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Looking Back at J.B. Stamper's Night Frights
One of the Spooky Books That Made Me
In my video on In a Dark, Dark Room, I touched on a story called “Night Woods.” I quipped that I may have misremembered it because I suspected it might be lost media. I thought this because I had only checked the usual search engines and came up empty. On a whim last week, I decided to check the trusty Internet Archive. I typed in "Night Woods," and this book was the third result.
I knew right away that this was the book because that cover image is from the story "Night Woods."
Night Frights is a collection of 13 retold scary stories written by J.B. Stamper. She's notable for writing the Tales from the Midnight Hour series, which is often credited for inspiring Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. While both Tales for the Midnight Hour and Night Frights lack the haunting illustrations of Stephen Gammel, Stamper deepens her characters and situations with specifics and textures, and this makes up for the lack of visuals.
The collection begins with "Graveyard Dare," a familiar story of a kid dared by his friends to visit the cemetery at night. Like a lot of stories retold here, this is a tale with several variations. The most remembered comes from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, which ends with the girl who takes the dare dying of fright after she mistakes the knife pinning her dress to the ground for an undead hand grabbing her from beyond the grave. In Stamper's take, the kid (a boy in this version) grabs what he thinks is a tree branch and runs it back to his waiting friends who are horrified to see he's brought back the arm of a skeleton.
"Bloody Mary" follows a young girl named Mary who has a nightmarish encounter with the spirit during a sleepover with her friends. This wasn't my first experience with the Bloody Mary myth, but it was early for me. I could've only been eight or nine when I first read this.
In "Cold, Bony Fingers," a boy named Tomas goes hiking and brings home a skull. Later that night, a headless skeleton comes looking for it. In "The Mysterious Visitor," a teenage girl gets paid a visit by a ghost while she's babysitting.
"The Witch's Paw" is another familiar tale to readers of Scary Stories or those acquainted with American folklore. I'm pretty sure I read it in three books when I was a kid. You know the story, a boy hears about a shapeshifting witch, gets accosted by a giant cat while out walking, and manages to survive by injuring the cat's paw. When he gets home, a woman familiar to him has a wound on their hand. Stephen King would use this idea with enough variations to make it his own in Cycle of the Werewolf, the book on which the movie Silver Bullet is based.
"The Corpse's Revenge" sees a boy buried alive scaring two grave robbers, quite literally, to death. A werewolf menaces two kids home alone in "Coming to Get You."
"Stop that Coffin" is labeled "a funny fright," but its punchline is for dad joke enthusiasts only.
"Nightmare" is a classic. You know this story from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. A young woman or girl has a dream where this face pays her a visit.
The description of the face in Stamper's collection matches that depicted by Alvin Schwartz's prose and Stephen Gammel's artwork. With its stringy black hair, white face, and dark eyes, I can't help but wonder if this folktale helped inspire the ghosts that would haunt J-horror cinema in the late 90s and early 2000s.
In "The Stranger" a young violinist takes a shortcut through the local cemetery, and things end on a creepy note.
"Mummies" tells of a sleepover in a museum gone wrong. The way this story ends reminded me of Ray Bradbury's story "The Next in Line," but with the adult characters swapped out for youths.
In "Bloody Bones" a boy who gets a kick out of taunting the dead winds up the butt of his own joke.
And finally, "Night Woods" follows a boy on a camping trip with his scout troop who gets lost while retrieving more firewood on a cold night. He comes upon a man sitting at another fire. The man stands up and shows the boy some long, sharp teeth before running after him. Like “The Teeth” from In a Dark, Dark Room, the man at the fire isn't the only one out there with jagged teeth and evil intentions.
I am so happy I found this book, even if it isn't a physical copy. "Night Woods" is a story that's stuck with me for a long time, and when revisiting this collection, I realized a few of these tales were still with me, albeit subconsciously. I hope you enjoyed coming with me down memory lane. I wore this book out when I was a kid, probably reading it cover to cover multiple times.
I think looking back on the books that made me has value. Not only does it bring me joy, but it helps all of you gain a better understanding of where I’m coming from with my writing. I hope to do more of these entries, showing formative books I’ve read over the years. Some books I cover will obviously be more current. Thankfully, I continue to be inspired by books old and new.
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