7 Creepiest Stories of All Time
It’s October, which means it’s time to scare ourselves. For me, slasher films, gore, outright violence, and sudden attacks of “horror” do little. But “creepy” stories are different. I’m entirely susceptible to the subtle fear that works slowly into your bones. Now, I’m a guy who doesn’t discriminate against different storytelling mediums, so today I’m going to share books, movies, TV episodes, and video games that succeeded in creeping me out. Here’s my pick for the 7 creepiest stories of all time!
7. “The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster
This story’s impact falls somewhere between “mind-warp” and “pretty damn creepy.” That’s a bit surprising, since this novelette isn’t written as a horror story. In fact, if it were published today it would be little more than a decently written dystopian tale. But it wasn’t published today. It was published in 1909.
With chilling accuracy, Forster predicts the internet, iPads, Skype, and the consequences of the modern era for humans who live increasingly digital lives. The residents of this story’s hive are frighteningly familiar, and we’re left with one more ominous prediction about what is yet to come: “The machine stops.”
I won’t take it personally if you don’t immediately find the story creepy. But remember that Forster was predicting all this more than 100 years ago. If his other prophetics prove to be as accurate … well, that’s where my skin starts to tingle.
6. Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness
There’s definitely some “nostalgic terror” mixed in with this choice for me, but the game stands up surprisingly well considering its age. In the first three games of the series, your hero takes on fantasy-style quests to rescue damsels, defeat bandits, save cities, and otherwise play hero. There’s an up-beat tone to the games and a tongue-in-cheek humor pervades the writing. At the end of the third game, however, your character is unable to celebrate their moment of victory because they are magically pulled into an unholy altar.
The game explores Russian folk-lore, Transylvanian horror, and the darker side of the hero’s quest. The humor turns black and you lose your certainty about right and wrong. Specific quests and sequences in the game are especially haunting: The story of the gypsy and the gravedigger (especially if you fail to solve the mystery in time). The girl and her doll. The abandoned monastery. The drowned woman in the lake.
The entire gaming environment is saturated with stories like these. Even as you move forward with your heroic journey, there is a sense that things are just a little bit … off … and it’s hard to know why. And as the plot progresses, it becomes clear that you’re not dispersing the shadows of this world: You’re walking right into the heart of them.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is more charming than it is scary, but a few episodes really do become nightmare-fodder. The most notable of these is Season 4, Episode 10: “Hush.”
Now, I get the feeling that a lot of Joss Whedon’s “creepy as hell” is completely accidental, but this one goes the extra mile that shows you that all the skin-crawls were intended. Written and directed by Whedon himself, the story of this episodes stands on its own merits, even if you’re not familiar with the series. Our bad guys (“the gentlemen”) are the definition of creepy, and the fact that there’s no dialogue for most of the episode makes the visuals even more haunting.
Here’s what you need to know in advance to enjoy the episode: Buffy is a vampire slayer. She slays vampires and demons and such. She’s dating Riley. He’s part of a military special forces group that kills vampires and demons and such. The two of them are unaware of the other’s occupation. And now you know what you need to about the series! Go watch.
4. Amnesia: The Dark Descent
A confession: I haven’t played all the way through this game. Obviously, then, the full plotline isn’t required to achieve a high score on the creepy scale. While the story itself pulls you deeper into the terrors of both the castle and your own mind, it’s the environment that plays the key role. All the pieces—the use of ambient sound, rich visuals, light and dark, the “sanity” mechanics, the castle falling apart around you—come together to create a powerfully unsettling experience.
But the biggest thing this game offers is its sense of powerlessness. Unlike some of the games that made the honorable mention list (specifically F.E.A.R., Bioshock, and Dead Space), Amnesia doesn’t allow you to beat the bad guys. All you can do is run, hide, and hope you’re not found. Survival horror games often make staying alive difficult, but they at least give you a fighting chance against the baddies. Amnesia doesn’t. The result is that every moment of the game feels dangerous—and you start to feel frightened by every shadow, every candle’s flicker, every unfamiliar sound.
During all this, your character is falling deeper into madness. There are horrifying sounds: a woman screaming in the distance, someone playing the piano in the empty room you just walked out of, a child pleading. But are they real or the figments of your character’s imagination? But leaving that question irresolvable, the game hands you the protagonist’s sense of a crumbling reality and his ensuing paranoia.
3. The Picture of Dorian Gray
This book is witty and hilarious, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also creepy. You’re probably familiar with some elements of this famous story: Dorian Gray is beautiful and vain. A portrait of Dorian is mysteriously imbued with a dark magic that causes it to age, decay, and show the ugliness of his sins—so Dorian himself can live according to his passions without marring his beauty.
The book dances through the emotional spectrum. It’s incredibly funny (check out some of my favorite quotes for examples), it’s oddly somber at points, it’s often beautiful … and it’s tragic at its core. The things done in the story are terrible. The struggle to master one’s soul after having tread into the darkness is a poignant one. And then we have the final images of the book. I won’t spoil them for you, but I can definitely assure you that they’re haunting.
And … okay, I know this is a classic. If you’re like me, “classic” feels like a code-word for “boring stuff I’m expected to like anyway.” Not so with this novel. It’s a pleasure to read, and I really do hope you’ll pick it up if you haven’t already.
2. The Ring
(Apparently you can grab this movie via iTunes.)
Let me preface this by saying I don’t know if The Ring would scare me if I watched it today. Frankly, I don’t care to find out. I first watched the movie in a near-ideal environment for watching horror: I was at the unfamiliar home of a friend, I was already sleep deprived, and it was past midnight when we started watching.
The creep-factor here comes from the audio-visual (though the acting was at least decent enough not to ruin the film). Hans Zimmer gave this film a score that carries the audience through the emotional journey of the story, including the dives into terror. The visuals combine beautiful, gothically tinted landscapes with disjointed, skin-crawley imagery that build a growing sense of unease.
I was in my mid-teens when I first watched this film, and I already mentioned the “terror-friendly environment,” so I’m sure my response was exaggerated. But I will admit this: I was thoroughly creeped out for a solid seven days.
1. Hard Candy
(You can rent this film through Amazon Instant.)
For this entire “top picks” list of mine, every slot was contested except this one. Hard Candy is, by far, the creepiest, most chilling, most disturbing story I have had the twisted pleasure to experience. Ever. I tend to introduce Hard Candy to friends with the same line: “I absolutely cannot recommend this movie. And you should definitely watch it.”
This modern re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood features Hayley Stark (played by Ellen Page) as a vulnerable, misguided girl who winds up the clutches of her own big, bad wolf: Jeff Kohlver—a photographer, a charmer, and a predator with all the wrong appetites. But as the tables turn on Jeff, it’s revealed that Hayley is far from what she seems to be. It’s not only the wolf who wears the disguise in this version of the story.
Hayley takes away Jeff’s control over the situation and proceeds to tear him down physically and psychologically. Her brutality—alongside brilliant acting, script-writing, and cinematography—make it almost impossible to know whose side you’re on. The terror present in the story itself is thoroughly unsettling, but the far more disturbing journey is the one it makes the audience take within their own mind and sympathies.
Seriously. Shivers and goosebumps just thinking about this movie. I can’t recommend going through that. And you should make sure you know what you’re in for, but … yeah. You should definitely watch this movie.
There were a lot of titles I considered putting on this list. Here’s a brief, rapid-fire rundown:
- “Blink”: This was the hardest item not to include in my Top 7 list. It only narrowly misses the list because the sense of danger is mitigated by the fact that the angels don’t actually kill you. If you don’t already know about the Weeping Angels, it’s time you found out. As with “Hush,” “Blink” stands on its own merits, even if you don’t know the series.
- Haunted Majora’s Mask: A combination of clever video editing and urban myths that spiraled impressively, the story of “Ben,” a boy who drowned and haunted a video game, is far more chilling than it initially seems.
- Dead Space: This game has a lot of “jump out to scare you,” and plenty of disgust. The sci-fi elements and the sense of being isolated also lay the groundwork for some serious creepy. And then you get to the game’s conclusion. *shudder*
- F.E.A.R.: Cannibalism, creepy little girls with psychic powers, revenge, warped identities, and loads of violence. This is solid horror gaming with just enough creepy that the images will haunt you.
- Bioshock: While the entire underwater city of Rapture has a creepy vibe, it’s the Little Sisters who really add the subtle fear. These “innocent” girls wander the corridors in search of corpses they call “angels,” then proceed to drain precious chemicals from the cadavers with giant needles.
- Neverwhere: I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman’s work. Part of the reason is that he seamlessly weaves humor, adventure, wonder, and terror. Neverwhere has the strongest creep-outs of his prose work. Gaiman takes you to the world beneath London: a place where things go when they fall through the cracks. Some of what you find there is wonderful. Some of it is absolutely spine-tingling.
- Lolita: Dive into the mind of a narcissist pedophile and see the world through his eyes for a while. Sound like fun? God, I hope not. While I feel this book is overrated amongst literary readers, it’s definitely a well-crafted mind-warp.
- Signs: The movie’s scares are more the jump-out variety, but it’s done with a sort of distant lens and gradual pace that make the baddies crawl under your skin before you ever get a clear look at them on-screen. As with The Ring, this is a movie to watch in the scariest surroundings you can manage.
- Silence of the Lambs: By the time there’s a real sense of threat, we’ve moved past creepy and into grotesque. But Anthony Hopkins certainly gives a chilling performance that’s worth seeing. And that makes it absolutely impossible to enjoy Shadowlands ever, ever again.
- The Mist: While I feel so-so about the film overall, the end of the movie is so disturbing that it earns the movie a mention here.
There are plenty of stories I have yet to experience that would haunt my nightmares and harrow my very soul, but I need you to tell me what they are. I know I need to get to Ju-On and The Shining, but what else am I missing out on? Let me know by putting together your own blog entry and leaving a comment, below. I’ll add the links to this article so we can get a running list of the stories that really freak us out.