Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz, illustrated by Stephen Gammell
A few of you might have nostalgia-tinged memories of these spooky stories for children, especially of the hauntingly memorable black and white illustrations by Gammell. The collection written by Alvin Schwartz debuted alongside a handful of sequels in the early 1980s, but have remained a classic staple of children’s literature when it comes to everything that goes bump in the night. The pictures that accompanied each folklore-inspired tale were maybe even more frightening than the stories themselves—Gammell’s style went for the hauntingly realistic as well as in-your-face gore, which left many questioning whether Scary Stories really was meant for children. Ten or so years ago there was an attempt to republish Schwartz’s anthology with new illustrations by Brett Helquist, the guy who did all the covers for Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. But Helquist’s drawings were criticized for taking all of the bite and fright out of the original, and most fans of Scary Stories will tell you to go back to the 1982 edition.
It might be a good time to revisit these horror tales from your youth, or to experience them for the first time—Guillermo del Toro, of Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Pacific Rim fame, has been in talks for a movie adaptation for the last three years. But earlier this year he tweeted that development of the picture was finally starting. Fingers crossed (and eyes squeezed shut)!
Deep Dark Fears by Fran Krause
Another illustration-driven rec for this Halloween season, Fran Krause’s Deep Dark Fears grew from an online project wherein the comic artist and CalArts professor asks people to submit their deepest and darkest fears, anxieties, phobias, and nightmares. Krause translated those fears into short and hard-hitting comics of three or four panels, illustrated in a quirky style and muted color palette. The fears range from the banal and relatable—“One day I’ll be Facebook-stalking someone, / And I’ll accidentally type their name into “Update status” instead of the search box…”—to the visceral—“I’m afraid that when I fall in the shower / I’ll be knocked unconscious, / my long hair will stop the drain, / and the tub will fill with me at the bottom.”—to the surreal—“I worry that when I die, it won’t happen all at once. / It’ll start at my feet, / and I’ll feel it working its way up.” The comics are at once frightening, and strangely reassuring: you might find someone in those pages that shares your exact same fear—or you might realize that your fears aren’t the strangest out there.
Thinner by Stephen King
Everyone who still buys into the cult of Stephen King (including yours truly) has one or two favorites that they want the nonbelievers to read—like if they could just look past the overused tropes, the exploding cellphones, the bad TV movies, the sometimes painful outdatedness, the for-profit churning out of paperbacks—if they could do all that, they might get to see that King is still at his core a horror writer who has lasted for a reason. For me at least, Thinner is one of those. The TV movie actually rocks, for one thing—it was directed by original Child’s Play director Tom Holland.
Billy Haleck is an obese lawyer who runs down an elderly Romani woman in the road, while his wife is giving him road head. (Yes, the setup is as cringeworthy as it sounds, but bear with me.) Billy’s friend, a prominent judge, lets Billy off with no jail time. Outside the courthouse, the father of the woman who Billy killed grabs him by the arm and whispers, “Thinner.”
At the beginning of each chapter, a three-digit number is stamped as a heading. It takes the reader a little while to realize that it’s a running tally of Billy’s weight. Over the course of the book, he begins to rapidly shed weight, at first being praised by his wife and doctor, but then slowly growing more and more desperate as he tips below 200 pounds…then 100. Thinner is one of King’s best because it’s built on maintaining a simple but unsettling tension throughout the entire novel. It’s one that sticks out from King’s…God, 54 novels now.