Just look at that book. Drink it in. This is the anthology of the “Scary Stories” series of children’s horror books, comprised of all 3 books published between 1981 and 1991. And no, that wasn’t a typo – these were considered children’s books.
When I look back, I can’t help but think these books had a lot to do with my later fascination with horror. I remember getting that tissue paper book order form from Scholastic passed out in class, and I ordered a couple of these books some time in the early 90’s. I don’t remember what convinced me to get these, but I do remember the effect: I was too afraid to go into my bedroom alone if one of these books was out. But I didn’t get rid of them, nor did I put them away somewhere. I was compelled to read them, even though they scared me shitless.
But it wasn’t the stories themselves that were so frightening. The tales didn’t really stick with me, and revisiting them as an adult proved that they were actually rather cut-rate rehashes of popular urban legends, and often peculiarly anti-climactic. No, it wasn’t the stories. It was the art.
Every kid of the 90’s remembers the art. The illustrations by Stephen Gammell are the things you can carve nightmares out of, wholesale. These drawings became Kid Legend just as much as the tales they were based on. Not surprisingly, some years ago the publisher finally got tired of all the parental complaints about the disturbing art in their childrens’ books, and the Scary Stories series was re-released with much safer, more boring, less memorable art.
But thanks to a generous gift from the Sisters Osborn (thanks Bridget and Wendy), I was able to dredge up these wonderfully horrible memories all over again, and now, I’m passing them on to you. Here are the 13 most disturbing illustrations from the Scary Stories anthology.
13 – Scarecrow man
12 – Alien/Ghost Thing
11 – Weird Lumpy Woman With Weird Eyes
10 – The Babysitter
9 – Winking Skull
8 – The Bride
7 – Giant Flying Skull Thing
6 – The Nightmare
5 – Bess
This one placed high because I actually remember the attached story, and to this day the tale of the man and the cursed horse still haunts me.
4 – The Dog
3 – Zombie
2 – Corpse/Tree Thing
1 – The Red Spot
I chose this is the number one most disturbing Gammell illustration because, like Bess, I actually remember the story, as do many of the people who owned this book. As you can infer from the drawing, it’s about a spider laying eggs in a woman’s face. A truly disturbing illustration to go with a truly disturbing story.