Scary Stories (Movie Review)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

PLOT: The documentary explores the history of one of the most controversial works of modern children’s literature: The best selling teen classic Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, which scared a generation of readers and became one of the most banned books of modern times. Includes the author’s family, scholars, folklorists, artists, fans, and children’s book authors such as R.L. Stine, Q.L. Pearce, and more.

REVIEW: Writer Alvin Schwartz and illustrator Stephen Gammell's controversial children’s horror book series Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has inspired an upcoming film from producer Guillermo del Toro and director André Øvredal that will be upon us later this year. But that's not all. The series has also inspired a feature-length documentary directed by Cody Meirick called SCARY STORIES (PRE ORDER THE DVD HERE). The much-anticipated documentary hits theaters this month, VOD in May, and DVD in July. And this week I had the chance to sit down and enjoy the movie for myself. What did I think? Let's find out!

I can't help but start this review out by saying that my favorite aspect of this documentary was the fact that the powers that be behind the scenes managed to be able to snag extensive interviews with GOOSEBUMPS and FEAR STREET author R.L. Stine. The man has a lot to say about not only SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK but horror writing in general including a fun anecdote involving his first meet-up with IT and PET SEMATARY author Stephen King. In fact, I would LOVE to see documentaries like this on R.L. Stine's GOOSEBUMPS and/or FEAR STREET novels. Or hell, even Nickelodeon's ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK while we're at it. Someone needs to get on that. How about you? It's time to get to it!

Another cool aspect that the documentary digs into that had this here fan grinning ear-to-ear was the focus on some of the artists that have been inspired by Gammell's work within the pages of (the original printings of) SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. This includes an artist who crafts the stories' famous illustrations into 3D sculptures and a photographer who recreates the iconic drawings with real-life people (and a healthy understanding of how to use After Effects). And better yet, the whole thing caps off with a killer art expo devoted to the books that I'd have loved to attend. Plus stick around through the closing credits and you'll be treated to a series of killer tattoos based on Gammell's drawings. Now I want one!

On top of that, the doc interviews some really interesting people involved in the history of the books, including some of the peeps involved in the infamous book-banning from back in the day. This includes the woman who tried to get the books banned to the heroic librarian who stood her ground and put her job on the line to keep the books on the shelves. The documentary also manages to snag sitdowns with Alvin Schwartz's son who has tons of behind the scenes info on not only his father's writing process but some further insights into just what kind of dude this Alvin Schwartz guy was. But this part holds one of the true tragedies of the movie in that his son didn't understand his books and still doesn't.

I just wish more time had been spent on the book banning aspect of the SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK legacy as I personally find it to be the most interesting aspect next to the actual writing process and the story behind the drawings. That said, the book banning is given a good amount of screentime and one of the better aspects of the doc is towards the end where two very pivotal people involved in the legacy of Alvin Schwartz's SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK meet up on camera for the first time ever. I'm not going to spoil who those two people are (and to name them here wouldn't matter much) but once you've seen the first 2/3 of the movie, the final confrontation between these two people on the subject of SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is really a subtly wonderful – and surprisingly emotional – climax.

Now I guess it's time to move on to some of the negative aspects of the movie. After all, it is my job. One of the main drawbacks to this documentary is that Meirick seems to have invited anyone who has read the books or even seen them on the shelf to give their two cents. I was making a list of all the people who I had ZERO ideas who they were but these interviews added up and up and I figured there was a better way to spend my time. Let's just say that, like many docs that come our way – this SCARY STORIES doc falls victim to the whole "who is this clown talking?" issue time and time again. But while that's no deal breaker on its own, by any means, it does come at the expense of what could have been a better set of interviews.

And speaking of which, another aspect that rubbed me the wrong way a bit is that the doc doesn't seem interested in talking to anyone that DOESN'T love the books. Considering the books have been super controversial over the years, a little more insight into the mindset of those who don't care for the books would have been nice. Sure there is footage included from back in the day of parents whining about the books, but a more modern-day approach would have been appreciated. Oh, and speaking of the parents raging against the books, these knuckleheads are perhaps the scariest aspect of this documentary. Not to get up on my own soapbox here, but I grew up going to a Catholic School and spent my life forced by adults to go to church. I have seen these kinds of yahoos in real life. And they are scarier than anything I've ever read in any of these books. 

On the technical side of the bloody coin, the movie's cinematography is top notch adding an extra layer of creep and atmosphere to the proceedings. And in the end, this doc is filled with all the info one could wish to learn about the books. Sure an interview with Stephen Gammell would have been nice, but I guess the man's too busy drawing amazing illustrations to chat. Fair enough. In closing, it kind of goes without saying but if you're a fan of SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK, MORE SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK and SCARY STORIES 3: MORE TALES TO CHILL YOUR BONES, this movie is a must-see. Plain and simple. 

Source: Arrow in the Head

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