Scary Stories Movie Review
Written by Greg Fisher
Released by Wild Eye Releasing
Written and directed by Cody Meirick
2019, 84 Minutes, Not Rated
Released on May 10th, 2019
Barbara Schwartz as Herself
Daniel Schwartz as Himself
Peter Schwartz as Himself
Adam Selzer as Himself
R.L. Stine as Himself
Tracey Dils as Herself
Betsy Johnson as Herself
Q.L. Pearce as Herself
I can vividly remember as a child buying the three books in the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series from my school's Scholastic Book Fair. It was a Catholic School, yet there was never a movement to stop any of the kids from buying the books, or even for them not to be a part of the selection. Those tomes became well worn over the years, following my camping trips in my back yard, long family car trips, and the like. Two years ago, as the books were re-released with the original, terrifying artwork from Stephen Gammel, my wife bought me new copies. If I have kids, I'll be sure to let them read them.
The above paragraph is unerringly indicative of nearly every testimonial viewers will find of the new documentary Scary Stories. It plays as a love letter to the books, their author and illustrator, and the experiences they gave young readers from their publication in the 1990's through today. Archival news footage of PTA mothers with mammoth lensed glasses and an unerring sense of morality for the youth of the day is sparsely interspersed with gushing narratives from now-grown fans and contemporaries of author Alvin Schwartz, including the illustrious R.L. Stine. That should really read "most notably", as those interviewed are not nearly visible enough in their respective artistic fields that even well-versed Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark fans will be hard pressed to recognize them. Therein lies the major issue of the documentary: it is all so very underwhelming.
A young, hip woman tells (rather poorly, and with too many "like"s and "um"s) two young girls brief and uninteresting versions of the tales from the books. A musician breaks down "The Hearse Song" and sings his take on it. Lesser-known children's horror authors gush about their experiences with the books. A young mother goes to a tattoo parlor and gets more work done on the full sleeve tattoo she has commissioned featuring characters from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Visual artists render their homages to Gammel's iconic pictures and the audience is taken to a gallery showing of many of the works. The shortcoming that these interviews have is that the subjects are all so very similar. They are in their late twenties to early thirties, white, tattooed, pierced, dyed, and hipster to the core. They may love these books, but the feeling that is conveyed is that the love came from the fact that reading them was the grade school equivalent of catching a secret Neutral Milk Hotel show. Only the cool kids did it. Many words are uttered about how nostalgic the books make the readers feel, and how special the stories are, but it all seems so vague and somehow unconvincing.
The interviews that really work are those with Schwartz's wife and three grown kids. Through those the audience at least gets some genuine sentiment about the writing and legacy of the books. His oldest son is wracked with guilt over an estrangement between them before his father's fatal illness. Schwartz's grandson proudly beams on how the books have given him status in high school. R.L. Stine marvels at the lengths that Schwartz researched his stories, and at the talent of the man. An elderly former school librarian recounts standing up to a school board head who wanted the books removed from a Halloween display. These are the times that the documentary shines, but are found too far between.
All too telling is the meeting that the film builds up to where a former PTA leader who is shown in archival news clips railing against the books as well in present day interviews meets with Schwartz's eldest son. Instead of the dialogue elucidating any truths on the books, or giving insight into with it is to truly be a fan, we see a woman who can't seem to understand why she ever opposed the books, except that there was "evil" in them, and a grief stricken son who wishes there was a spell in one of the stories where one can learn to turn back time.
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