Have you ever read something that totally unnerved you and kept you up at night, afraid to turn off the lights for fear of what might be flitting around just out of reach of the edges of your eyes?
Did you ever see a picture that literally runs a cold shiver up your arms and raises your skin in a field of goosebumps? The kind that leaves an imprint on your brain, even behind your eyes no matter how hard you shut them?
For a generation of young people, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark were the source of those terrors. The books— three volumes containing 82 stories altogether— made nightmares come to life with stories based on folklore and old campfire tales, written by Alvin Schwartz, alongside the surreal and grotesquely terrifying illustrations of artist Stephen Gammell.
Although the books were intended for pre-teens and kids, they were horrifying. There were many challenges to the series by parents who wanted the books far away from schools, libraries, and also stores. Due to controversy keeping the books intermittently available in many areas for over a decade, until the stories were compiled into 2004’s The Scary Stories Treasury, many young people were deprived of the series’s excellent combination of macabre storytelling and haunting artwork. Although there was awesome stuff like Goosebumps out there, little horror lovers were done a disservice by reactionary attitudes towards Schwartz and Gammell’s work.
What’s so interesting about Scary Stories is it chooses to focus on fans of the books during one of its segment. Horror is a vast community, filled with all sorts of personalities and preferences, and it’s one of the most interesting groups of film lovers out there— maybe Father Gore’s just a tad biased.
The inclusion of fans in the documentary feels like a wonderful nod to those who love and support horror. Despite its problems, the community are intensely loyal to the titles and franchises they love. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has many fans, extending beyond just the generation who were old enough to get their hands on the books when they were originally published from 1981 to 1991. Seeing adults with tattoos of Gammell’s artwork and recounting their favourite stories is a joy, particularly today when non-horror fans latch on to any horror they see as ‘sophisticated’ enough for the mainstream like use actual horror fans are unable to tell good art from bad. A documentary featuring fans in the way this one does feels like an acknowledgement of horror’s joy, its ability to bring people together, and its merit as an art form like any other genre. If the documentary doesn’t live up to all expectations for each viewer, at least its heart is in the right place.
As per the press kit:
“Cody Meirick’s film features more than 40 interviews, from family members of author Alvin Schwartz, to fellow children’s book horror authors like R.L Stine and Q.L. Pearce, to folklorists, artists and fans discussing the impact the books have had on both themselves, as well as the culture at large.
The documentary also explores the various times in which the books were banned or targeted by parent and religious groups as ‘satanic’ or otherwise too macabre for its targeted teen scholastic audience.
Penned by Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a three-volume series consisting of short horror stories for pre-teens and children that were adapted from American folklore and urban legends. Because of some of the violent illustrations and the subject matter, parent groups, religious organisations and school boards had the books pulled from libraries and schools at various times.”
Scary Stories will debut in select theatres beginning April 26
via Wild Eye Releasing.