Did you jump for joy when you found out that yes, we are finally getting a Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark film adaptation? If so keep reading, because a documentary about Alvin Schwartz’s beloved series has just been released by Wild Eye Releasing. In the 2019 documentary, Scary Stories, director Cody Meirick explores the inspiration behind the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. Interviews with Schwartz’s family members, scholars, and artists come together and discuss the lasting effects the stories have had on their personal lives as well as careers.
Interviews with Schwartz’s family explore his career and his interest in learning about other people’s stories and folklore. The documentary also explores at great length the terrifying and eye catching illustrations, the morbid poems, and the horror fiction which ignited some PTA groups to fight for its removal from school libraries. But moreover, the film explores the fan base. Children who grew up reading and loving the books, now pass on the stories to their children, create their own artwork, music, and photography. The film highlights how Schwartz’s stories have served as a muse for artists and scholars alike.
The film has a fun score of creepy synthesizer music that harkens back to horror soundtracks from the 80’s providing a wonderful atmosphere. This is a perfect soundtrack for a series that was published from 1981 – 1991. Librarians, fans, and artists recount how Schwartz’s most memorable works have impacted them. From PTA battles, art show exhibits, to tattoos – the eerie music supports heartfelt stories of inspiration and fandom.
The music also accompanies some truly impressive visuals. Shane Hunt provides animation that is a stunning homage to the series’ original artwork by Stephen Gammell. The animation, which mirrors Gammell’s haunting illustrations, provides images that accompany narratives about Schwartz’s life as well as Gammell’s. A particularly interesting use of animation depicts one of the many battles between librarians and parents trying to ban the books because of the famous illustrations and the grim stories and songs depicting death and decomposition.
While the book banning is an interesting topic, it is interspersed throughout the length of the film. The book ban weaves in and out of stories about Schwartz’s family life, cultural history behind the folklore, modern art. All of these topics draw the audience in, but the switching back and forth between the book ban can be a bit jarring when all the topics are captivating. Still, it’s an engaging subject that emphasizes the flaws in judging books by the cover. This is particularly prevalent during the 80’s and 90’s when children’s horror books were very popular. The film uses voice over interviews by R.L Stine and other notable authors of the genre to discuss the fascination children have with the horror genre.
That being said, what is clear is the lasting effect the books have on literature, folklore, and popular culture. Every artist interviewed conveys a sense of a personal connection to the books and this is where viewers can relate. Scholars analyze the series and draw cultural and societal parallels that speak to identity, which draws on the sense of community found in fanbases. If you are a fan of these books, then this film will embrace the creepy kid that still haunts your heart.