I remember how old I was and exactly where I was when I discovered Alvin Schwartz’ Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I was nine years old and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was heating up television in its second season. I was obsessed with everything scary and macabre, which is how I discovered horror films like Halloween and Friday the 13th and Child’s Play, but I also discovered the most peculiar book in my elementary school library. A collection of short stories, the ones I remember most being “Sam’s New Pet” and “THUP,” the book was always left on the bottom of the book shelf – seemingly waiting for me to check it out over and over again. Truth be told, I never really thought of the books much after elementary school, and my mind has erased most of the visuals and words within their pages. Imagine my surprise when it was announced that Guillermo del Toro was adapting a feature film based on Alvin Schwartz’ short stories, and it was coming to cinemas in August 2019. With the announcement, the door was blown open, maybe just to me, and it became apparent that these works of fiction had touched and shaped a generation of horror enthusiasts much like myself. The outpouring of love and support of del Toro’s upcoming movie has been massive, so it’s timely that Cody Meirick and Giant Thumb Studios have created a documentary – Scary Stories – that highlights Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark from inception to cult status.
Scary Stories is seeing its official roll out courtesy of Wild Eye Releasing. The documentary hits select theaters starting April 26th 2019 before moving to VOD on May 7th 2019, followed by a DVD release slated for July 16th 2019. Just a month before del Toro’s film hits cinemas world wide. How timely, and how perfect that Scary Stories is reaching the masses in such an honest and genuine way before Hollywood steals the highlight for its own gratification. It’s time for its second wind. Scary Stories was written, directed, produced and edited by Cody Meirick. It features cinematography by David Thomas, Kevin Tobin, Brenton Oechsle and John Anderson, and animation by Shane Hunt. It sees commentary and testimony from Peter Schwartz, R.L. Stine, Barbara Schwartz, Betsy Johnson, Daniel Schwartz, Sandy Vrabel, O.L. Pearce, Bruce Coville, Debbie Dadey, Tracey Dils, and many many more. It’s no surprise to see so many people lined up to talk about Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark being the cultural phenomenon it became. Scary Stories also sees illustrations by Stephen Gammell, and it must be such an honor for him to have those artistic homages as one of the centerpieces in this documentary. In all honestly, Scary Stories views more like a love story to the book series than anything else, because it’s impossible to look at this feature film without feeling the buzz of appreciation and child-like wonder.
As you’ll see in the documentary, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark wasn’t always as beloved as it is today. There were times when the book was flat out banned by most carriers and distributors, and parents targeted the book as inappropriate and satanic. It even went to court, multiple times. While it’s true that the target group was a little low for such macabre talent, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was only just a book and it was being unfairly criticized; same as most horror films are when they’re related to holidays or social topics. Still, Schwartz and his company continued on in true bad-ass fashion despite the criticisms and made one of the most beloved horror book series ever. Now, in 2019, writers, artists and fans alike discuss the impact that the books had on their imagination, and how the original stories shaped them as creators. Hell, even musicians speak in Scary Stories as to how the books shaped their experience while coming into their craft. But Scary Stories does a fantastic job of telling both sides. It features actual footage of school boards trying to ban the book and even hefty interviews with Schwartz’ biggest public criticizer. Then, it goes on to show how original copies of the book starting selling for hundreds of dollars when the shit really hit the fan. The release of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was really a pivotal time for written horror and Scary Stories tells the historic process well.
But, hey, it was a different time in the 1990’s and the culture wasn’t as dismiss-able of horror as it is today. Scary Stories is another worth-while entry on the Wild Eye Releasing catalog, and it’s going to further their clout towards being recognized as a respectable distributor. Scary Stories and its creators dug deep to find hidden gems, unreleased media, long forgotten clips, shocking pictures and mixed them with a variety of themed interviews from people who love the book today. It also paints a picture of Alvin Schwartz as a man, with this documentary showcasing his family, private photos and previously recorded audio of the author; and the legacy of his work following his untimely death. The allure of Scary Stories is hit or miss, though. If you’ve never read the books or if you read them and weren’t impacted by the material, you’re going to think Scary Stories is quite boring or a little slow. If you’re a horror historian, a fan of the macabre books, and excited for the upcoming film adaption, then I highly recommend this documentary. It’s one of those “it’s not for everybody” kind of deals, but if this is in your interest, you’re going to watch this documentary in silence while your heart bursts with joy as you travel back in time to when you were a child first discovering one of the most bizarre pieces of literature of all time. I’m happy that I had the chance to view Scary Stories because it took me on that journey, and I’m happy to say it was beautiful.
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10