When I was little, I hated ghost stories. For many years I slept on the floor in my brothers' room, too scared to sleep in my own because my best friend had spooked the hell out of me with terrible horror stories (which, by today's standards, were pretty silly).
Somewhere along the line, though, tales of ghosts and hauntings stopped terrifying me, and really started to captivate me. My feelings changed completely, and by the time I was a teenager I ate up tales of Halloween horrors—including cheesy slasher flicks like Halloween—with a ravenous appetite.
While I enjoy a lot of different types of scary stories now, I still have a select few types that really, really make me shiver. Stories and movies that I can happily watch...as long as I have a happy Disney movie to watch right after! Otherwise, I'll never get to sleep!
La Llorona or “The Weeping Woman” – a widespread Hispanic legend of a woman who drowns her children and then herself. Some versions of the legend attribute this to mental illness, some attribute it to the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. She is doomed to wander the earth searching for her children’s souls. La Llorona appears in hundreds of books, films, and television series dealing with the supernatural; she's one of the most famous ghosts in the world. Something about her, though, her story and character, make her feel like a very intimate paranormal guest. Her haunting tale hits close to home, especially for women, so often considered the softer, less dark or dangerous sex.
Artworks: "Llorona" by Deviant Artist Tanuki-Mapache, "La Llorona" by Deviant Artist Milk-Addicc
The Shining by Stephen King – Meaning the book, not the movie. As far as ghost stories go, this is one of the creepiest for me. This is one of the first ghost stories I read in which it wasn’t the visual appearances of the ghosts, so much as their effect on the environment, that communicated their presence and their violent nature.Down-on-his-luck, struggling alcoholic Jack Torrance is given the chance to work a winter as caretaker for the grand Overlook Hotel, an opportunity he sees as a chance to get back on his feet and to finish the novel he's certain will turn things around for him and his family. The dark spirits of the Overlook have other ideas, though, and Jack finds himself slowly losing his mind, while his wife and young son are trapped with him at the top of the world.
Artwork: "The Shining" by Ash Cruikshank
Duma Key by Stephen King – Another Stephen King, more recent, and with a little more fanciful feel. This story weaves in dark elements of a mythical sea goddess and a ghost ship, drawn to the Florida Coast to haunt prolific artists. Main character Edgar Freemantle suffers a severe workplace injury resulting in the amputation of one arm, and ongoing neurological troubles. In a last-ditch effort to find reason in his life after the accident, Ed travels to southern Florida and takes up art as a means of therapy. Dark portents begin showing up for him, though, haunting his nights and seemingly connected to his newfound talent. The story weaves together themes of mental illness and physical injury, therapy and art, supernatural inspiration and the price thereof.
Artwork: "Twins from Hell", inspired by Duma Key, by Deviant Artist KainTheVampireLord
Thir13en Ghosts – My absolute favorite ghost horror movie! Visually stunning with a deeply disturbing narrative weaving together thirteen histories into one overarching plot. Widower Arthur Kriticos inherits a complex and crazy glass mansion from his deceased uncle, a famous ghost hunter. The house itself turns out to be a prison for twelve twisted, tortured ghosts just waiting to break free.The movie itself is just beautifully creepy and full of great scares, but even better is watching through the special features on the DVD: a full breakdown of the thirteen damned spirits creating the movie's Black Zodiac. So much to love about the lore!
Artwork: "Black Zodiac: The Bound Woman" by Deviant Artist AstroZerk
Beloved, by Toni Morrison – A subtle and thoughtful novel about an escaped slave whose infant daughter died in the quest to be free, and returns in the form of an adult woman to haunt the family who couldn’t save her. Beloved isn't a "scary" story like many of the others on this list, but its themes and implications are incredibly powerful and yes, even frightening. If you've never read any Toni Morrison at all, I'm happy to recommend Beloved as a place to start.
Artwork: "Beloved" by Deviant Artist Noiresia
Shakespeare’s Hamlet – In my favorite Shakespearean tragedy, Prince Hamlet of Denmark is charged by the spirit of his murdered father to expose the dark conspiracy which led to the king’s death. Dark, gothic, melancholy, full of madness and murder and betrayal, sometimes Hamlet can even be too much. It's a heavy piece for sure. But when you're in the mood for something heavy and layered, and especially if you enjoy literary review and analysis, you can't pass it up.
Artwork: "Hamlet" by Elif Cinbas
Ghost by Piers Anthony – Probably a bit more of an acquired taste, this sci-fi novel incorporates a sense of personal demons and the demons of mankind’s past, along with the “ghosts” of our own minds and a metaphysical connection. Main character Captain Shetland is assigned to the MEG II, a ship powered by emotion, on a mission to explore the deepest reaches of space for a new energy source for Earth. The journey, however, becomes a galaxy-changing mind-fuck when Shetland and his crew discover what appears to be a black hole... and houses the ghost of all reality. One of the most memorable fusion of ghosts and paranormal in a space-age sci fi I’ve ever read. As I've grown older, I've found Piers Anthony stranger and stranger as an author, and this book is no exception to that. Reviews are definitely mixed. It's not for everyone, but it is a total head-trip.
The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe – I’ve heard this one described as both a vampire story and a ghost story. Pretty classic Poe, similar (but not exactly like) The Telltale Heart. It's the vampire similarity that drew me to the story in the first place, but by the end I discovered it's about significantly more. Our main character travels to the house of his dear friend Roderick Usher, in mourning over the death of his sister Lady Usher. Events unfold into an eerie haunting, and it becomes unclear how deeply into madness Roderick Usher has ventured... or if there truly is an undead spirit possessing the house and its inhabitants.
Artwork: "House of Usher" by Arto Heino
The Black Cat by Edgar Allen Poe – Another story of a haunting, this time telling of a man haunted by a black cat he has killed, and the karmic retribution the feline spirit issues in revenge. It’s an odd rendition of horror and the deep-running fears latent in superstition. As a cat person I couldn't pass this up. As a fan of Poe, well, there was no question it would end up in my favorites.
Artwork: "Poe's Black Cat" by Stephen K. Smith
by Stephen King – Yes, another Stephen King. In this case, though, I prefer the film to the short story, though one should definitely experience both. Writer of non-fiction paranormal exposes and debunker of many a "haunting" Mike Enslin decides to stay for the night in a notoriously haunted hotel room, against the advice of the hotel owner who has kept the room vacant for over twenty years. It takes almost no time for strange things to start happening, and the smarmy skeptic is forced to confront something utterly inhuman.This is one of the most frightening and claustrophobic stories I’ve seen.
Artwork: " Inktober 2017 day 21: Room 1408" by Teresa Vannini