Top 10 Ghost Stories Ever!

The greatest spooky tales of all time

SFX has just published a spook-packed Paranormal Special – in the shops now, and you can learn more about it here.

One of the major features in the issue is countdown of 50 Greatest Ghost Stories ever, which SFX readers helped to create by voting on this very site. The entries cover novels, short stories, films, books and TV, with some, of course, crossing the various media.

We’re not going to reveal the entire Top 50 here, but to give you a taster, here are the cream of the crop – the Top 10. If your favourite isn’t here (“Where’s Rantaghost?” “Where’s Funky Phantom?” we heard you gasp*), then it could be somewhere else in the Top 50. You’ll need to read the special itself to find out.

(* Though if you are a member of The Funky Phantom fan club, we can give you a tip-off: save your money.)

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10 Casting The Runes

Writer: MR James (1911)

MR James binned most of the clichés of gothic horror, redefining the ghost story for the 20th century; yes, the past weighs heavily on his characters and scenarios, but his reserved, scholarly heroes, dangerous old books and artifacts, matter-of-fact reporting style, ancient supernatural evils and mundane real-world (albeit history-laden) settings immediately felt fresh and new at the time. His steadily building sense of menace, yet refusal to explain everything – forcing the reader to fill in the blanks – allowed the imagination to run riot in entertaining and disturbing fashion.

“Casting the Runes” has been performed on TV, stage and radio, and became the (rather excellent) 1957 film Night Of The Demon (or Curse Of The Demon as it’s sometimes called); it’s part of his second collection, More Ghost Stories, and was once described by a writer in The Observer as the “scariest story ever, so horrifying that to this day I can’t keep it in my house”.

Most modern readers may find that over-the-top (surely the writing style is too restrained for such a visceral reaction?) but you can’t dismiss the story’s clever central idea: a Satanist called Karswell uses strips of paper covered in runic symbols to kill his enemies – receive one, and unless you can pass it back your fate is sealed.

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