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, the Peter Straub novel, or the anime called Ghost Stories.
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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 XXX Holic 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."
- Sgt. Frog has a chapter in which self-proclaimed "Cosmic Junji" 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.
- One episode of Lucky Star had Konata tell a ghost story of a bus driver who, when no one was looking around... would suddenly burst into a rendition of "DANZEN! Futari wa *** Cure".
- Irresponsible Captain Tylor. "The Day the Soyokaze Vanished". The marines are telling a ghost story about the previous captain who killed himself out of guilt after his vessel was Reassigned to Antarctica (just like them) and several members of his crew jumped out the airlock, who haunts the ship When the Clock Strikes Twelve (the time he killed himself). At midnight the Soyokaze passes through a Negative Space Wedgie and a ghost starts haunting the ship in an attempt to kill the captain and first officer, but gives up in disgust over their constant bickering.
- Two are shared in episode 3 of Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka?. The first by Chino, but for Rize and Cocoa, it's obvious she's referring to Tippy. Chiya shares one too, but the scene cuts from the beginning of it to the very end, and we only see the Thousand-Yard Stare some of the girls display.
- Done a couple times in Calvin and Hobbes, like when Calvin tells one to Hobbes, only for both to freak out when their father comes out to see them, as they believe him to be the monster mentioned in the story.
- 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.
- Calvin and Hobbes share these in Chapter 5 of Calvin and Hobbes: The Movie.
- In Ju-Rei, a schoolteacher staying afterschool with a student waiting for his mother decides to pass the time by telling him one of these... right before the ghost of the boy's mother shows up.
- 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 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, 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 Friday the 13th 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.
- The whole plot of Candyman is driven by a young woman investigating a local urban legend involving a Bloody Mary-like ghost.
- Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea: The islanders on Erinskil have a local ghost story about Brother Cieran, the sole survivor of a Viking raid on a local monastery; he had gone to a small nearby island to meditate, so the Vikings didn't kill him, and after attending to the dead, he returned to island to die, pushing the boat away and haunting the place ever since (along with the cries of the murdered monks). Sir Percy tells this tale to Lori over dinner at DunDrillin Castle; predictably, the lights go out just after he recounts a creepy detail, and Sir Percy's face reappears in the gloom illuminated from below by a lighted match.
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 & 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.
- Star Trek: Voyager. Neelix tells a scary story to the Borg children about a Monster of the Week, which was naturally a noncorporeal lifeform.
- It took five seasons but Buffy the Vampire Slayer has the monster himself telling the story: Buffy hunts down Dawn in Spike's crypt, rapt with attention of how he murdered a whole family, and then heard the faint sound a child's gasp in a pitch-dark coal bin. Buffy's Mama Bear instincts immediately go to red alert and she intimidates Spike into changing the ending.
- In Redrum 327, a horror story, when the group of friends arrive at the house, Hyeri demands they begin telling ghost stories. Woony tells one, scaring everybody else and makes Gahui feel sick.
- "The Beaches of Cheyenne" by Garth Brooks.
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.
- In Tales of Symphonia, Zelos tells Lloyd and Genis a ghost story about the Gaoracchia Forest. After they run off screaming, he cracks up and confirms to the audience that he made the entire thing up.
- Da Capo II includes an event which is a Test Of Courage in the school, where they collect tokens hidden on the locations for The Seven Mysteries of the school. Each location is presented with a ghost story before the event begins.
- Kingdom of Loathing: Ghost stories are a tradition of recurring holiday Yuletide. Most of these are parodies of urban legends and films, but some are retellings of in-game events in spooooky ways.
- Elie and Rikter in the Gifts Of Wandering Ice use scary bedtime story to test their new dreamcatcher (to see whether it really can catch nightmares).
- In No Rest for the Wicked,
- In Marble Hornets we hear a story about the old forest describing how during the pilgram-times, villagers would kill criminals by tying them to trees that grow constantly and quickly for unknown reasons, tearing the victim apart. They continued this brutal practice until one day they discovered the corpse of a ''child'' strung up in one of the trees. It's heavily implied that the Operator is somehow linked to this old legend and the forsaken forest described in it.
- One episode of Rugrats involves a hunt for the "Satchmo" after listening to one of Grandpa Lou's stories.
- Not to mention there's an episode called, you guessed it: "Ghost Story".
- 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.
- In "Sleepless in Ponyville," the Cutie Mark Crusaders go camping with Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity. Rainbow Dash tells some scary stories; the episode deals with Scootaloo's fear of them, but also how she wants to hide her fear in order to impress Rainbow Dash
- The episode of Freakazoid!! about Candle Jack 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 grandpa 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 everyone but Kick (and making Gunther throw up).
- In The Smurfs: The Legend Of Smurfy Hollow, the 3D CGI parts are used as a Framing Device for the 2D animation sequence that tells the ghost story.
- Daria had an episode, The Teachings of Don Jake where the Morgendorffers go on a camping trip and try telling ghost stories the first night. Jake's is just a retelling of his traumatic childhood where his dad took him camping and subsequently got drunk. Helen tries telling an erotic vampire story and quickly censors herself when it gets too racy. Quinn simply does a version of Cinderella where the horror part comes in Cindy's fashion faux paus. Daria settles on a very gory version of Hansel and Gretel.
- There was another episode, Legends of the Mall, that followed this trope more accurately in the form of an anthology story centered around Lawndale urban legends. The last story, The House of Bad Grades, was about a home haunted by a vengeful ghost who died when she was sealed inside a bomb shelter while trying to work on her college applications. The ghost focuses on destroying the academic futures of any child living in her old house, because if she can't leave Lawndale, no one will.
- In the DuckTales episode "Superdoo", Launchpad is telling a spooky story at the end of the episode.