescent incest. So it’s confounding that this story is somehow one of the least scary in the series. Although it hints at a gruesome death for man’s best friend, specifically Rupert’s dog, Sam, in this story, in the end the horror hinges on the storyteller taking a pause after screaming “AAAAAAAAAAAH” and banking on somebody asking, ”Why did Rupert scream?” The big finale? He stepped on a nail.
78. “The Slithery-Dee,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
The Slithery-Dee’s simple story line paired with its comic-strip-like presentation makes it almost memeable. Though the reader never sees the Slithery-Dee in question, it’s safe to assume it’s a sea monster who eats animals — and a very curious creature with a long tail and the stance of a human — that dare to stroll along the coast. This seems ripe for resident fish-man obsessive Guillermo del Toro’s treatment, however, and with a little movie magic, we could be looking at a top-ten story that’s the darker version of The Shape of Water. Alas, this would-be palate cleanser in what’s sure to be an otherwise horrifying film will not be making the cut.
77. “The Bad News,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
The fact that this story is called “The Bad News” and is about baseball yet has absolutely nothing to do with the 1976 seminal sports comedy The Bad News Bears seems especially rude. Instead, we’re introduced to Leon and Todd, two dudes who played baseball growing up and have since graduated to watching baseball and talking about baseball as adults. Both are very concerned about the baseball prospects in heaven. I can’t imagine meeting these idiots at a party. Anyway, Todd kicks the bucket and up to heaven he goes. But only briefly, because there is of course baseball in heaven, which means Todd has to travel back down to Earth to let Leon know this. The bad news? Leon is scheduled to pitch tomorrow. Seems this story is more satisfactory than scary — Todd and Leon get exactly what they want, and the Earth is spared their uselessness.
76. “The Brown Suit,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
“Okay” is the only note I wrote while reading this story. Maybe I’m desensitized, but the ending seemed more reminiscent of a MacGyver episode, not a terror-inducing tale. After two men are prepared for viewing at a funeral home, their respective wives decide the color of each one’s suit is off. The undertaker is happy to make a switch, but instead of undressing two full-grown stiffs, he just switches their heads. Sure, life moves fast, but death moves faster. Who knows what else the undertaker had to do that day, but thanks to his ingenuity, he’ll be sure to get it done.
75. “Ba-Room!,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
This is one of a handful of scary stories that are set to music. Readers are instructed that the story be read to the tune of “The Irish Washerwoman,” which gives it a very “Third Class Dance”–from–the–Titanic vibe. The subjects, however, are not dancing. Instead, they’re dead. Yes, both O’Leary and O’Reilly are dead in the very same bed completely unaware of one another. Are we sure ba-room isn’t simply the sound of a relationship’s death rattle?
74. “Thumpity-Thump,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
This tale closes out the series’ second installment leaving something to be desired. A poltergeist tale as old as time, it revolves around a family terrorized by a chair that thumps around the house. Eventually, the chair takes a break, and one of its legs seems to be pointing to something. So, the family decides to dig a hole in the ground where the chair leg has set its aim. They do indeed find a body, which has the potential to cause dread, but they bury it back so swiftly that it’s barely a blip in the story — which ends with the family leaving to return to their hometown, where chairs “don’t go rarin’ and rampagin’ ’roun’, scarin’ folks out of their wits …” You get the idea … they prefer a stable place to sit. Seems fair.
73. “Strangers,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
This is less a scary story and more the tale of a female superhero. It opens with a man and a woman sitting on a train. The woman takes out a book and begins reading. Like clockwork, the man asks, “What are you reading?” Because that’s what anyone reading a book wants, to be taken away from it to engage in asinine small talk. So she tells him it’s a ghost story. He, of course, starts to share his thoughts on the existence of spirits even though no one asked him to. Her response is to vanish. Not only does she prove ghosts are real, but she also quickly gets away from this dude. Scary story or dream come true?
72. “The Hog,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
Who here has been haunted by an ex? That song that reminds you of them, or that smell, or that very specific post-breakup Instagram they posted of themselves daring to live on after the dissolution of your relationship. Often, after a breakup, your former relationship can seem inescapable. Sometimes, however, you’re the one who ended it and an ex who refuses to move on becomes the bane of your existence. In this story, the ex comes back as a hog that’s able to run as fast as a car can drive and uses that skill to stalk a former flame. Seems annoying, right? It gets worse. When the protagonist confronts the hog, albeit in an aggressive manner, it responds, “I was just out for a brisk walk, enjoying myself. How could you strike me after all that we meant to one another?” Damn. Talk about getting gaslit.
71. “Is Something Wrong?,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
Yes, something is wrong, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s scary. A quick entry that appears in the trilogy, this story directly follows “The Hog” and has a similar vibe, as the protagonist cannot seem to outrun a horrible thing. It might not be an ex, but it does have the same aggressive approach coupled with an insincere amount of politeness that we saw the hog portray earlier. After chasing the protagonist to the point that he thinks his lungs will burst, the creature simply taps him on the shoulder to ask if something is wrong. The nerve!
70. “It’s Him!,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
This is a cut-and-dry case of two assholes getting what they deserve: an eternity suffering together. These two people are so mean that they have to live in the woods by themselves where they can’t bother anyone else. The wife is so mean that when she gets annoyed by her husband, she cuts his head off and buries him out back. The husband is so mean that he comes back to haunt his murderous wife as if he too isn’t a piece of shit that no one likes. Epitomizing the standard for-better-or-for-worse vows, the story spins around to reveal death doesn’t do you part if there’s no one else who can tolerate you.
69. “T-h-u-p-p-p-p-p-p-p!,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
The illustration accompanying this story looks like an alien, which might lead people to believe they’re in for a real invasion-laden treat. So where does this extraterrestrial tale take us? Out of this world? Absolutely not. After Sarah sees the alien fucking around in her room numerous times, her aloof father responds, “You’re upset over nothing.” Immediately, this could mean he’s already an alien or a dickhead of a dad. Honestly, he’s probably both, but we never truly find out because the alien in question is quick to fulfill its mission. You might think it’s here to take over the world, but this alien is much less sinister and has come to Earth to give humans … raspberries. No, not the fruit. That thing that people do to babies to make them giggle.
68. “You May Be Next …,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
Honestly, this one might have Song of the Summer potential. A little ditty about dying, it ends with the line, “And that is the end of a perfect day.” Morbid? Sure. Catchy? Definitely.
67. “The Girl Who Stood on a Grave,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
This story presents a theory that is especially easy to test. It posits that if you stand on a grave after dark, the person buried below it will grab you and pull you under. Whether “under” refers to beneath the grass or into the darkest hell imaginable is unclear. Either way, it seems inconvenient to meet this fate. It also seems unlikely, which is why the girl in this story takes the dollar bet to stand on a grave. She’s instructed to stick a knife in the dirt to prove she was there. She plunges the knife into the ground of a grave she fancies, but what she doesn’t realize is that she lets it pierce her skirt first, which means she’s jerked back and falls to the ground when she tries to leave. Presumably she spends the night screaming for help, but her friends don’t bother to look for her until later, and by that time she’s died of fright. This taps into the fear of fear itself, sure, but it also points out how stupidity can cost you your life.
66. “The Walk,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Now here’s a story that aptly portrays how the fear of oneself can be greater than the fear of the unknown. As a man walks down a dirt road, he comes across his mirror image. They make eye contact and are instantly terrified by one another. Try as we might, we’re unable to escape ourselves, so it’s true to life that the two continue down the same path, becoming increasingly scared by themselves. And that’s it. This is seemingly their eternity. Spooky, huh?
65. “The Thing,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Now that we’ve established that your present self can be scary AF, what about your future self? In this tale, two men are faced with a skeleton decked out in black pants, a white shirt, and black suspenders. The men and the skeleton play a little cat-and-mouse game, the skeleton following the men as they run away, only to become bored and eventually leave them alone. Years later, however, one of the men becomes sick, and as he deteriorates, he looks more and more like the skeleton. Seems lame given that we’re all slated to age. I suppose if you’re an influencer, though, this one might hit home.
64. “A Man Who Lived in Leeds,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Simple and direct, the opening of this story informs us that “some say this rhyme doesn’t mean anything. Others are not so sure.” That’s surprising given that it’s a clear warning about keeping vigilant in the wake of backstabbers. And the story isn’t speaking in metaphors. It literally advises that one stay on the lookout for a penknife-wielding killer, unless you want to die as blood runs down your back.
63. “Wait till Martin Comes,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
A man looking for shelter from the rain, which is a recurring theme throughout the series, finds it in an abandoned house. Well, abandoned except for a bunch of of cats that keep insisting the man stick around until Martin comes. He doesn’t and instead hightails it out of there. It’s a lackluster story that fails to utilize the potential creepiness that cats can offer.
62. “The White Wolf,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
This one could have cracked the top 50, if it weren’t so predictable. Want to avoid a gruesome death? Keep your promises. Or don’t and end up like Bill the butcher. After a stint with the meat cleaver, Bill hangs up his chainmail to hunt white wolves, which are overpopulating the region. He’s so good at his job that it becomes obsolete, and he makes a promise never to kill a white wolf again. Does he keep that promise, or does he try to bait a remaining wolf with a lamb only to be torn to pieces by the predator? As with a lot of these stories, which were written for children, there’s a clear moral. In this case, it’s pretty chill — keep your promises or die a gruesome death, kids.
61. “Alligators,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Alligators are scary, and they’re actually having a bit of a moment right now as gator fever spreads. From Crawl to Chicago’s Chance the Snapper, alligators are on the come-up. So how does this set of alligators rank? Let’s see. In this story, a woman is convinced her husband is trying to turn himself and their two sons into alligators. Sure enough, her entire family vanishes while three never-before-seen alligators are spotted at a local watering hole. It’s clear what happened here, which makes the scariest part of the story that no one will believe the woman. In fact, they don’t even bother trying to offer her another explanation for the disappearance of her family; instead, they throw her in the hospital because “everyone knows there aren’t any alligators around” there. Terrible advice: Up until this summer, there weren’t any alligators in Chicago, either.
60. “Cemetery Soup,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Soup is not scary. Soup is delicious. This soup, in particular, sounds most appetizing. With some carrots, green beans, corn, barley, onions, potatoes, and a “snitch of beef,” with some salt and pepper, this soup is chef’s kiss. The catch? The soupbone most certainly belongs to a corpse as it was found in a cemetery. Yet when the corpse comes back for what’s its own, the soup-maker simply throws it back to the corpse before serving herself some soup. Scary? More like succulent.
59. “No, Thanks,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
This is the tale of the Vector Marketing scam. You remember Vector, right? The company that convinced you and all your down-and-out friends to sell kitchen knives during college as part of a pyramid scheme? In this story, we see a man so hopeless that he resorts to cold-calling anywhere he can, even a warehouse parking lot after hours. “Hey, mister,” he calls after an employee heading to his car. “Nice sharp knife … cuts nice and easy,” he spews his sales pitch. “Hey, man, only three dollars. Two for five.” he continues before adding, “Nice present for your mama.” The mark dodges him by saying, “No, thanks. She’s got one.” The scary thing is? She probably does, because no one’s safe from a pyramid scheme in this small town. More annoying than scary, this one sits comfortably on the chiller, not chilling end of the list.
58. “Faster and Faster,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
The passing of time offers up a certain type of fear. It’s fueled by anxiety, and something like an increasingly frantic drumbeat is sure to set it off. Here, as a ghostly drum beats faster and faster, a man watches his brother die in front of him but is unable to prove that what he heard and what he saw was real. The terror comes from time — or, rather, the lack of it. Pair that with the frustration of having to prove what you saw with your own eyes, and that’s why it creeped up on the list.
57. “Rings on Her Fingers,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
If this story had a tagline, it would be “Don’t get mad, get even.” After Daisy dies and is buried in all her finery, a grave robber goes after her jewelry. Specifically, he wants her wedding ring and its smaller but stunning ruby companion. When he pries open her casket, though, her body has already started to bloat and the rings are stuck on her swollen fingers. Dude is determined, so he cuts her fingers off. But to his surprise, her fingers start to bleed and she begins to stir. Scared, he trips over a bunch of his own shit and falls directly onto his own knife. Daisy, unaffected, collects her belongings and walks home while the grave robber bleeds to death. Serves him right.
56. “Oh, Susannah!,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
This is absolutely not what you think it is. Not at all. That semi-charming song you used to sing at the top of your lungs as a kid has been replaced with a dorm-room nightmare. Susannah and Jane are college students living together when Susannah starts hearing “Oh, Susannah!” being hummed at irritating hours. Surely it’s my roommate fucking with me, she thinks and yells at her to stop. The humming, however, does not stop, so Susannah goes over to Jane’s bed to set her straight. But when she pulls the covers off, Jane she discovers her head has been cut off. Convinced it’s a dream, she tells herself all will be well when she awakens, and then the story trails off, leaving us to wonder whether Jane was really decapitated or if Susannah has gone girl interrupted.
55. “The Church,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Sometimes it’s the smallest of things that can take you out of a story, and that’s what happens here. We’re off to a good start as Larry is seen driving around in his topless Jeep when a storm starts. Good, a Jeep bro is going to have his parade rained on. Passing by a cabin that he knows is haunted, he drives further to a church to seek refuge. He quickly parks his gas guzzler and runs for cover. Sure enough, the church is dry as a bone, so the man feels his way to a pew where he can stretch out and wait out the storm. But then lightning crashes, illuminating the church to reveal it is full of ghouls waiting for their graves to dry out. At this point, it seems literally anything could happen. Maybe the ghouls mercilessly tear Jeep guy apart limb by limb while mocking his chosen mode of transportation. But no, instead one of them simply says, “ Baa-a-a!” That’s it. All it takes is one sheep noise and the story takes a turn for the worst.
54. “Footsteps,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
This story is eerie, sure, but entirely safe. While Liz is doing homework, she swears she hears someone in the house. Her sister Sarah is there, but for some reason Liz is certain the footsteps she hears belong to a man, even though when she goes to check who is upstairs, she’s only able to find Sarah. Later, Liz sees footprints in the snow, but something tells me they’re the result of a well-executed prank by her little sister. Like, if you’re trying to truly scare us, let’s see some blood in the snow. (Sarah, you can use ketchup for this.)
53. “Like Cats’ Eyes,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
Glowing animal eyes are the No. 1 cause for alien conspiracy theories, and this story illustrates that perfectly. Are the numerous eyes that cut through the dark and seem to peer into your soul simply a collection of pets watching you sleep, or are they a family of extraterrestrials plotting your dissection? There’s only one way to find out. Hit the light, if you can manage to find the courage to expose the truth.
52. “Such Things Happen,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
As the title indicates, this story has a very so-it-goes vibe that relates directly to the death of an elderly townswoman. While the town doctor is convinced the 90-year-old died of old age, Bill, the story’s protagonist, is certain he killed her via a series of spells his grandpa suggests after Bill’s livestock starts mysteriously dying. Why does Bill blame this woman for the death of his livelihood? Because earlier in the story he ran over her cat and killed it. More silly than scary, and at one point an auxiliary character says, “But witches have gone out of style, haven’t they?,” which maybe dates the book more than the tired trope of a mystical and cruel cat lady.
51. “The Dead Hand,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
Situated directly after the classic “Harold,” this story acts as a real comedown. Starting off slow, we’re introduced to Tom Pattison, who rather stupidly for a Scary Stories character, comments, “I work out there every day. Not once have I ever seen anything to frighten me. Why should it be different at night?” Well, Tom, because shit goes bump in the night, which he quickly learns when a dismembered hand reaches for his in the dark. And then no one can find Tom for weeks. When turns up again, he’s clearly traumatized, and where his hand is supposed to be there’s nothing but a “ragged stump oozing blood.” So although this tale of hand-on-hand crime doesn’t outshine “Harold,” it does remind you there’s still something scary about the dark.
50. “Bess,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
This twisted tale takes us on a familiar journey to a fortune-teller. As with the majority of stories that involve a mystic, her word goes unheeded. In this particular take, John Nicholas visits the fortune-teller and is told his beloved horse, Bess, will be the death of him. Only slightly worried, he mostly laughs it off and completely forgets about it once he retires the horse and sells it to a family for their kids to ride. Eventually, Bess dies. Remembering his fortune, he chuckles and decides he would like to see Bess one last time to say good-bye. After all, a dead horse can’t kill you. John is told the horse’s bones are in a far corner of the family’s farm. Once he locates them, he bends down to pat Bess’s skull and a rattlesnake that had taken up residence in the horse’s carcass bites and kills John. It’s a solid tale, but not all that original or compelling.
49. “The Wolf Girl,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
This is a longer one with a title that tells you all you need to know, but if that doesn’t feel like enough, may I suggest you watch Wildling? It’s streaming.
48. “The Ghost With the Bloody Fingers,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
No this is not about finger-banging on your period, which is only scary if you’ve never done it before. It is instead very predictably about a ghost that will not shut up about its bloody fingers. As one of the joke stories, its ending is abysmal and involves a guitar guy (you know, like the one from college) telling the ghost to chill and grab a Band-Aid. Seemingly solid advice, if the dude wasn’t, you know, dead already.
47. “The Guests,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
While this tries to impart the messed-up lesson that if you’re very stupid, you deserve whatever scary thing happens to you, in the end it falls flat. A couple traveling to visit family stops at a complete stranger’s house to see if they rent out rooms. They don’t, but they will for this couple. Red flag! But then the stranger makes them cake and coffee and refuses to accept any money for their kindness. Red flag! The couple spends a comfy night and leaves the next morning only to be told by a local server at a diner that there’s no such stranger in town and that the house they claim to have stayed at burned down a long time ago. The couple returns and sure enough it turns out they had spent the night with a ghost in a haunted house, but they did so for free, so really the only scary thing here is knowing a visit with the in-laws is just around the corner.
46. “The Dream,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
Judging by the trailer, an adaptation of this will appear in the film. A visual treatment makes sense, given that the story pales in comparison to the haunting illustration accompanying it. In the same vein as “The Guests,” this is an odd no-stakes story about an overnight stay. Lucy Morgan, an artist, decides she needs a change of scenery and heads for a hotel. Prior to her trip, she has a dream that the hotel will be made of trapdoors with the windows nailed shut. She decides to change her plans based on this premonition and travel to a different town. Once there, however, the room she receives is exactly as she saw it in her dream and the woman who had shown her to her room turns out to be the same pale-faced, black-eyed woman with long black hair that haunted her sleep. This sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? Well, it isn’t. Lucy escapes without a scratch.
45. “The Wreck,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
The movement of time in “The Wreck” is interesting in that Fred and Jeanne meet at a Christmas dance, where Fred gives her tinsel to put in her hair. Later, Jeanne asks for a ride to her car, which she had crashed earlier, but requests to be dropped off at the end of the road she claims to have left it on. Fred acquiesces and doesn’t ask at all why she went to the dance after a car accident. After driving away, he realizes he doesn’t have Jeanne’s phone number, so he turns around to get it. That’s when he sees a wreck ahead and a car caught on fire. Upon closer inspection, he sees Jeanne pinned to the steering wheel with tinsel in her hair. I’m not sure what’s more unbelievable, that Jeanne’s ghost went to the dance, put tinsel in her hair, and then returned to the scene of her death or that Fred couldn’t have found her on Tinder instead of turning around.
43.–43. “The Window,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and “The Drum,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
What exactly is there to say here other than watch out for seemingly innocuous inanimate objects, because in a Scary Stories series, they will be neither. Instead, they will be the reason you die. Luckily, at least one of these is easily avoided.
42. “What Do You Come For?,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Conspiracy theory: This story directly influenced Manfred Mann’s “I Came for You.” Without getting too deep into it, a disheveled man (“Wounded deep in battle, I stand stuffed like some soldier undaunted”) is determined … to repeat the line “I came for you” until he gets a record deal out of it.
41. “The Bus Stop,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
What’s more horrific than hitting it off with someone only to be ghosted? Perhaps discovering that the person you’ve fallen for is literally a ghost. Thus is the fate of Ed Cox, who picked up Joanna Finney at the bus stop to save her from the rain. The kind gesture blossomed into a burgeoning relationship, until one day Joanna seemingly stands him up. When Ed sets out to find why, he’s told by Joanna’s mother that she died 20 years ago. Scary sure, but there are better, more spine-chilling romantic snafus to come.
40. “Clinkity-Clink,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Even though this story has one of the more jubilant titles, it goes deep. Following the death of an old woman, it serves up lines like, “When she died her eyes were wide open, staring at everything and seeing nothing.” Depending on how honest we want to be with ourselves on any given day, that could be referencing eye strain from staring at a computer too long or literally every mistake you ever semi-willing made by ignoring the obvious. In this story, it tilts toward the latter, as a gravedigger decides to rob one of the graves he’s supposed to be making room in the cemetery for. The rest of the story plays out as if it was inspired by Rhianna, with the robbed ghost laying down a beat before demanding she is paid. Here’s an excerpt: “Wind: Bizze, bizze, BUZ-OOOOOO-O-O-O Money: Clinkity-clink, clinkity-clink Ghost: Give me my money. Who’s got my money? Whoooo? Whoooo? Gravedigger: Oh Lordy, lordy!” It’s a real jam.
39. “The Trouble,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
This is by far one of the longest entries in the series. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make for one of the best. A classic poltergeist tale, it’s told through dated entries and feels reminiscent of The Amityville Horror movies. The spin is that it’s a commentary on teenagers and posits that poltergeists are not ghosts at all; instead, they’re a manifestation of the hormones of “normal teenagers.” It’s an ambitious story, no doubt, that calls to mind the likes of Carrie, but it fails with its matter-of-fact delivery.
38. “Somebody Fell From Aloft,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
This is for the studio dwellers, the bunk-bed sharers, and anyone else who has slept aloft in a space-saving bed. Although it’s about a specter falling off the upper rigging of a ship, if you’ve ever worried about falling out of your bed to the cold hard floor below, you’ll get it. It also involves a murder conspiracy, after it’s presumed one of the shipmates finds a fallen stowaway and shoves his body overboard. This clearly raises the question, could you push your partner out of bed and get away with it?
37. “Something Was Wrong,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Sometimes the simplest story is one of the scariest. Case in point is John Sullivan’s story, which involves him walking through town only to cause chaos wherever he goes. The reason? Unbeknownst to John, he had died the day before, a fact that is revealed only when he called home for his wife and is informed she is at his funeral. Is this real or an elaborate breakup scheme?
36. “A Weird Blue Light,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
This is another ship-related story that easily translates to a present-day danger. Sure, the weird blue light in the story is referring to an old-school schooner aflame in the water, but let us not forget the current danger blue light from digital devices is posing. The ghost ship vanishes without harming anyone but makes for a great story. Sort of like the story you tell when you’ve bought blue-light-blocking glasses to vanquish digital eye strain and you cannot stop recommending them to everyone you know.
35. “The Voice,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
This is not about the reality-TV show, but you already knew that. It does, however, have a weird connection to the trials of childhood stardom. How is that? Well, the horror relies heavily on the neglect of a kid. Ellen, who is hearing someone call her name and threaten that they’re coming upstairs to get her, repeatedly yells for her parents to no avail. When they do finally come to her rescue, whatever was tormenting her seems to have left. Perhaps Ellen just needed a little parental attention. Remind anyone of being raised by Baby Boomers? There’s nothing like inherited horror that will inevitably trickle down through generations to come.
34. “The Babysitter,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
This is a classic story that hasn’t aged too well, even if it did spawn “The call is coming from inside the house.” First thing first, landlines are practically obsolete, so the idea of one ringing incessantly is a bit unbelievable to modern audiences. And if you have your phone on anything other than silent, you get what you deserve, which is probably a lot of ring-related anxiety and maybe death. Regardless, the man upstairs ends up being apprehended by the cops before he can do anything more than creepily smile at the babysitter and her temporary brood, making this more of a shake than a scare.
33. “A New Horse,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
A new horse is an old horse is a dead horse, of course. Seriously, these books take some sick pleasure involving animals in their devilish ways. But sometimes the horse isn’t a horse at all and instead it’s a man who’s been turned into an animal by magic. Does he take it lying down or does he buck? Oh, he most certainly bucks, exacting his revenge by placing the cursed saddle on its rightful owner and seeing how she likes being rode hard before the discard.
32. “May I Carry Your Basket?,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Yes, please. I’m tired. Seriously though, I would love for you to carry my groceries. Here we have Good Samaritan Sam offering to carry a woman’s basket. He can’t really make out this woman’s face because it’s bundled up in a scarf. Or is it? No sooner than when Sam takes the basket does he hear from it a woman saying, “That’s very nice of you.” Sam freaks and the woman’s body and her disembodied head began chasing him and biting at his legs. Why is this scarier than some of the other stories? Because it reinforces the notion that helping others only gets you grief, which is a dark and dangerous thought.
31. “The White Satin Evening Gown,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
If you’ve ever rented the runway, scoured the thrift shops, or in general avoided buying clothes brand new, this story, which was probably written by Capitalism itself, is here to scare you. A woman of little means is invited to a dance but has nothing to wear. Her thrifty mother suggests she rent an outfit, so off to the pawnshop she goes. There, she finds the most beautiful white satin evening gown, which is a specific kind of mood if you’re wearing it to something other than your own wedding, so good for her. She has a wonderful time dancing the night away until she feels dizzy and decides to leave early. Once home, she goes to bed. The next morning, her mother finds her dead. The enjoyment of this story comes from its insanely specific explanation for her death. An autopsy indicates the woman was poisoned by embalming fluid. You see, the pawnbroker bought the garment from an undertaker’s helper who must have taken it off a corpse, and the embalming fluid that had rubbed off on it entered the woman’s skin as she got sweaty while getting down. Word to the wise, wash your second-hand items before wearing them.
30. “Old Woman All Skin and Bones,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
This is a summer bop about a lady who’s taking full advantage of leisure season. After traveling to the church, she stops to rest awhile. By the time she gets to the door, she thinks to herself, I’ll rest some more. This lady knows what’s up.
29. “Cold As Clay,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Speaking of summer bops, “Cold As Clay” could easily be a chart-topping country song. Set up as a ballad of star-crossed lovers, a farmer’s daughter falls for the farmhand. To keep the two apart, the farmer sends his daughter across the country to live with an uncle. The farmhand dies of a broken heart, which the father keeps from his daughter. He returns, however, one night atop a horse, knocks on the daughter’s door, and tells her that her father has requested he come to get her. The two ride back on the horse, and the woman notices the man is as “cold as clay,” so she offers him a handkerchief to warm his head. When they return to the farm, the horse and farmhand vanish, leaving the father unable to keep his dark secret. Not only does he come clean to his daughter, he goes and tells the farmhand’s parents, who open his casket to discover his corpse is still there, but with the addition of a handkerchief around his head. Basically, this is the worst version of Trisha Yearwood’s “She’s in Love With the Boy.”
28. “Sam’s New Pet,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
Here, a family travels to Mexico and happens upon a cute puppy. Sam’s parents insist they bring the puppy across the border so he can have a companion. They manage to accomplish this, only to discover their beloved pet is actually a rabies-infected rat. Thought to “reflect anger over Mexican workers who entered the United States illegally and competed for jobs held by Americans,” according to the notes section at the back of the book, it’s worrisome, even frightening to think this story was provided to children, allowing it the opportunity to shape their bias — which makes it one of the scariest tales on this list.
27. “The Haunted House,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
This story is a killer tale of female-executed revenge. After being murdered by her lover for her money, a woman haunts the last place she was alive. A well-meaning preacher catches wind that this haunt is happening and sets out to remedy it. Luckily for him, this spook is more than a game. She requests the preacher dig up her hidden bones so she can rest properly before instructing him to take her ring-clad pinky finger to the church to place in the collection plate. The preacher does as he’s told. The following Sunday, when the murderous dudebro gets passed the collection plate, the finger sticks to him. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t shake it, which leads to a confession and his hanging. What sweet justice this is.
26. “The Hearse Song,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
The imagery in this one is top notch, even if it’s one of at least ten stories that have the exact line “the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out.” I get it, though. There are only so many ways to describe decomposition to children. Some of the more choice descriptions, however, include “Your stomach turns a slimy green / And pus pours out like whipping cream / You spread it on a slice of bread / And that’s what you eat when you are dead.” Sounds suspiciously like some sort of Flutternutter sandwich for the underworld. I bet it’s delicious.
25. “The Cat’s Paw,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
“Spittin’ and yowlin’ just like a cat” is a phrase that sticks with you, and so does this story in which a woman-cat, not to be confused with Cat Woman, goes about the town stealing Jed Smith’s meat. Ham, bacon, you name it, Jed’s smokehouse was no match for this “black she-cat.” So Jed sets out to catch that cat burglar, lying in wait with a shotgun. He manages to shoot the cat’s paw clean off when she shows, but when he goes to inspect it, it’s actually a woman’s foot. The idea that we women can no longer safely assume the body of a cat to steal meat in 2019? You hate to see it.
24. “Room for One More,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
I’ve seen this serviceable story praised elsewhere, and I can assure you the title took me aback because there’s little worse than being asked if there’s room for one more. There is never room for one more. If someone is asking if there’s room for one more, it’s because they’ve assessed the situation, found it to be crowded, but don’t give a shit and still want to get involved. In turn, if someone is insisting there is room for one more, they’re up to no good. Specifically, in this story, a hearse driver begins stalking Joseph Blackwell and calling to him, “There’s room for one more.” Joseph ignores him until he comes across one of the most formidable “room for one more” situations known to humankind, the office elevator. Sure enough, someone says, “There’s room for one more.” Joseph squishes in before realizing it’s the hearse driver, and off to hell they plummet.
23. “The Cat in a Shopping Bag,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
These books contain a lot of stories surrounding theft and the punishment one sees fit for the crime. Here, a woman accidentally runs over a cat, which she then places in a shopping bag so she can bury it when she returns home. But when she parks her car to run the errands she had set out to complete, another woman steals the bag, assuming it’s full of recently bought items. The first woman follows the second to a diner, where she stops to check what fortune she’ll find in the bag. Joke’s on her, of course, and she faints — but that isn’t punishment enough. The woman who ran the cat over makes sure to follow the ambulance that was called for the second woman in order to deliver the bag, because she wouldn’t want that poor lady to lose her stuff. How devious.
22.“Hello, Kate!,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
This story might make you think twice about ghosting someone. Tom Connors is headed to a dance, a popular pastime in the Scary Stories universe, when he happens upon a woman in the woods. Thinking she could be a possible dance partner, he stops to wait for her only to realize it’s his old flame, Kate Faherty — who had died a year earlier. The two had danced together many times before, but Tom never thought to reach out to her, essentially ghosting her. To his horror, Kate’s real ghost had come back to haunt him, following him to the dance and getting so close to him that they touched. Tom wanted to scream, but the terror, or perhaps the guilt, silenced him. Let that be a lesson.
21–19. “Me Tie Dough-Ty Walker,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark; “The Little Black Dog,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark; and “The Black Dog,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
All three of these stories stick out because the horror relies not so much on suspense or spooks but on dogs dying. If you’re a dog lover, these are not for you. From a siren song meant to lure a dog to death to a phantom canine ready to kill man’s best friend for sport, hounds are haunted and hunted in equal measure and the survival rate is zero. This reveals the scariest part: Your own pending doom. Everyone knows anyone who is willing to kill man’s best friend is going to be down to kill you, too.
18. “The Wendigo,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
This story comes from a long tradition of campfire tales. Set in the cold, dark woods, we’re introduced to the namesake creature. It’s a mythical man-eater unable to satiate it’s murderous intentions and greedy desires. Told different ways by different people, this version focuses on the Wendigo’s ability to swoop in with the wind and carry its victims away so fast that their feet burn. The scariest part? The Wendigo is real.
17. “A Ghost in the Mirror,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
If you’ve never played Bloody Mary before, now’s the time. This iconic entry acts as more of a how-to than a ghost story, providing you with everything you need to know to summon a ghost in your mirror and a little history behind the legend. Growing up, I figured locking myself in the bathroom, turning the lights off, and saying Bloody Mary three times was enough. I never saw a ghost. Turns out, I was doing the last part all wrong. The book suggests you say the name anywhere from 47 to 100 times. Why didn’t I think of those arbitrary and somewhat exhausting numbers? The ghost is most likely to be angry that you’ve disturbed it, but fret not — it’s easily vanquished with a flip of the light switch.
16. “The Hook,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Here’s a car-related classic you’ve probably heard before. Two kids hit the road, then park to get frisky without their parentals interrupting. While getting down to business, a news report interrupts the music playing on the stereo. It seems a prisoner with a hook for a hand has escaped from a nearby prison and is armed and dangerous. The couple argues about whether they should pack up and leave. To no one’s surprise, the sexist boyfriend gets pissy and says, “Girls are always afraid of something,” while the girlfriend rationally suggests they get out of the immediate area of the prison. Before he finally agrees, she believes she hears something, but her boyfriend is still mad about not getting laid so he ignores her and drives her home. Once there, he manages to squelch his toxic masculinity long enough to walk her to her door, but when she invites him in for cocoa, he goes right back to being an asshole and declines. When he returns to his door, he sees a hook attached to the door handle. An oldie but goodie.
15. “High Beams,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Another car-related classic, “High Beams,” is here to terrify anyone who has ever found themselves driving down a rural road alone at night. An aggressive truck driver tails the protagonist while flashing his brights. Given the size disparity between a car and an 18-wheeler, what seems to be a glaring case of road rage is scary enough. It’s the twist however, that reveals the true horror. The truck driver had actually been trying to warn the driver that a stowaway was in the back seat waiting to strike. Each time the villain rose with knife in hand to stab the driver, the truck driver flashed his lights to scare the villain back into the shadows. Chilling stuff.
14. “Maybe You Will Remember,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
This one feels like a cheat. It’s confusing at best and seemingly completely open-ended. That is, until you follow the written instructions to a page in the back of the book that busts the story’s history wide open. So what ghastly thing are we dealing with here? The plague in Paris, baby. Prior to getting the entire story, we’re told that a daughter is sent away from the Parisian hotel she and her mother are staying in to fetch some medicine. She is given the runaround almost everywhere she goes, which initially seems like it might be related to a language barrier until she arrives back to the hotel and is unable to locate her room or her mother. The unhelpful hotel staff gaslights her into thinking she has the wrong hotel, when in reality they have disposed of her mother’s body after she died of the plague and remodeled the room to fuck with the daughter’s head. Apparently Paris couldn’t bear to let word of the death get out, because it would cause total panic. Not much is scarier than a large-scale government conspiracy against you and your own.
13. “The Curse,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Here’s a story that remains terrifying because it’s true to form and topical. Centered on one of the scariest holdovers of modern day culture, “The Curse” is about the very specific toxic masculinity associated with fraternities. After a hazing so horrendous, the fraternity in question is disbanded by its college and the members are suspended for one year. This is the punishment for indirectly losing (read: murdering) two of its pledges. Don’t worry though, no one was arrested, the narrator assures us, and now every year one of the former frat members goes crazy from the trauma. Are we sure this one isn’t a news article?
12. “The Bed by the Window,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
This is an allegory for the corner office if I’ve ever read one — a chilling allegory for capitalism, if you will. Set in a hospital, there’s one good bed to die in. It’s by the window and supposedly offers a spectacular view. So spectacular, patients start plotting to kill one another so they can get their turn in the bed. Richard, for example, knocks another patient’s heart pills off his nightstand to ensure he has a heart attack. His plan works and he delights in his pending future, which he assumes will be full of all the things previous patients had described seeing out the window. Richard, however, comes to find that the only thing that window is facing is the blank brick wall of its neighboring building — and an emptiness, not unlike the kind that might settle over a backstabbing co-worker who’s made it to the top with no one to rejoice with, envelopes Richard’s final days. Talk about a postcapitalist nightmare.
11. “The Appointment,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
Short, sweet, and to the point, this story reminds us that you cannot escape death. A boy heads into the small-town square near the farm he works at and is beckoned by death. Thinking he can escape his fate, he begs his grandfather to let him drive to the city. The grandfather allows it and, in a show of strength, goes back into town to confront death. Death is unexpectedly apologetic, explaining that he didn’t mean to beckon his grandson but he was surprised to see him downtown when he has an appointment scheduled with him for this afternoon in the city.
10. “Wonderful Sausage,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Butchery is a fine trade backed by hearty tradition. It’s also a unique skill that allows anyone who masters it access to the exact tools needed to get away with murder. Enter butcher Samuel Blunt (not to be confused with Sam Franklin, famous for bringing Alice the meat), who becomes irritated with his wife and kills her. He, of course, disposes of the body by making sausage and tells anyone who asked that she moved away. Samuel sounds like a real jerk, so of course the townspeople buy it. But a strange thing happens. Blunt finessed his sausage recipe, and it became a huge hit. Greed took over, and he began killing anyone he could to feed his newfound fame. Then one day a boy managed to escape and Blunt went after him into the town, where everyone saw him. It dawned on the dim townspeople that they had been eating human meat all along. Seeking revenge and one last taste of the special sausage, they fed Blunt to his own grinder. There’s a lot going on here, the most appalling part being that in the process of exacting revenge, the townspeople have become what they once abhorred. It’s also pretty worrisome that this entire town is now down with cannibalism.
9. “The Dead Man’s Hand,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
What’s spookier than blatant sexism? Perhaps the sort that is explicitly perpetrated by women upon other women. At a school for nurses, everyone gets along with everyone else — except Alice. What’s so bad about her? “She was always friendly and always cheerful,” and, among other fine traits, “she didn’t even bite her fingernails.” This made the other students resent Alice and plot to prank her. They decide to take a corpse’s hand that they’ve been studying and tie it to a light cord in her closet. Sure enough, when she goes to get something from her closet, she gets spooked by the hand. What no one anticipated, though, is that she’s so scared her entire career is derailed. What’s scarier than that?
8. “The Bride,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Here comes the first in a one-two punch for anyone who finds marriage the epitome of terrifying, anyone who wonders if vows bring with them the death of independence. This story takes it one step further by taking not just the bride’s individualism but also her life. Calling to mind one of the shittier parts of society, “The Bride” shows just how invisible a woman can become after she says, “I do.” So invisible that when she goes missing later on her wedding day only a lackluster search is executed and eventually everyone gives up by the week’s end. Talk about a disastrous wedding that gives true credence to the term cold feet — she’s found years later in trunk, and her skeleton is all that remains. Cue the Dead Wife think piece.
7. “Aaron Kelly’s Bones,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
This one’s great because it taps into the fear of entrapment many people spend their entire life trying to avoid. It also features one hell of a horrific asshole. Aaron Kelly is a man who refuses to let his wife experience any sort of happiness or security after he dies (and quite frankly, I’m sure he was an asshole to her when he was alive, too). Although he doesn’t necessarily haunt her, he does make it extremely difficult for her to move on by refusing to stay in his coffin. Asserting that he “doesn’t feel dead,” his skeleton walks around looking shitty, but not shitty enough to convince the insurance company not to pay out his widow. And when the widow gets a chance to remarry, do you think Aaron allows it? Absolutely not; instead, he makes sure to chase off her suitor. Talk about deadweight.
6. “Sounds,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
This is an especially dark tale about a woman’s cries for help going unanswered. One of many seeking-shelter-from-the-storm stories in the series, this is by far the scariest. While three men wait out the storm on the first level of an abandoned beach house, they hear screams coming from upstairs. Then blood begins to drip from the ceiling. “Not me!” screams a woman, followed by a man’s voice yelling, “I’ll get you!” There’s a brief silence followed by a deafening laugh, then the three men downstairs hear someone dragging something heavy down the stairs and out the door. At no point did any of the men think to help the woman upstairs, and only after she is clearly murdered do they feel true terror and go running from the house.
5. “One Sunday Morning,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
If you ever slept through your alarm — or worse, thought you were setting one on your phone only to later realize you were fucking around on your calculator in a sleepy haze — here’s the horror story for you. Waking up to the sound of church bells, Ida realizes she’s late for the service and rushes out the door. Once she arrives and takes a seat, she starts to realize the congregation looks unfamiliar. Finally, she recognizes a friendly face, only to remember the person died a long time ago. One by one, Ida realizes each person there is already dead and runs out of the church barely escaping as a few of her garments are ripped off her and torn to shreds by the undead. It’s a relatable, real-life nightmare that transcends your basic late-for-work and naked-in-front-of-co-workers disasters.
4. “Just Delicious,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
Here’s the scariest line of the story: “George was a bully, and Mina was a timid woman who did everything he asked because she was afraid of him.” One day, a neighbor dies and Mina mentions it to George, who brushes her off as always. Defeated and unable to have a conversation with her husband, Mina begins to prepare George’s food for the day. While he’s out, she’s feeling peckish and begins to pick at the liver she had cooked up. Before she knows it, she’s eaten the entire thing. Worried how George will react — “He would be angry and mean and she did not want to face that again” — she goes over to the neighbor’s place to secure a substitute liver. Cannibalism as a means to avoid abuse? That’s terrifying.
3. “The Man in the Middle,” More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
What’s the worst part about public transportation? The delays? The crowd? The smell? I’m going to go with being alone on a train car when three seemingly drunk bros drop in, two of whom are propping up their friend Jim. And of course, Jim’s friends ditch him at their stops, leaving him to writhe around while Sally, still all alone, is too frightened to switch train cars, because why draw attention to yourself when you can instead try to become invisible from the male gaze? Then the train goes around a sharp curve and Jim goes flying and where does he land but at Sally’s feet. That’s what happens in this super-scary-because-it-could-so-easily-happen-to-you story.
2. “The Red Spot,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
Waking up with a red spot on your face is hell. Is it a pimple? Maybe it’s a bugbite. Oh God, is it bedbugs? The possibilities are all unpleasant, as is the transformation that occurred during the night unbeknownst to you. Add to that the unavoidable urge to pick, and you’re screwed. Or maybe not — maybe you’re like this iconic story’s protagonist, so you go the hot-compress route, hoping to help the blemish work its way out. Joke’s on you, though; instead of a puss-pop situation, a shitload of baby spiders come crawling out like it’s Charlotte’s Web or something. Horrifying.
1. “Harold,” Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
This is it, the scariest story. Fittingly, it’s featured heavily in the trailer for the movie, although it’s clearly been updated. Originally, Harold the scarecrow is created so two men who are dissatisfied with their lives have something to take it out on. Named after another farmer they hate, the two men routinely abuse Harold in the most horrific manner, completely unable to fathom a healthy outlet for their unhappiness. As the story says, “They would curse at him, even kick or punch him.” While it may seem harmless enough to abuse an inanimate object, the pent-up hostility exhibited by the two farmers is spine-chilling. Even scarier is when Harold is no longer a replica of a man and is instead a living and very vengeful human being. And what is Harold’s payback? Why, he skins the farmers and spreads out their bodies to bake in the sun, of course. One of the most widely-remembered of the Scary Stories series, Harold is a haunt we can’t shake, a reminder that our wrongdoings have consequences, and, if this movie has anything to do with it, the renewed source of our nightmares.