Morbid little girl that I was, Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books were always following me home from the library.
There was something freakishly fascinating about reading Schwartz’s spectres of folklore and urban legends while being drawn into the darkness even further by Stephen Gammell’s unsettling art. The books, released between 1981 and 1991, were a collaboration between Schwartz and Gammell that left other kids’ books that were only trying to be creepy in an unmarked grave. No one does reanimated corpses in various states of decomposition quite like Stephen Gammell.
Then publisher Harper Collins unearthed a lobotomized 30th-anniversary re-release that replaced Gammell’s grinning skulls and dripping shadows with less nightmarish art by Brett Helquist. Oh, the horror!
Fast-forward six years, and Harper Collins has exhumed the original nightmare fuel to once again accompany Schwartz’s haunting tales in a second re-release that has led to much rejoicing among anyone who grew up scaring themselves stupid with these books way past bedtime. The terrifying trio of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories, and Scary Stories 3 was just released as a box set with one of my favorite Gammell illustrations ever on the case—a creepy creature that looks like some mutation of a bat gone horribly wrong in all the right ways.
If you weren’t a child of the ‘80s or ‘90s, or if you just never read these for whatever reason, my insistence that you should is an understatement (and I will keep whispering that in your ear while you’re asleep). Schwartz’s stories twist lore and legend into their most frightening forms and inject with dark humor. Think the wandering woman who carries her own disembodied head in a basket or the girl who was supposed to be dead until her zombified corpse returned from the funeral with the rest of the family and was clearly the only one not grieving.
There’s even that creepy song Did you ever hear as a hearse goes by/that you will be the next to die/they wrap you up in a big white sheet/from your head down to your feet complete with a few bars of music. Now you know what I started my piano practice sessions with back in the fourth grade. And the worms crawl in and the worms crawl out …
Get your claws on the set right here and thank me for the nightmares later.