The Definitive List Of The Scariest Monsters From 'Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark'

HarperCollins, from the book cover

Elementary school libraries are supposed to be welcoming spaces, filled with literature and learning and inside voices. And yet — for '90s kids at least — the elementary school library was for one thing, and one thing alone: Huddling with all your friends in the darkest possible corner and reading about severed toes and freaking yourself out over the creepiest monsters in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Alvin Schwartz's books are best known for traumatizing an entire generation of young people. It was one of the most frequently challenged series of the '90s, widely hated by parents for giving children nightmares and "making light of death." And I loved it.

Many kids, as it turns out, want to be scared. They delight in the macabre. They don't especially care about what's "age appropriate." And they especially like to sneak around behind grown-up's backs, swapping tales about corpse brides and slavering wolf girls when such behavior is expressly forbidden. The Scary Stories series was hugely influential for all us creeps, and it's about to hit the big screen in a movie that brings all your favorite childhood nightmares to life.

But of course, a feature-length film can only fit so many monsters. Some of the most skin-crawling creatures from the book just didn't make the cut. So if you grew up loving Alvin Schwartz's creepy tales and Stephen Gammell’s mind-melting illustrations, here are a few of the most upsetting monsters from the original series that you may or may not see in the film:



Lionsgate/CBS Films

If you've seen the trailer for the new Scary Stories movie, you already know that the scarecrow Harold finally gets his turn in the limelight. Unlike most cinematic scarecrows, though, Harold is not in search of a brain — he's much rather have your flesh, flayed and bloody and stretched out on the roof to dry. In the book, Harold is an ordinary scarecrow who gets mistreated by his farmers, until he one day springs to life and starts seeking revenge. He may be an absolute terror dredged up from the deepest pits of hell... but at least Harold kind of has a motivation? Be kind to your scarecrows, folks.


The Thing

No thanks! Do not want! The Thing looks freaky, as monsters are wont to do. But what's freakiest about the Thing is that it turns you into a Thing, too. In the story, two boys are bumming around when they come across a figure with rotting flesh (i.e. THE THING) —  and soon enough one of the boys finds himself afflicted by a very similar "illness." Maybe the Thing is just lonely and looking for a buddy to thing it up with? Maybe the Thing was a visitor from the future? Either way, poor Thing — but also stay far away from me, please.


The “Haunted House” Ghost

Lionsgate/CBS Films

The Gammell illustration is what really made this one. No one's forgetting that melting, eyeless ghost face in a hurry. But it seems like the ghost from the story "Haunted House" will also be making her way into the movie as a sort of framing device. Or at least, the design of the ghostly Sarah Bellows, who wrote the haunted book in the universe of the film, looks an awful lot like our good ol' haunted house ghost. The original haunted house ghost was less of a spectral author, though, and more of a freaky jump-scare looking for help in solving her own murder.


The “High Beams” Guy

All of the other monsters on this list are at least potentially non-human or undead in some way. But what's terrifying about the "High Beams" monster is that he's just some guy who might break into your car and attempt to stab you in the back of the head with his very large knife while you drive about, blissfully unaware. The older I get, the more sure I am that "High Beams" is the scariest story in the whole dang book. Ghouls and ghosties have a fun paranormal element to them, but murder-y dudes crouched in the backseat of ladies' cars are just a tad too believable.


The Spiders

Lionsgate/CBS Films

Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. The story "The Red Spot" is about a bunch of spiders who burst out of your face, which is quite possibly the worst place for spiders to burst out of. I mean sure, technically "the spiders" aren't a singular monster but, the idea of spider living in your face is so deeply disturbing that they collectively deserve a spot on this list. They also deserve credit for my deep dislike for those pimple-popping videos on YouTube.


Wolf Girl

The first time I read "The Wolf Girl," I remember thinking that it wasn't that scary. A girl gets raised by wolves and then she turns into a wolf. Ok! But when I tried to go to sleep that night, all I could see was the uncanny valley nightmare shape of Wolf Girl crouched in the corner of my room, growling her half human growls and staring directly into my soul with her mutant wolf eyes... and yeah, she's not my favorite.


The Toe Ghoul

Lionsgate/CBS Films

Yes, the toe ghoul made the final cut. A ghost who walks around loudly looking for their toe may not sound overly scary, but the idea of eating a corpse toe and then later having to face that corpse, and explaining that you did, in fact, eat their big dead toe, is just viscerally and psychically unpleasant.


The Wendigo

With its roots in Algonquian folklore, the Wendigo is hardly unique to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. The Wendigo of Scary Stories isn't even a flesh-eating cannibal, which is the more traditional move. This one just kind of... makes your feet hot and then picks you up and drops you from a great height. But the fact that we never see this Wendigo, we just hear its victim shrieking in pain, makes this one of the rare Scary Stories monsters who's scarier without an accompanying illustration.


The Great, Gangling Man

Lionsgate/CBS Films

This fine looking fellow seems to be called "The Jangly Man" in the movie, but in the book he is only ever referred to as a "great, gangling man." His dismembered body parts tumble out of the fireplace (as you do), and then he reassembles himself and dances around the room. Neat! Why does he do this and where did he come from? Don't worry about it! The filmic version might have a new name, but he looks every bit as limber and nauseating as his literary counterpart.


The Dead Hand

Don't go playing in bogs at night, kids! "The Dead Hand" is one of those classic we-don't-really-see-the-monster tales. All we see is a rotting, dead hand, which drags some guy named Tom into the darkness of the bog. Tom turns up the next morning, traumatized and shaking and missing his hand. He cannot speak of the horror he witnessed in the night, so we never get a good monster description, but between the hand thing and the illustration it's safe to say that night-bog adventures are a no-go.


The "Susannah" Killer

The "Oh, Susannah!" monster wins for the whopping combo of "least description of all" and "weirdest, least relevant illustration." Nonetheless, Gammell's artwork is chilling as ever, and the unseen monster is beyond scary. In the story, a college girl comes home late at night, and falls into bed without even turning the lights on. She hears her roommate humming the tune "Oh, Susannah!" But when she finally turns on the light, she's met with the gruesome sight of her roommate's dead, decapitated body. All we know about the murderer (creature? serial killer?) is that they have a soft spot for old timey American music... and they're probably still in the room.


The Pale Lady

Lionsgate/CBS Films

This story, "The Dream," is light on plot and heavy on deeply upsetting imagery of a pale, wide-mouthed woman with stringy, black hair. She appears to a woman in a dream, and then rolls up in real life just to be extra. This is honestly still the stuff of adult nightmares. And good news, our friend the pale lady is for sure in the movie, where she appears to have found a new calling standing silently at the end of a long, creepy hallway.


The New Mother

In "The Drum," two little girls enter into a weird deal where they have to misbehave in order to check out this cool girl's cool drum. Ok, sure. Their mom keeps warning them to cool it, or she'll send them a new mother, who will have glass eyes and a wooden tail. But they don't cool it, and they're left with the new mother, and yes the source material for this story also inspired Coraline. There's just something so impossibly unsettling about a family member with lifeless, glass eyes and a heavy, wooden tail that thumps and thumps against the ground as it waits for you, just on the other side of the door...