Panic Fest Review: SCARY STORIES

I remember it clearly like it was yesterday.

In my second-grade year of elementary school, I sat impatiently in Mrs. Robe’s class throughout the day awaiting the moment we were called to the school library for the Scholastic Book Fair. I had accumulated about 15 dollars to spend on whatever my little heart had desired. Once we were dismissed into the vast collection of colorful books, kitten posters, and smencils galore adorning the class library, something caught the corner of my eye on the third shelf down upon entering the semi-annual book buy event. An eerie cover of black and grey with a slight splash of color dazzled my mind, as I had never seen anything like it. It was both horrifying and stimulating. And seemed like a forbidden fruit among all the “Babysitter’s Club” and Judy Blume books. Like, this shouldn’t be here. But there you are. And you have a sequel right next to you! Of course my friends, these books were the “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” series. I picked them up, never looked back, and still have all three original books from childhood to this very day.

When I had heard a few years back a Scary Stories documentary was in the works, I danced a jig of glee that would make Aaron Kelly’s bones envious of my sweet skills. Almost two years later, the film is complete and is being prepared to make the festival run. But before that, yours truly got a chance to view it beforehand in all its glory- and it truly is a magical piece of nostalgic fuzzies.

In this production produced and directed by Cody Meirick, Scary Stories dives deep into the fandom rabbit hole of what makes this series so unique and special. The doc includes interviews with author Alvin Schwartz’s children who describe the kind of man their father was, and their lives growing up with the “Scary Stories” creator; as told through pictures, childhood stories, and deeply heartfelt emotions though the Schwartz family.

We also get to hear from acclaimed children’s authors, R.L. Stine, Q.L. Pierce, Debbie Dadey, Tracie Dils, and Bruce Coville among other authors who lives have been touched by the trilogy of children’s horror tales that have become a worldwide favorite of both and young and old. And the one hour and 22 minute doc displays that love wholeheartedly with stories from fans, writers, librarians, illustrators and many more that have been influenced in one way or another by this phenomena of creepy tales of folklore and illustrations.

One of my favorites in particular, and something new I had never seen, was a segment with photographer Liz Osban, who had recreated photos in the style of Scary Stories with her subjects, resonated with me deeply as I feel like our passions run deep in the same pea of pods so to speak. I’ve been rambling over the interwebs about these books for years now- from news bulletins, editorials, and lists, it’s clearly one of my favorite topics to discuss. So when I see other stories on the interwebs on the subject, I get a little territorial like, Hey. This is my thing dammit. And that’s the sort of power these books hold over us. We feel such a sense of ownership when it’s something we hold to in such high regard. Especially if it’s something we have lived with since childhood.

I feel you Liz.

Among fans and artists gracing the film with their stories, creations of inspiration, and love for the books, we also get to hear from former PTA President Sandy Vanderburg, who called to have the series banned from school libraries. I’m just glad, with my school at least, this never happened. Amidst interviews and recollections of people’s memories, the doc offers beautifully, well done Stephen Gammell inspired animated illustrations to help move the doc along, and that truly is a treat for fans of the tales of nightmare nostalgia. We may very well, never in our lifetime see something as close to that glorious visual ever again, so bravo to the team for putting that together. It might be a small thing here, but it’s one I certainly appreciate with all my “cold as clay” heart.

With the cherry on top of never before heard interviews with Alvin Schwartz, transcripted interviews with Stephen Gammell, and an inside look at the Scary Stories to Tell in the Art exhibit, the SCARY STORIES doc 100% delivers all the fuzzies we’ve ever experienced with this national treasure trilogy. In the spirit of the subject, I’ll give it five out of five AHHHHHHHHHS! It’s pretty damn near perfect.

Patti Pauley
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