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It Was a Dark and Stormy Night...

Ah, the classic - everyone gathered around a campfire telling stories just in order to see who can freak everyone out the most. Usually, in fiction, the stories will be made up on the spot and even have to do with the location the campers are staying in. Whenever this happens, it often turns into a ghost hunt when someone's fevered imagination takes the story a little too seriously. Whether or not the location actually is haunted varies, but even in cases where there's a rational explanation for the strange occurrences the campers experience, it's common to leave the story with a somewhat jokey Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane ending.

A common variation is for a parent who may also happen to be a Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant, or perhaps simply has no sense of what would be Harmful to Minors attempt to tell children a bedtime story like this right before bed, leading to either nightmares on the kids' part, or overactive imaginations leading to a hunt for the ghosts like in the main version. Though sometimes, the justification is that it's used to scare a misbehaving child into behaving.

See Ghostly Goals for the frequent motivations of the ghosts in the stories and Our Ghosts Are Different for the various ghost story-writing conventions.

Probably the source of the Horror genre and a lot of Urban Legends. For that reason, most actual literature that is this genre should probably go on one of those pages, rather than this one, which will restrict its examples to usage as a plot device.

Note that this doesn't have to take place on a camping trip. Any fiction that has the characters trying to scare each other with stories counts.

Not to be confused with book 13 of The Dresden Files or the anime called Ghost Stories.

Examples of Ghost Story include:


Anime and Manga

  • One episode of Ask Dr. Rin! has Shinagawa tell everyone the story of a volleyball player who died in an accident and now haunts their school. Cue the soccer coach becoming injured in a freak volleyball accident after school. It turns out that The "accident" was most likely intentional, but not due to spirits. Rather, it was Eddy's way to get to Meirin. All the characters find is a bird with a very strong round-things-obsession.
  • Both Cardcaptor Sakura and XxxHolic have episodes with ghost stories that are actually true.
  • In the special episode of The Tower of Druaga, Utu proposes that his group of Climbers tell scary stories to entertain themselves. He proceeds to tell a story about a curse doll. He continues to suggest "Let's tell scary stories!" during tense or dangerous moments throughout in the series, and in the second season, the Curse Doll itself makes a brief appearance in the "House of Eternal Spring."
  • Keroro Gunsou has a chapter in which Keroro challenges his Earthling hosts to a scary story contest. Angol Mois causes much embarrassment when she gets kuaidan (Japanese for "ghost story") and waidan (Japanese for "dirty story") confused, and Fuyuki manages to tell a story scary enough to spook an actual ghost. The anime throws in Koyuki and Dororo as contestants; Koyuki tells the legend of the yuki-onna (which is more sad than scary) and Dororo tells a Mundane Ghost Story implying that as kids, Keroro made a prank long-distance call on Dororo's family's phone line that left them with a "frighteningly high" phone bill.
  • Hidan no Aria has an OVA which, aside from being a Hot Springs Episode, is also essentially a ghost story. And as with classic ghost stories, there is no real resolution.

Comics

  • If memory serves, this was done at least once in Calvin and Hobbes.
  • In Irredeemable, the character Kwaidan has the ability to tell ghost stories...and then the ghosts from those stories appear and fight her enemies. It turns out this ability is quite a bit more powerful than she'd ever let herself realize.

Film

  • Meatballs. Tripper Harrison (Bill Murray) is the head counselor at the Camp North Star summer camp. He tells a ghost story (the urban legend "The Hook") to the children around a campfire. At the end he reveals that he is wearing a hook, causing the kids to run off screaming.
  • Friday the 13 th Part VI, one camp counselor scares the others with the story of Jason Voorhees, and then follows up with, "I can only think of one thing even more terrifying." That thing is a bus load of rowdy, bratty kids. "I think I'd rather deal with ol' Jason," replies another camp counselor.
    • Used earlier in Part 2 when the characters are around the campfire and one of them tells about Camp Crystal Lake's bloody history. It is also used to give audience some sort of explanation of Jason's sudden presence.

Live Action TV

  • Dexter. Dexter starts telling a story about the Trinity Killer to Cody's Little Sailors' group. The other "dad" there cuts him off when it starts sounding a little too disturbing for the kids.
  • Kenan and Kel:

 Kel: When the bread popped out of the toaster, no one knew what to put on it jelly, margarine, cinnamon-sugar. I suggested butter, crumbs were everywhere...

Kenan: Man! He said let's tell ghost stories not toast stories.

  • Nickelodeon show Are You Afraid of the Dark?. A teenagers' club called the Midnight Society met around a campfire in the woods once a week to tell ghost stories.
  • The Andy Griffith Show; Andy tells the "Where's My Golden Arm" story around the campfire.
  • In the Royal Pains episode "Astraphobia," we first meet Ranger Pete at a campfire telling a group of scouts a singularly weak story about a "rule zombie," to lukewarm reception. After he gets struck by lightning, causing a personality change, we see him telling another story--it's still nominally about rule zombies, but his delivery is more animated and the campers actually seem scared.
  • Enterprise has a futuristic one.
  • Star Trek: Voyager. Neelix tells a scary story to the Borg children about a Monster of the Week, which was naturally a noncorporeal lifeform.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer has the ultimate version of this trope -- scary stories told by the monster himself! In "Crush" Buffy comes across Dawn in Spike's lamp-lit crypt, eagerly listening to the vampire tell the story of how he murdered a whole family, and then heard the faint sound a child's gasp in a pitch-dark coal bin so he-- (Death Glare from Buffy) had her adopted out to a nice family that didn't put their children in coal bins. Dawn is not impressed by the lame ending.

Music

Stand Up Comedy

  • Bill Cosby had a routine called "Chicken Heart" about listening to the radio show Lights Out! and having basically the same reaction as from a campfire ghost story.

Video Games

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • One episode of Rugrats involves a hunt for the "Satchmo" after listening to one of Grandpa Lou's stories.
  • In the Futurama episode "Where the Buggalo Roam", the gang are telling ghost stories over the campfire, and Fry starts blurting out the endings before they even begin.
  • In one episode of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, after a series of Mundane Ghost Stories, Twilight Sparkle goes on to tell an actual ghost story, The Legend of the Headless Horse, which is successfully scary.
  • The episode of Freakazoid! about... uh... that ghost kidnapper thing starts with a bunch of campers telling these stories to each other. Wood is a common theme. Freakazoid is the clear winnner, terrifying everyone with the Mundane Ghost Story of Sinbad getting another sitcom.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Graveyard Shift", Squidward scares SpongeBob with the story of the Hash Slinging Slasher. Then he starts freaking out when the story appears to be coming true.
  • On The Mighty B, the Honeybee Scouts are camping and Penny tells the story of a mean girl no one liked who gets lost in the woods, speaking in a deep, creepy voice. The story freaks Portia (and her mom) so much she runs away into the woods.
  • The Simpsons used this as a Framing Device in their early "Treehouse Of Horror" episodes
  • Tiny Toon Adventures used the bedtime story version at one point.
  • Quagmire in Family Guy tells one, but it's clearly just Faux Horrific.
  • Hey Arnold has several of these, usually Gerald being the storyteller, but granpa as well. The episodes are also very successful with creeping out the viewer with tales such as the headless cabbie, four-eyed Jack, the ghost bride and the haunted train.
  • Kick Buttowskis older brother Brad tries to tell a ghost story to Kick, Gunther, Pantsy and Horace successfully scaring everyo ne but Kick (and making Gunther throw up).

Real Life

  • Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was the result of a contest between friends to see who could write the scariest ghost story. Lord Byron was also present, and contributed a fragment which inspired John Polidori to write his genre-codifying short story "The Vampyre."
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