Goosebumps books were, essentially, a gateway book-drug. For myself and a lot of my friends growing up, these macabre, creepy, and often campy stories filled us with a lifelong love of horror, whether on page or screen (or both). Below, I list my top 5 scariest books in the original series.
#5: Piano Lessons Can Be Murder
Whenever favorite Goosebumps books come up in conversation, I’m usually one of the only people to list this one. It’s definitely a book that tries to do a lot of things, jamming in ghosts and robots as though it were a veritable meeting-of-the-tropes. Yet, this book has always stood out to me for two reasons. First, no one believes Jerome that a ghost is playing the piano, even though it’s loud enough to wake him up at night. The idea that someone is telling the truth, but mistakenly thought to be mad, is something that gets creepier the longer you think about it. Combine that with a truly unnerving adult character — Dr. Shreek, his piano teacher, who is totally, eerily obsessed with Jerome’s hands — and you get a really frightening story without even having to bring ghouls into the picture.
#4: The Scarecrow Walks At Midnight
What’s really interesting (and scary) about The Scarecrow Walks At Midnight is its introduction to a kind of stock horror-movie character: the bumbling bumpkin. Stanley, the farmhand on Jodie’s grandparents’ farm, is dim-witted and seemingly obsessed with the occult. When a character meddles with powers and forces beyond their control, it’s scary. When it’s someone who is only dimly aware of that power, and probably too inept to resolve anything, it’s terrifying. It’s sad when Jodie, the protagonist, slowly realizes her grandparents are on the decline, but when it turns out they’re actually living in the grip of fear at the hand of demonic scarecrows and the foolish man that conjured them, it’s sad and scary.
#3: The Headless Ghost
Gotta love when bratty kids get their comeuppance, right? So when town pranksters Duane and Stephanie decide to lose themselves in Hill House — a house haunted by a lonely, vengeful sea captain, and the boy he decapitated with his bare hands — you can’t help but think the scares are well-deserved. What’s to love, even more, about The Headless Ghost is that it’s actually chock full of ghosts. Not only do a bunch of ghosts make an appearance, but the description of the little boy’s bedroom alone — vintage toys, etc. — is enough to make your skin crawl.
#2: Ghost Beach
For some reason, I’m a sucker for a horror story set in New England, or otherwise involving coastal regions. Maybe it’s from growing up on an island, maybe it’s just my interest in the broader history of the region, but Ghost Beach combines these elements in a truly awesome way. The Sadler children go to visit their quite elderly great aunt and uncle in a village that seems to have more deceased than living residents. They go to an old cemetery to do gravestone rubbings (this book totally made me obsessed with that practice) and discover that a ghost lives in the cave nearby, a ghost so terrifying that most of the townspeople live in fear of it. That alone would have me hooked, but the twists and turns make it even better.
#1: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb
If your childhood was anything like mine, sometime around Grade 4 you got into Egyptology hard. Between History Channel documentaries, reruns of In Search Of… or just your social studies/history curriculum, you encountered the awesomeness that was Ancient Egypt — and loved it. The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb does well to capture everything my child self thought was so cool about Egyptology: curses, the morbid details of mummification, the seeming endlessness of pyramids. While mummies were never especially terrifying to me, the idea of being lost forever in a pyramid, under a curse? Yeah, that’s enough to make even an adult shiver.