Any horror fan who grew up in the 1990’s will probably tell you that Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was a primary source of fear for them as a child. Sure, we were living in the heyday of Goosebumps but as great and imaginative as Stine’s stories were, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was straight up, no bones about it horror.
Alvin Schwartz dug up some of the most chilling folk tales in American history, as well as some humorous fare and even a couple of songs that had been passed down for generations. But for most kids, the thing that stuck out in the memory was Stephen Gammell’s artwork. Surreal and nightmarish, these drawings kept kids up at night—but always kept them coming back for more.
The key to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark as an anthology series was its impeccable balance. These books included stories new and old, dark and light, bone-chillingly scary and unexpectedly hilarious, all in equal doses. My fascination with urban legends began with this series and I still consider these three books to be among the best collections of that type of story. Now the news has broken that a film adaptation of these books is picking up steam and I could not be more excited for it, presuming it honors the spirit of the source material. Hoping for an anthology film, here are eight stories that I consider must-haves for the upcoming Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark adaptation.
“The Hook” is essential. It’s the quintessential American folk tale, the number one urban myth that pops up in everybody’s mind and while it may have inspired the modern slasher as we know it—I Know What You Did Last Summer in particular draws heavily—we haven’t had a straightforward adaptation of the tale since Campfire Tales.
The well-known urban legend, “The Babysitter” was a major influence on many classic horror films including When a Stranger Calls, Black Christmas and of course Halloween. I’d love to see a new, inventive update on the tale that could shock children as well as adults.
The Grim Reaper is one of the most iconic images in horror, yet one of the most underused. What’s scarier than Death itself? And the classic personification, a shapeless, patient figure that is whimsical and manipulative at the same time, that’s the version of Death that appears in this story and one that I would love to see brought to life in the upcoming adaptation.
“Me Tie Dough-ty Walker”
This has to be one of the scariest, most remembered stories from the series and how on earth it was published in a children’s book is beyond me. The tale is about a boy who is paid to spend the night in a haunted house and hears a disembodied voice chanting the words of the title. The voice turns out to belong to a severed head slowly forcing itself down the chimney, shouting louder and louder until the boy’s hair turns white and he is driven insane. Have fun getting the kids to sleep after they’ve read this one.
Based on an account from the autobiography of Augustus Hare, “The Dream” is about a girl who has a dream in which she encounters a ghostly woman with black eyes and black hair, whom she then later encounters when she visits a nearby village. It is most remembered for the bizarre illustration of the woman by Stephen Gammell.
Based on the classic, excellent short story by Algernon Blackwood, the Scary Stories adaptation is a condensed but tight and chilling version. In terms of folklore, the Wendigo spirit is among the scariest the Americas have to offer. Everything about it is chilling, from the isolated setting to the Wendigo calling out DeFago’s name in the night, to the scene in which a man is dragged from his tent so quickly and ferociously that his body burns away in the dirt.
“The White Satin Evening Gown”
I don’t know exactly what it was, but something about this story terrified me as a child more than others from these books. It’s one of the most appalling inversions of the classic Cinderella story that I’ve ever read, and that’s always been a part of its appeal for me. A girl buys a beautiful secondhand dress for a party, grateful because she doesn’t have any nice clothes of her own. She has fun, is noticed and dances all night and then the next morning she is found dead, and it’s revealed that the dress was stolen off of a girl who was buried in it and that the various chemicals involved in the burial process got in through her pores and that was that. It was a silent, invisible death, different for this type of story, and that always made it even more chilling to me.