I, like many collectors of horror stories, had the purchased the Scary Stories book series for cousins, however concerned parents required I read them first, to see if anything was deemed possibly offensive, all it always directed to the artwork more than the stories, and that is something this documentary from first time director and filmmaker Cody Meirick explores in his film Scary Stories. Many of the readers of these stories were also fans of Goosebumps from R.L. Stine, both who became the path followed for to crave more adult novels by Clive Barker, namely his Books of Blood and then onto Stephen King. Goosebumps acquired the big movie production, so it makes sense that Scary Stories would follow, sadly unlike Stine, author Alvin Schwartz passed in 1992, never seeing the all the praise, and clamor over his stories. However, before one gets to the actual film, there’s a possibility that some readers may not recognize either Schwartz’ name or his books, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1981), More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1984), and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones (1991). The author used his journalism background to research his tales for those ever important details, and holding true the trait of three sources if possible.
The documentary focuses on a few key aspects namely the objections of parent groups and educators versus the librarians, as the book series faced increase pressure to ban the book. Sadly, what many don’t seem to realize is that banning something only makers it more popular and sought after more youths, who want to read those creepy stories, oh how dare they do that. The documentary contains numerous authors as well as Alvin’s son sharing their viewpoints and later exploring the influence of the books, on the subculture of gothic and horror fans. Most impressively is that the distribution comes from Wild Eye Releasing, who have the reputation of unleashing some questionable horror movies but of late also striving to unlock some more deeper meaningful films.
Meirick strives to tell a compelling story of Schwartz’ work, and touching on illustrator, Stephen Gammell, a well-known recluse, who designed all the artwork in the books, but an interview from him tells his process of creation, and not including the author in the concept design, a common practice in book publishing. The famous books, eventually folded into three volume boxset entitled Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, basing themselves from folklore, campfire stories, and a touch of urban legends all reworked phenomenally well for modern children to enjoy, and giving them an invitation to explore more books, and the joy of reading, while allowing their imagination to fully blossom. The director takes a gothic approach in some areas, which helps to break apart the talking-heads, especially with showing the fans artful creations applied to sculptures, paintings, tattoos, and music. The biggest portion of the film, comes for the debate and struggle to defend the books from outright censorship and banning the materials in the 1990s, the views of parents interesting enough, but come to find many never read them, merely judging from the cover or artwork as sinister and corrupting innocence. Strangely the movie somehow incorporates other books on the ban list, though adjusts quickly enough to another interesting standpoint of one father, telling a schoolboard he’s happy his daughter enjoys reading. The entire film had little kernels of trivial information, such as the reissue of the long out of print books, contain censored photos, but after an outcry the publisher redid them again with the original photos.
One could have hope for a little exposure of the background on the folklore stores, a few selected works, likely give more depth to the film, however, excluding that aspect it plays as a standard documentary. Which means it does tend to bog down in certain areas, as this is about books and not a film topic, in addition the switching back and forth with footage of school board discussions on the banning the book in the 1990s.
Overall, the documentary and Meirick’s approach works to convey a love affair with Scary Stories, the wonderful tales and the inspirational artwork, giving the pleasure to the viewer of an interesting subculture of horror and the literary world. Most likely, those who watch it, will have a fond remembrance of these books and those unaware, new discoveries abound and give them the reason to purchase these books.
IMDb Rating: 7.8/10
Baron’s Rating: 7.0/10