Scary Stories (2019)

“The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout…”

If you’re looking for a wonderful companion piece to the upcoming feature film adaptation of the infamous book trilogy “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” Cody Meirick’s documentary “Scary Stories” is a great refresher course for fans. It’s also a wonderful look at how history repeats itself, with the elementary school touted horror anthology nearly suffering the same amount of censorship and hysterical panic that EC Comics endured decades before its release. It’s a fascinating but nasty bit of history repeating itself, but history also learning from itself, as well.

One of the most infamous horror book trilogies ever written, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” was all the rage in the late eighties and most of the nineties. Written by Alvin Scwhartz, the books were violent, vicious and unflinching retellings of classic urban folklore, all brought to grisly life by the unsettling and memorable illustrations by Stephen Gammell. The books were a huge hit, but grabbed immense controversy from watch dog groups, all of whom questioned the merit of the books being sold to kids, all the while garnering a fan base, many of whom realized the joy of reading through the infamous series.

“Scary Stories” is not as long as I would have loved it to be, but nevertheless Cody Meirick’s documentary is a fascinating look at the legacy and creation of “Scary Stories” and how they were received by kids during their period. Alvin Schwartz gained fame for the notion of being unwilling to talk down to the kids he wrote for. With “Scary Stories,” he told tales of morality that were masked by grisly monsters and vicious violence. They were stories about bullying, abuse, chastity, all of the hallmarks of classic urban folklore. Through those tropes, the books unfolded great and very vivid stories about people that ultimately took part in their own undoings, acting as words of caution for the readers. Along the way, Schwartz managed to raise a new generation of literature lovers, alongside folks like RL Stine, and Stephen King.

Meirick covers all of the bases in “Scary Stories” in its lofty run time, from the creation, the excellent illustrations from Stephen Gammell that caused a massive controversy, the thrill and appeal of telling scary stories, and the panic among parents about the books’ content. Meirick leans heavily in to paying tribute to Alvin Schwartz and the new breed of horror fans and artists that he gave birth to. He also gives a fair shake to the concerned parents that voiced why they took concern with the anthology books. The son of Alvin Schwartz even sits down with his most vocal critic for a frank discussion about the content. Director Meirick and a variety of fans and horror buffs help figure out why they grabbed so many fans, and the effect they had on elementary school kids.

Much of what occurs in the documentary hits way too close to home with scenes that seemed like repeats of the panic from EC Comics, including arguments about what purpose they served, and unfounded accusations that the literature was tainting and or traumatizing the youth. “Scary Stories” is primarily for fans and devotees of the novels, but it’s also a fair discussion about the purpose of horror literature and how it can enrich the lives of its readers. “Scary Stories” is a great love letter to the classic trilogy of novels, and one that will definitely re-ignite the love for Alvin Schwartz’s work in time for the upcoming feature film. If you’ve yet to read the books, you’re missing out.

In Select Theaters April 26th, on VOD May 7th and on DVD July 16th from Wild Eye Releasing.