Russian Language Blog

Scary Stories to Read This Halloween Posted by on Oct 26, 2011 in Culture, language, Russian for beginners, Soviet Union

Well, it’s that time of the year again. Halloween is just a few days away. If you remember, last year we had a post about «празднуют ли Хэллоуин в России и если да, то как» [whether Halloween is celebrated in Russia and if yes, then how].

Sure, Halloween does not have deep roots in Russia where it’s a recent addition to the holiday lineup. But this doesn’t mean you can’t find some really good scary stories to enjoy on October 31.

If you have enough time, you can read the story of «Вий» [Viy] by Nikolai Gogol (also English translation). I read it when I was about 10 or so and it made a huge impression on me. In fact, I tried carrying a small piece of «мел» [chalk] with me whenever possible for a couple of months afterwards. Of course, «мел» was «дефицитный товар» [a hard-to-find item] which only confirmed my belief in its magical protective powers.

Interestingly, the spell disappeared just as soon as I watched «одноимённый фильм» [a movie by the same name]. The “Viy” movie is worth watching not just because it’s sort of scary-ish, but also because it’s the only «фильм ужасов» [scary movie] made in Soviet Union. Can you imagine, growing up not knowing what «ужастик» [a scary movie] was?

Besides, it wasn’t really a scary movie at all. After all, it started off with the disclaimer, read calmly in a pleasant voice of a male narrator:

«Вий есть колоссальное создание простонародного воображения. Вся эта повесть есть народное предание.»

[Viy is a colossal creation of popular imagination. This entire tale is a folk legend.]

But if you are short on time or would like to read a simpler story, then Viy is not for you. Instead, I highly recommend «страшилки» [bogeyman stories]. These are not found in books. Instead, they are part of an oral tradition, being passed from child to child, remaining practically unchanged for years.

Told late at night, when all lights are out and no adults are present, these stories can be absolutely terrifying in their straightforwardness, abruptness, simple narrative and uncanny way of making everyday objects terrifying.

Here’s a sample:

«Чёрные занавески» [Black curtains]

«Жили мать, отец, девочка и её брат. Один раз мать послала девочку купить занавески, но сказала, что не покупай чёрные занавески. Девочка пришла в магазин, а там были только чёрные занавески, и она купила чёрные.» 

[There once lived a mother, a father, a little girl and her brother. Once mother sent the girl to buy curtains, but said not to buy black ones. The girl went to the story, which only had black curtains and so she bought them.]

«Мама повесила их на окно. Ночью чёрные занавески задушили отца. Отца похоронили. На следующую ночь занавески задушили мать. Её тоже похоронили. На следующую ночь занавески задушили брата.»

[Mother put them on the window. At night the curtains choked the father to death. So the father was buried. Next night the curtains choked the mother to death. So she too was buried. The night after that the curtains choked the brother.]

«Тогда девочка пошла в милицию и всё рассказала милиционерам. Они ночью спрятались под кроватью, а девочка легла в кровать. Когда занавески захотели задушить девочку, милиционеры выстрелили в них. Занавески закричали, у них полилась чёрная кровь, и они умерли.»

[The the girl went to the police and told everything to policemen. They hid under her bed at night and the girl laid in bed. When the curtains wanted to choke the girl, policemen shot at them. The curtains screamed, black blood poured out of them and they died.]

Morbid? For sure! Interestingly, of all the lessons that could be learned for this little tale – listening to one’s parents, calling the police right away, not waiting until the last moment – the only lesson that really stuck in my mind was the one about not buying black curtains.

After a few trips to summer camps, a couple of sleepovers and a very short stay at a children’s hospital, I also learned to avoid the following objects:

  • Food, including «красное печенье» [red cookie]
  • Clothing – «красные перчатки» [red gloves], but also pretty much any other article of clothing as long as it was either «красное» [red], «чёрное» [black] or «белое» [white], including «тапочки» [slippers], «колготки» [tights], «платье» [dress] and even «ленточка» [ribbon]
  • Any and all furniture and décor items that were «чёрные» [black] or «красные» [red], including «шторы» [drapes], «занавески» [curtains], «пианино» [piano], «картина» [picture] and many more
  • Bare walls and floors weren’t safe either. They had to be carefully examined for the ominous black or red «пятна» [spots].
  • Flowers, such as «чёрные тюльпаны» [black tulips] and «чёрные розы» [black roses]
  • Toys, including «стеклянная кукла» [glass doll]
  • And, most disturbingly, ones relatives, as shown in stories about «бабушка-оборотень» [werewolf grandmother] and «дедушкины руки» [grandfather’s hands].

As you can see, pretty much every object in a child’s surroundings was covered by these stories, from «Автобус с чёрными шторками» [a bus with black curtains] to «Я в доме хозяин» [I am the master of the house] and from «Чёрная голова» [head – black head] to «Красные ноги» [red legs]. You can read these and many more on this excellent site called «детские страшилки» [children’s scary stories].

Which story do you like most/least? Or maybe just add your own story here.

By the way, when I fact-checked the movie “Viy”, all the sites mentioned that it was “just about the only Soviet scary movie”. Do you know any other ones?

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  1. SYJ:

    oh, wow ROFL

  2. Rob McGee:

    Вий is such an awesome movie, although the title monster is just a little bit of a letdown when he finally appears. Some of the creatures that the witch summons up from the depths of Hell in the climactic final scene are actually quite eerie, but Mr. Вий himself just reminded me too much of that big orange monster who would get manicures from Bugs Bunny in the old WB cartoons (So I sez to my friend Blanche, “Blanche,” I sez, “monstahs are the most IN-tah-restin’ people!”). Вий doesn’t have orange fur, mind you, but he’s just sorta the same general shape, and a bit silly looking. However, the general creepiness of some of the other monsters, and of the witch herself, make up for it.

    Incidentally, the name Вий comes from the Ukrainian вія, “eyelash” (ресница in Russian). So you could loosely translate the title as “Eyelashzilla”! 😉

    • yelena:

      @Rob McGee Rob, that’s exactly my feeling – the monster in the movie just wasn’t scary enough. Which was just as well ’cause it helped me to get over the whole thing pretty quickly and get rid of chalk in my pockets. If only it was as easy with “The Shining”… grrr.

  3. Nicolas:

    YELENA – just an English spelling correction from «Чёрные занавески» 2nd paragrah: chocked should be spelt without the ‘c’ (choked).

    by the way – i love your blog posts.

    • yelena:

      @Nicolas Nicolas, thank you for noticing the spelling error. I fixed it. Ah, just another reminder that built-in spell-checker doesn’t always work all that well 🙂 Hope you enjoyed the story.

  4. Bob:

    Great observation Rob! And for 64,000 samolians, what was eyelashzilla’s name?

  5. Minority:

    Though I never was fond of such stories I find this one kind of funny.

    And now I’m in the search of easy and nice Halloween suit. We decided to wear ’em to office on Monday. So, I’ve got two options – pirate. And if there wouldn’t luck for me to find some good pirate blouse or striped vest, I will be a maniac doctor =)

    • yelena:

      @Minority So what did you end up wearing? A pirate costume is very popular here. In fact, a friend just had a pirate-themed birthday party for her daughter. So the adults wore costumes as well. A couple of Russians at the party built their pirate costumes around “тельняшка” shirts.

  6. Rob McGee:

    Bob — “Eyelashzilla” IS the monster named Вий. In the climactic scene, the witch clearly says to all the other hell-monsters: “Приведите Вий!” (lit., “Guide Viy forth!”).

    And he has to be led by the hand because although Viy has всевидящие глаза (“all-seeing eyes”), he also has enormously heavy веки (“eyelids”) and ресницы (“eyelashes”) — so heavy that he can’t open his eyes without assistance from other demons. So most of the time, he’s walking around blind. (Evidently, his all-seeing vision can’t see through his own eyelids, although it’s able to penetrate magical Chalk-Circles Of Invisibility…)

  7. Bob:

    Whoops! My bad, Rob – I meant the big, orange Bugs Bunny monster. I believe his name was Gossamer 🙂

  8. Gerry Grable:

    I enjoyed the movie. At first I thought it was going to be “Vee” (We in Russian) the novel by Evgeny Zamyatin, that was a precursor to Orwell’s 1984–but it is not a a “scary” story.
    It would, however make a great film if anyone even remembered it.
    P.S. I see someone caught the misspelling of “choked.” There is a word “chock” Which can be a noun, adjective, adverb or a verb with various meanings.

  9. Minority:

    Yelena, I was a pirate =) And though I’ve got тельняшка, I chose a white blouse:
    Halloween at work is really fun, but it’s too bad for ability to work, everybody wants to start the party. =)

  10. Galina:

    Rob McGee,

    You must say ‘Приведите Вия’! Not ‘Приведите Вий’. It looks like красивый девушка. But it’s cool thet you know this book.Russians like to tell this phrase. This story is from cycle of stories ‘Вечера на хуторе близ диканьки’ by Николай Васильевич Гоголь. Did you read this book?

    • yelena:

      @Galina Галя, Роб – исключительно начитанный человек. Он постоянно удивляет меня глубиной своих познаний, в том числе и в русской литературе.