Video

Finding the Yin and Yang in Scary Stories Documentary

18 Apr

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Everything fans wanted to know about Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell‘s collaborative work gets beautifully and excellently explored in Cody Meirick’s documentary Scary Stories. Both talents share equal credit in this exploration of the three-book series, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

Not only were Schwart’z family interviewed, but also a variety of talents (from uber fans to fellow authors) profess their love for this team. There’s plenty of talkie moments to narrate the life of these creators, and in what I particularly enjoyed is in how enduring these works are still today. Every generation has a series of books they adored. Whether that’s with Conan the Barbarian, EC’s Tales from the Crypt, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, The Vampire Lestat, Goosebumps and etc., the culture that’s grown is explored in Meirick’s work.

To see how Millineals are paying tribute is inspiring. Some have crafted three-dimensional creations of Gammell’s art. Equally haunting are the lenticular animated sequences by Shane Hunt. Sadly, Gammell did not live long enough (he passed away in ’92 due to lymphoma) to see what his later works have become. With a feature film coming August 9th, I’m sure he’s proud. To see his books form the basis of a movie to tie all the folk-tales together is straight out of Netflix’ Stranger Things. And I’m sure the creators fully intend to honour the source material. To get up to speed in what the original series is about, this excellent documentary will play at select theatres this Spring (please check the main website for updates) and arrive on VOD May 7. The home video is set for July 16th release.

Schwartz is a humble man, a private man, and this film reveals a side of him not as well-known. He was a workaholic and despite not always being there for his children. Their point of view makes this documentary enduring because we get to see what makes Schwartz tick. I loved how we, as an audience, get to know the man than a monster. Yes, he was not around for his kids much, but they managed. He’s a journalist first and foremost. As a father, that was his second job. From what I can gather in their discourse, they respected him.

Other artists and writers also admired Alvin. Author R. L. Stine of Goosebumps fame recounts his time meeting him and he felt honoured to be in his presence.

The fact Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark continues to inspire individuals at different levels says something. It’s not just about reading literacy, but also in getting to know the world around them. Part of Meirick’s documentary sweetly explores aspects of what makes a fan continue being a fan–and I can relate. In a time when the Internet was not publically available, to find material about the occult world of another city, state or country meant reading everything the local public library has. The books were adaptations of folklore from many regions and the fact it still inspires many to keep learning, to keep discovering, says something of the Scary Stories legacy.

When these books became very popular with “the wrong age group,” the moms and pops reacted very fast. Certain advocacy associations were aghast at the content and wanted them out of the school library system (to begin). To hear the protest including public libraries is certainly laughable. The pros and cons are nicely examined in this documentary, and ultimately, the issue was more about censorship.

In what makes this documentary perfect is in that fact is moves like a murder mystery. There’s a plot and a resolution. The finality is in discussing how enduring and timeless Alvin’s work truly is. The only scare we have here is in ourselves as individuals, and whether or not we have the right to choose what others can read, do or see. Like the maxim concerning the three wise monkeys, turning a blind eye does not always work. Sometimes the positives outweigh the negative, and with Scary Stories, the balance is in understanding what Schwartz and Gammell’s work has become.

4½ Stars out of 5

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