The unsettling horror book trilogy by Alvin Schwartz, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, inflicted chilling childhood scars for the '80s and '90s generation that, to this day, could easily reopen with a simple glimpse of the sickeningly surreal illustrations that graced the original releases by artist Stephen Gammell – controversially replaced in the 2011 reissue editions with art by Brett Helquist.
Consequently, we are on the verge of a Scary Stories comeback in the zeitgeist spotlight with reports from earlier this year that 20th Century Fox plans to develop a Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark film adaptation, having nabbed an appropriate directorial visionary in Guillermo del Toro (Crimson Peak, Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth), working off a script by John August (Dark Shadows, Big Fish).
While it’s been some time since we’ve heard any updates on the project, we happen to be celebrating 31 Days of Halloween here at Blastr. Thus, we’re taking the opportunity to look back on Schwartz’s book trilogy – 1981’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, 1984’s More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and 1991’s Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones – to pick a suitably unlucky 13 of the scariest and/or ironically idiosyncratic stories that we’d like to see in the film.
Every day this month we're bringing you a different Top 13 list from the world of horror. You can find them all here.
Warning: Disturbing images from Stephen Gammell’s original art awaits below!
Rings on Her Fingers – More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
A coma-stricken woman named Daisy Clark shows no signs of life after over a month. Assumed dead, she is buried accordingly. Unfortunately, an opportunistic grave robber makes use of the soft summer soil of the fresh grave to pilfer her fancy rings. After digging, he has difficulty getting her rings, so he attempts to cut them off her fingers with his knife. However, the robber’s initial laceration causes the presumed dead Daisy to awaken!
The frightened thief is sent running after Daisy asks him, ‘Who are you?’ Thus, an indifferent or confused – and very much alive – Daisy walks off. However, in the thief’s confused misdirection, he accidentally doubles back and falls into Daisy’s empty grave, fatally impaling himself on the knife he dropped earlier!
Like many other anthology horror films and shows, the inclusion of this tale would fulfill an obligatory allegorical spot showcasing the fate of a bad individual (the robber,) getting just deserts.
The Hook – Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
After taking in a movie (a possible meta moment?), teens Donald and Sarah go to a lover’s lane hill on the town outskirts, continuing the romantic outing inside Donald’s car. However, the mood is ruined with a radio news bulletin warning of a dangerous escapee from the state prison brandishing a knife with a hook in place of his left hand who’s apparently heading in their direction.
While Sarah wants to leave, Donald – likely letting hormones get the better of him – is adamant that they stay, insisting they’re safe. Donald acquiesces (albeit reluctantly,) to Sarah’s demand after she hears scratching on her door. Upon arriving home, Donald goes over to the passenger side to let Sarah out, only to discover a hook hanging from the door!
This is a prototypical urban legend and was even adapted in the 1997 horror anthology movie Campfire Tales with James Marsden and Amy Smart as a version of the couple. However, its iconic status has earned it an update in this film.
May I Carry Your Basket? – Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Sam Lewis is on a cold walk home (of course, just after midnight,) after a chess game get-together with a friend. Upon reaching a turn, he spots what appears to be a woman carrying a basket covered by a white cloth. Sam checks up on the mysterious figure, whose face he cannot see, wondering why she’s out alone this time of night.
Ever the good Samaritan, Sam even asks her, “May I carry your basket?” However, her answer emanates from the basket itself, from which her head rolls out! Running in fear, Sam is pursued by the disembodied head and accompanying body. Not only does the segmented duo catch up with him, but the head bites him in each of his legs before abruptly disappearing.
This is one of the series’ shorter stories and it carries an aura of randomness. However, it does feature the right amount of pulse-pounding terror, mixed with a tinge of humor, solidifying the proverb, “No good deed goes unpunished.”
Cold as Clay – Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
A romance between a farmer’s daughter and lowly farmhand Jim is forbidden by her class-conscious father. Consequently, she’s sent to live with her uncle far away. The separation destroys Jim, who subsequently becomes ill and dies… some say of a “broken heart.” (Like Padmé Amidala.) Wracked with guilt, the father keeps the news from his daughter.
Later, a visitor at the uncle’s house looking for the girl turns out to be Jim! Claiming to be on an errand, using her dad’s best horse to fetch her, they rode home together. However, something is amiss and the girl observes that Jim is “cold as clay” and wraps a handkerchief over his head. Arriving at the farm, it is revealed that no such request was made and Jim is suddenly gone. The horse was in its stable, though traumatized. Investigating the matter further, Jim’s body is later exhumed, revealing a corpse… wearing the girl’s handkerchief on his head!
This story is essentially a supernatural showcase of a dead man handling loose ends from beyond the grave. While it’s not necessarily a menacing tale, it would be an ideal entry to diversify the film’s thematic palette.
Is Something Wrong? – Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
After his car breaks down, a traveler decides to stay the night in an old abandoned house he passed by earlier. However, just before daybreak, a hideous thing violently crashes down the chimney, causing the stranded lodger to jump through a window and run away frantically. The creature chases the man until he's completely out of breath. Suddenly tapped on the shoulder, he turns around and is face-to-face with his pursuer – a skull-face with bloody eyes. At that point, the creature innocuously, nay, politely asks, “Pardon me. Is something wrong?”
This quickie is one of many stories in the trilogy that starts with an intense, frightening ordeal, only to abruptly reach a comedic coda. It would make for a remarkable, albeit necessarily short cinematic sequence.
High Beams – Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
A girl, a high school senior, drives home at night from a school basketball game in her sedan when a red pickup truck follows her out of the parking lot, adjusting its speed to match her, passing the cars she passes and eventually starts flashing its high beams. She is especially alarmed when it follows her onto a back road no one usually takes, continually tailing her and flashing the high beams.
Arriving home, she runs to the door, screaming for her folks to call the police, who quickly come to apprehend the trucker. However, it is revealed that a man with a knife snuck in the back of the girl’s car before she left the game and the trucker – not wanting to leave her – followed, flashing his high beams whenever the sinister stowaway tried to grab her, forcing him to drop back down and hide.
This urban legend essential made an entire generation always double-check the back seat before getting behind the wheel. Meticulously shot angles would be required to maintain the story’s twist, but it would be a great addition to the movie.
One Sunday Morning – More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Under the impression that she had overslept, a typically committed and punctual churchgoer named Ida swiftly got out of bed and left for mass. Thinking nothing of the fact that it was night, since mornings tended to be dark during that time of the year, she made her way to the church, only to discover bizarre things, notably the fact that the present parishioners consisted of the dead! In fact, some were just skeletons in suits.
One of the dead, Josephine, who Ida knew, advises her to leave in a subtle manner. However, Ida’s presence raises the ire of the pew-dwelling dead and she’s chased out of the church and forced to run for her life. While having some close calls, she holds the ghosts at bay long enough until they disappear upon the rays of the morning sun. Confirming that the incident was no hallucination, her hat and coat – dropped mid-chase – were found torn to shreds.
While this a rather straightforward horror story, the idea of accidentally stepping into a night mass for the dead is a terrifying prospect. Moreover, a movie scene showcasing the angry ghosts of the Stephen Gammell art would be memorable for the movie.
The Dream – Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
Roving artist Lucy Morgan plans a trip to Kingston after her latest job. Oddly, she’s vexed by a recent dream in which she walks up a dark, carved staircase into a bedroom conspicuous from its carpet squares resembling trap doors and windows nailed shut. Lucy’s dream continues with her sleeping in said room until interrupted by a pale woman with black eyes and long black hair, warning it’s “an evil place,” urging her to flee, at which point she awakens.
Perceiving the dream as a portentous sign, Lucy alters her plans and heads to Dorset, where she finds a lovely house to stay. Upon entering and meeting the unassuming landlady, she notices the familiar carved staircase, the ominous room and even encounters the same pale woman. It’s all enough for Lucy to grab her things and bolt.
While it’s never made clear, it seems as if Lucy’s dream foreshadows a potentially horrifying fate for lodgers of being kidnapped, killed or – in a historical practice – shanghaied into maritime slavery. This story would be a welcome thematic detour for the movie.
Me Tie Dough-ty Walker! – Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
The legend of a haunted house in which a disembodied head allegedly falls down the chimney became the object of a rich man’s offer of $200 to anyone who would stay the night in the place. A boy seizes the opportunity to stay the night at the abandoned estate with the agreement that he could bring his dog.
While the evening was initially uneventful, things pick up at the stroke of midnight when the boy hears a creepy voice outside repeatedly saying in singsong manner, “Me Tie Dough-ty Walker.” The sound seems to be getting closer and panic ensues when the dog indecipherably starts singing back! Suddenly, a bloody head rolls down the chimney, missing the lit fire (avoiding an awkward end), causing the abruptly a cappella canine to die from fright. When the boy meets the head’s gaze, it makes a blood-curdling scream!
This is one of the most iconic stories in the books. The suspenseful build and the shocking, yet quirky development with the dog also violates the feeling of safety a pet owner typically enjoys, leading to the head-dropping denouement.
The Thing – Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Friends Ted Martin and Sam Miller are sitting on a fence talking when a grim, gaunt creature resembling a skeleton with deep, penetrating eyes dressed in a white shirt, suspenders and pants emerges from a nearby field. While the creature seemed unengaged the first two times it appeared, it is more determined in its third appearance, sending the scared duo running, at least, until they gather the courage to go back and meet the creature.
While Sam gets up close and personal with the thing, the terrifying visage is too much to handle, causing a stirred Sam and Ted to run while the creature pursues them all the way to Ted’s house, where it waits for a while until disappearing. A year later, an illness abruptly claims Ted’s life. While Sam stayed by his bedside during the end, he was disturbed by the fact that Ted looked just like the creature!
The subtext of this story is open to interpretation, ranging from basic pestilence to a prophetic specter of a horrible future. Nevertheless, the terrifying creature (as depicted by Stephen Gammell’s art) and subjective nature makes this story great movie fodder.
The Haunted House – Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
A preacher goes to a house allegedly haunted for the last decade, planning to put its spirit to rest. Armed only with a Bible, he settles in until hearing a strange, violent ruckus from the cellar around midnight. Eventually, a decayed-looking ghost of a young woman emerges. The spirit tells the brave priest that she was murdered by her lover for money and was buried in the cellar.
The spirit asks the priest to take her body to be buried properly and to place a piece of her left-hand pinky in the church collection plate on Sunday. Accordingly, the finger in the passing plate sticks itself to a man, overwhelming him with fear, getting a confession to the crime, resulting in the killer being hanged. (Swift justice, right?) Back at the house, the girl’s ghostly voice tells the priest the money’s location, which she asked to be donated to the church. Eerily, a spot on the priest’s coat grabbed by the ghost earlier left a permanent imprint.
Stephen Gammell’s legendarily terrifying illustration belies this story’s true narrative about achieving justice. Yet, the idea of that iconic cold, dead countenance staring you down in a movie makes this a worthy entry.
Harold – Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones
Farmers Thomas and Alfred are bored during the months they watch over their grazing cows in the mountain pasture. Thus, Thomas makes a scarecrow named after a farmer they hate named Harold, sporting an unflattering facial caricature. While the scarecrow serves its bird-scaring purpose by day, the bored duo like to bring the doll in their shack at night for mockery and abuse.
One night, after more abuse, Harold grunts in response. While a disturbed Thomas wants to destroy the creepy effigy, Alfred isn’t threatened and wants to keep it intact. They continue mocking the strawman until it shockingly grows, eventually getting up, walking out of their hovel to trot on the roof all day and night. While Thomas and Alfred prudently decide to leave with their cows, Thomas goes back alone for the milking stools. Alfred awoke next morning to discover Thomas was missing and Harold trotting again on the roof… stretching out a bloody skin to dry!
“Harold” is undoubtedly one of the most frequently-cited examples of childhood-scarring scares from the entire trilogy. It’s a frightening tale that also taps into the ideal that people who spew negativity deserve to reap consequences.
The Big Toe – Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
A boy digging in his family’s garden surprisingly uncovers a large human toe. Consequently, in an inventive idea that just about anyone would deem revolting, he plucks the disgusting digit off the ground with the intent of it being served as part of the family dinner; which it does, sliced and shared with mom and dad in a stew. However, he thought little of the faint groan heard after first obtaining the toe.
After retiring to bed that night, the boy is awoken to the sound of a ghoulish voice hauntingly asking, “Where is my to-o-o-o-e?” Originating from the outside, the creepy queries constantly repeat, as the mysterious figure is heard working its way into the boy’s house, eventually arriving at the door of the boy’s room. Turning the knob and entering, the intruder screams, “YOU’VE GOT IT!”
As the first story of the first book, this one sets the trilogy’s quirky and irreverent tone while conveying the visceral terror of being stalked by the supernatural. It is arguably the quintessential Scary Stories scary story. – On a side note, where the hell were mom and dad during all of this?!