A Definitive Ranking Of The 13 Scariest Stories From The "Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark" Book Trilogy
Making nightmares at the Scholastic Book Fair since the '80s.
Hi, I'm Allie. I love all things HORROR and have for as long as I can remember.
Recently, I was trying to figure out when this ~morbid~ fascination started, and I realized that I could pin it back to one particular book series. I, of course, mean the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark trilogy.
With this in mind, I took the liberty of re-reading all three books as an adult woman, and I've ranked the top 13 stories that DEFINITELY scarred me (and, frankly, my whole generation) for life. You're welcome:
*WARNING* This post is filled with spoilers for these stories, so if you're concerned about being spoiled on books from the '80s...proceed with caution.
13. Something was Wrong
What it's about: The original Sixth Sense, this incredibly short story involves a man waking up in the middle of the street, alone and confused, only to discover everyone he approaches is terrified of him. He calls his wife to pick him up, but a stranger answers. When he asks where she is, the stranger responds, "Her husband died a few days ago in a horrible car accident, and she's attending the funeral."
Why it's nightmare-inducing: The idea of living on as a corpse instead of a ghost is pretty darn messed up, and would make it pretty difficult to hail a cab, TBH.
12. Cold as Clay
What it's about: A farmer's daughter falls in love with a field-hand named Jim, of whom her strict father does not approve. The father sends his daughter away, and Jim dies of a broken heart. The father does not notify his daughter of this, but Jim shows up at her door to take her back home, where she finds out he's dead and she was picked up by the ghost of her true love.
Why it's nightmare-inducing: I love a good forbidden romance, but this one is like if The Notebook and The Conjuring had a nightmare baby. It's creepy AF, and just reading the ending gives me goosebumps.
11. The Haunted House
What it's about: A preacher stays the night at a haunted house, discovers a dead young woman, and helps her find her murderer.
Why it's nightmare-inducing: This one is an example of the story being like a 5/10 in terror, and the accompanying illustration being a 37/10 (seriously, google it).
10. "What Do You Come For?"
What it's about: A lonely old woman sits alone in her kitchen, wishing she had some company. Upon voicing this desire, A LITERAL ROTTED, LIVING CORPSE falls down her chimney. She screams and asks what he's "come for," to which the answer is, of course, "you."
Why it's nightmare-inducing: Why does the lonely old lady gotta suffer? Why couldn't a happy, fluffy puppy fall down the chimney to keep her company? What sort of reverse Santa Claus crap is this???
9. Sam's New Pet
What it's about: A family on vacation in Mexico brings home a new pet dog. Upon sneaking it back into the States, the dog becomes rabid and ill. They bring the small dog to the vet, only to discover it's a huge sewer rat with rabies.
Why it's nightmare-inducing: Um, no thanks? Ew? Why? What M. Night Shyamalan wet dream is this twist?
8. Me Tie Dough-ty Walker!
What it's about: A young boy is offered money to stay overnight in a haunted house and brings his trusty dog with him. Horrifying things ensue, including a weird chant, strange noises, and a SEVERED HEAD FALLING DOWN THE CHIMNEY.
Why it's nightmare-inducing: THE. DOG. DIES. That's rule numero uno in the "Stuff That Is Never Okay" rulebook, so I'll just leave it at that.
7. The Bride
What it's about: A wedding party decides to play hide-and-seek in the newlyweds home. The groom is the seeker and finds everyone except the bride. Years later, a maid cleaning the attic finds the bride's dead body locked inside an old trunk.
Why it's nightmare-inducing: Marriage is scary enough without someone DYING the day it happens. This story is a claustrophobic's nightmare, and made me not want to play hide-and-seek for a long-ass time.
6. The Dead Man's Hand
What it's about: A group of medical students decide to play a prank on the over-achiever in their class by tying the severed hand of a corpse to her closet light. The prank works, but drives the young woman into madness.
Why it's nightmare-inducing: Any sort of prank-gone-wrong is kind of the worst because it could've totally been avoided if people weren't, you know, dicks for seemingly zero reason.
5. The Hearse Song
What it's about: If you laugh when a hearse passes by you on the street, you're the next to die. No exceptions. It then goes into graphic, rhyming detail about how terrible death will be for you.
Why it's nightmare-inducing: Um, well, this song is certainly not Lennon/McCartney, but it's a tune. It was also the first time AS A CHILD I heard that worms would likely devour my flesh...so I hope they ave a hearty appetite because your girl's a lot of lady.
4. The Girl Who Stood on the Grave
What it's about: At a boy/girl party (scandalous!), a boy dares a girl to stand on a grave, betting that the buried person will grab her. The girl, unbothered, agrees to do it. The boy hands her a knife and tells her to stick it in the grave so they know she was really there. The girl goes into the graveyard, picks a grave, stands on it, and sticks the knife in. When she goes to leave, she feels something hold her skirt back. The next morning, the boy finds her DEAD ON THE GRAVE. She stuck the knife through her own skirt, thought it was a corpse, and died of fright.
Why it's nightmare-inducing: This story reads like a good old fashion campfire tale. It's just real enough that it feels like it COULD have happened to a friend of a friend of a friend, but just ridiculous enough to freak you TF out.
3. The White Satin Evening Gown
What it's about: A frugal young woman finds the perfect dress for a dance at a thrift store. JK, the dress isn't perfect, it was on a dead person previously and the embalming fluid enters her pores and poisons the girl in the middle of the dance. She DIES for being a smart shopper.
Why it's nightmare-inducing: MACKLEMORE DEFINITELY DID NOT MENTION THIS IS THAT JOLLY THRIFTING SONG. Shopping at a thrift shop is icky enough without POSSIBLE DEATH being a factor. Anyway, I STILL think about this one from time to time, especially when shopping.
2. The Red Spot
What it's about: A girl wakes up with an odd-looking red spot on her face. She ignores it, but it just keeps growing and growing. It eventually breaks open to reveal that a SPIDER LAID IT'S EGGS IN HER FACE.
Why it's nightmare-inducing: If you've ever WebMD-ed your symptoms for a simple ailment and panicked, this story is literally your worst nightmare come to life. Also, spiders.
1. High Beams
What it's about: A woman drives home alone in the dark on a deserted highway, but is followed by a large truck that keeps high-beaming her. When she pulls off onto her exit, she calls the police to meet her at her home, where the truck follows and the driver is arrested. The driver tells the police to check the woman's backseat, where they find A MAN HOLDING A KNIFE. The truck driver saw the man get into the girl's car, and every time he rose up to strike her, the truck high-beamed to scare him.
Why it's nightmare-inducing: This story is arguably the most realistic in all three of the books, which is why it stays with you long after you read it. Like, I'm still thoroughly creeped out by it, and think of it whenever I'm alone on the highway at night. In short: ALWAYS CHECK YOUR BACK SEAT.