I think I’ve beaten to death the fact that I’m not a horror genre person. I’m a creepy, suspense, spooky genre person. And I can’t be the only one in the world who falls into this category. If you, too, like your stories spooky but not scary, then you’ve come to the right place.
The question is, how can we balance our desire to embrace the eeriness within with our desire to sleep at night, unencumbered by nightmares? How indeed.
I have a solution! We can make a list of stories (books, movies, etc.) that are delightfully creepy without being horrific. What do you think? Sound good?
For fairness’s sake, I’m only going to list stories that I’ve actually read or watched. Rest assured, this is by no means meant to be exhaustive. And, of course, it’s also very subjective. You might think some of these are too scary… or not scary enough. Or too weird. Or too bad.
prepare to be (kind of) scared
1. the case of the hound of the baskervilles
Oh yeah, baby, The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a classic Sherlock Holmes mystery and a genuinely creepy novel. It’s been years since I’ve read it, but I enjoyed it from start to finish.
In short, it’s about a supernatural hound rumored to have murdered several people on the moors of Devon. It’s got a great build-up of suspense and mystery that culminates in the classic Sherlock Holmes reveal. Also, the whole atmosphere of the novel is foggy and dreary, which just adds to the eery tone.
I’ve talked about this book on several occasions, but suffer me to sing the praises of Mary Shelley’s gothic horror masterpiece once more. It’s dark, it’s grotesque, but I don’t think it’s going to give you nightmares… probably because we’re so desensitized to horror monsters like Frankenstein. (A.k.a. Frankenstein’s monster, you uncultured swine!)
However, back in 1815 or whatever, this story had 19-year-old Mary Shelley taking the cake in the competition between her and her friends. A chilling read and a great piece of writing all around. 10/10 Beccas would recommend.
3. the strange case of dr. jekyll and mr. hyde
I read this in high school and in college, and I enjoyed it both times. Another spooky take on a scientist gone mad, this gothic horror novella by Robert Louis Stevenson is equal parts eery and contemplative.
Told from the perspective of Dr. Jekyll’s lawyer, it unravels the dark experiments of a scientist tortured by his own duality (and the intense repression of Victorian moral code)! If you haven’t read it, do. It’s short!
4. the legend of sleepy hollow
Beware the Headless Horseman! You may have seen the Tim Burton movie adaptation (which I also thoroughly enjoy and recommend), but have you read or listened to the original Washington Irving short story? It’s quite different, but still very good. It’s less focused on action and more on description, and Ichabod Crane is anything but the hero of the story. But the payoff is still pretty satisfying.
5. anything by edgar allen poe
Okay, this isn’t fair, because I haven’t read everything by Edgar Allen Poe. But I know his work–we had a whole unit dedicated to it in high school. Spooky! So I could definitely recommend picking up The Collected Works of Edgar Allen Poe… I definitely should!
Most people are familiar with his poem The Raven (which is sufficiently creepy), but my favorite short stories of his include The Pit and the Pendulum, The Masque of the Red Death, The Cask of Amontillado, and The Fall of the House of Usher. All of his stories are macabre, dark, and (often) claustrophobic, exploring some chillingly realistic fears.
Poe is a master of setting the tone, from the imagery to the word choice to the pacing. Quoth the raven, “Read more Poe!” (Wow. What a zinger.)
bonus: non-book recommendations that are also spooky but not scary!
1. it: part 1 (the movie)
I have no desire whatsoever to read the behemoth of a Stephen King novel that is It, but I was willing to watch the movie adaptation last year. And to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t think it was all that scary–plenty creepy and spooky, but not give-you-nightmares terrifying. And I haven’t seen Part 2 yet, but Part 1 feels enough like a standalone that you could watch it and decide for yourself if you want more creepy clowns.
2. cirque du freak: the vampire’s assistant
Everyone probably forgot about the movie adaptation of this Cirque de Freak book, but I didn’t. This is a guilty pleasure for me and I have to watch it every year. It has no business being as enjoyable as it is but by God, do I enjoy it.
Even though the lead actor is a piece of cardboard, baby Josh Hutcherson is really trying and John C. Reilly carries the movie on his back. Corny and ridiculous as it is, there are some pretty funny lines that I will quote out of context to this day. If you like campy vampire movies, GO WATCH IT!!!
3. corpse bride
I know that Nightmare Before Christmas is a crowd favorite amongst Tim Burton fans, and trust me, I love it, too. But I feel like it’s so synonymous with the spooky-not-scary genre, it seems superfluous to mention it.
What doesn’t seem to get enough credit is Corpse Bride, which has that distinct, gothic, Victorian feel. The colors are drab and muted, the music is basically a bunch of variations on Moonlight Sonata (in the best way possible), and the concept is creepy yet inventive. It’s technically a kid’s movie, so there’s plenty of comic relief, but its storytelling is also subtle.
4. invader zim
It’s about to expire on Hulu, but if you have access to this cult classic and you love darkly comedic cartoons that really shouldn’t be for kids, then Invader Zim is the TV show for you.
Basically, an alien gets “banished” to Earth under the pretense that he’s meant to invade it. He “assimilates” into Earth society to learn more about their weaknesses, but catches the attention of a paranormal-obsessed kid named Dib, who tries to thwart his half-baked schemes. A rivalry emerges, and hilarious hijinks ensue.
It’s seriously a shame that it got cancelled as early as it did, but what remains is something truly… INGENIOUS!!!
5. the scp foundation
This isn’t a book, TV show, or movie, but rather an internet-curated wiki wherein supernatural anomalies are contained and studied. Basically think like Men in Black but with monsters and stuff, and it’s presented as if it’s real. (And who’s to say… it isn’t? DUN DUN DUN.)
I just got into this and though I’m sure the rabbit hole goes soooo deep, I am super fascinated by the concept. Each “SCP” is basically a mini horror story with its own case file and, often, short stories submitted by community members and curated by the wiki page. Mostly, though, I just watch the YouTube videos. They’re not that scary, but they are creepy and sometimes super weird!
6. the twilight zone
Before Black Mirror and, uh, Jordan Peele, there was the original The Twilight Zone… a sci-fi anthology of (often) creepy “what-if” scenarios meant to stretch the limits of the human imagination. It’s actually been a long time since I’ve watched this, and I haven’t seen all of them, but damn, do I remember being delightfully creeped out. If I had to recommend some episodes, definitely watch “Eye of the Beholder” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” They’ll both give you the heebie-jeebies.
7. pirates of the caribbean: curse of the black pearl
This is, and always will be, one of my favorite movies, period. And though it’s not a Halloween movie, it’s got all the right elements: pirates, a haunted ship, eery moonlight, undead skeletons, Johnny Depp… yeah, this one’s a win for me.
8. pan’s labyrinth
This is such an interesting movie, and not only are the supernatural elements creepy (and the practical effects? Amazing), the things happening in real life to the characters are pretty messed up, too. (It’s set in fascist(?) Spain.) It’s always cool when stories intertwine real problems with fantastic ones… it usually means the fantasy is an allegory of some kind, but I haven’t the time nor energy to dive into that one. Suffice it to say, this isn’t just a good, creepy movie: it’s a good movie, period.
9. clue: the movie
Who’s played Clue? Fun, right? Well, in the 80s, they made a movie out of it. And it’s the best, most campy, most delightful murder mystery dinner party movie you’ll ever watch. There really isn’t much that’s creepy about it (though I would advocate for a couple scenes), but it sure as hell is fun to watch. There’s also three alternate endings, which the DVD version can shuffle at random. It’s just like playing the game… but with more Tim Curry!
This list could go on and on, but I have to stop somewhere! I want to know, what are your favorite spooky-not-scary stories that are not on this list? Give me more creepy things to watch or read!