“The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out. The worms play pinochle on your snout.”
When I was in fourth grade, my school had their yearly book fair. It was a time where kids could go to a large class room where Scholastic Books would litter the entire room with their merchandise for prices ranging anywhere from 25 cents to ten dollars. Of course when I spotted “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” I snatched it up and re-read it at least five times. Which is saying something for a kid who, at that age, took every possible excuse to not read. Alvin Schwartz’s book is one of the first introductions to horror and urban folklore. And judging by the many other nineties kids, Mr. Schwartz’s book was a source of horrific inspiration for them, as well.
With no disrespect to the replacement artist, Stephen Gammell’s illustrations are priceless, with no chance at ever being duplicated in their terrifying and gruesome style. “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” didn’t just inspire kids to read the stories over and over, but it showed them how fun it could be to tell the stories to their friends and family. The anthology of folklore was gory, funny, and darkly demented. Thankfully “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” has lost none of its original impact, and is such an utterly morbid piece of literature. There’s the gruesome tale of the young boy who chopped the toe from a corpse to eat for his stew.
Much to his surprise, the corpse comes back looking for his missing appendage. There’s a great emphasis on rotting corpses and death, and Gammell’s gruesome illustrations add that surrealism to already unique stories, offering dangling bloody feet from a fireplace, and a detached head of an old man. There’s one of my favorite tales “The White Wolf” about a master wolf hunter to meets his match with a supernatural wolf, and of course “The Babysitter.” And who can forget the golden oldies of folklore including “The Girl Who Stood on the Grave,” “The High Beams,” “The Hook,” and “The Babysitter”?
While I was always familiar with the story through clips of “When a Stranger Calls” on “Terror in the Aisles,” I’d never actually read the entire urban legend. It’s still a terrifying and memorable story that hits home for babysitters who not only have to protect themselves, but their children. For horror fans seeking to introduce their children to the glory of the horror genre, and the thrill of storytelling, Alvin Schwartz’s anthology is still an invaluable piece of literature, and one that will keep them awake at night.