This book was published in 1985. It contained 53 works by as many writers. There were 47 short stories and 6 poems.
The editor said his basis for selection was stories that gave his jaded spine a chill. He tried to focus on the psychology of terror, the "cosmic fear of the unknown," rather than the gory and repugnant; on stories with an "icy insight into human nature," rather than blood. He avoided any tale that had been anthologized too often.
The pieces ranged from the 1770s to the 1980s, covering virtually every decade. Two-thirds of the works were from the 20th century. More than half of the writers were from the United States, with the rest from Great Britain, Ireland, Russia, France and Germany. The earliest writers included both those well known (Goethe, Mary Shelley, Hawthorne, Poe, Tennyson, Turgenev, Whitman), and lesser known (Bürger, Tieck, Courtois, Hearn).
From the 20th and late 19th centuries, there were contributions by prominent writers who wrote often on terror or the macabre (LeFanu, Bierce, Stoker, Maupassant, Stevenson, Saki, Crane, London, Lovecraft, Bloch, Sturgeon, Highsmith, Matheson) and prominent ones who didn't (Andreyev, Runyon, Tolkien, Ogden Nash, I. B. Singer, Tennessee Williams, Dylan Thomas, Asimov); most of the tales from the latter were hardly spine-chilling. Lesser-known writers for this period included W. C. Morrow, Ralph Adams Cram, Abraham Merritt, H. F. Arnold, John Dickson Carr, Jack Snow, Stanley Ellin, Ray Russell and Parke Godwin from the United States, A. M. Burrage and Robert Aickman from England, and Anatole Le Braz and Maurice Level from France.
There were also a number of younger authors, many of whose works have appeared in various collections of horror or fantasy tales (Edward Hoch, Lucie Chin, Craig Gardner, Tanith Lee and Orson Card).
The editor's choices were eclectic. A tenth of the book's pages was given to one story, Sheridan LeFanu's "Carmilla" (1872), the most important vampire tale in English before Dracula. What many critics consider to be a deleted early chapter from Dracula, "Dracula's Guest," was also included. There were works that read like folk legends, Gothic tales, classic horror stories, works closer to the fantasy and detective genres, and pieces drawn from Weird Tales magazine.
Enjoyed most were the story by LeFanu, which described one girl's infatuation for another, ended in a haunting way, and was interesting also for what it suggested about gender, class and an Anglophile's view of Central Europe. Highsmith's story, which depicted coldly the ironic fate of an arrogant man. London's, written from the point of view of an evil man. And Burrage's, which showed well the psychology of a man with a nervous imagination.
Other memorable pieces included Orson Card's story about a manipulative man's nightmare. Parke Godwin's tale, which took place in several eras at once, showing people's gradual loss of individuality and responsibility, which would end in a holocaust. The open-ended story by Robert Aickman, which combined realistic surface description with utter ambiguity about what the main character was really experiencing. And Tanith Lee's dark version of the Cinderella tale.
For writers like Bierce, Maupassant and Bloch, one wondered whether better works by them could've been included. Least interesting of all the stories by far were the contemporary fantasy/SF writers, some "comic" interludes and a dated detective story. For this reader, these were less than masterpieces.
Two of the best things about the anthology were the editor's sense of history and his inclusion of writers from other languages besides English. Other suitable candidates for selection could've included Pushkin, Gogol, Garshin, Kuprin, Bryusov, Grin, Merimée, Gautier, Hoffmann, Strobl, Kafka, Heym and Lind. For writers in English, Irving, Twain, Paul Bowles, Fritz Leiber, Shirley Jackson, Bill Pronzini, John Collier, Gerald Kersh, William Sansom, E. C. Tubb and Angela Carter. The editor must've avoided M. R. James, W. W. Jacobs and Lord Dunsany because their stories have so often been anthologized elsewhere.