The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Scary Stories Treasury: Alvin Schwartz, illustrated by Stephen Gammell
I missed this collection of revamped urban legends and folk myths when I was a kid. I went from Godzilla in kindergarten, to the TV edit of Jaws in first grade, to Stephen King books and adaptations by second. I can only guess, but I figure my response to Scary Stories was that it looked like kids’ stuff.

And it mostly is. And that’s ok. I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to share this with them.

I was surprised after sitting down and reading it that I had heard almost every story in some form or another. “The Hook” I had read in King’s Danse Macabre decades ago and in other places. I bet more than a few of the re-tellings I know can be traced back to this book.

Besides the artwork by Stephen Gammell–a perfect mix of realism and abstract grotesquerie–my favorite part of the book is all the bibliographic information. I love reading about the beginnings and variations of urban legends and the author documents all of his sources and some of the variants. The bibliography gave me chills. Intense dork chills.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)
What I have heard most about the film adaptation is a complaint that it isn’t scary. I just figured it would be a kids’ movie, akin to Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983), Monster Squad (1987), or The Lady in White (1988). In that sense, it didn’t disappoint.

I enjoyed the movie, especially watching it with my wife because she grew up reading and being scared by the books. The ghouls were a joy and straight off the pages of the book. Again, I hope to watch this with the kids when they get older.

I like how the film oriented its story around a town’s history and the larger setting of Vietnam-era America. There are real consequences for characters’ actions. Children are not spared, just as the young going to war are not spared. It does have me wondering, especially after a recent revisit of The Changeling (1980), do ghost stories have to be tied to former evil deeds? I’m interested in possible alternatives to ghost stories. Maybe that’s all haunting is. Maybe I may have not dug enough.

The early part of the film uses a muted color scheme with lots of light blues, yellows, and oranges, seemingly recreating older film stock. During the Pale Lady sequence, an HD look takes over that was jarring to me. I couldn’t understand why the look of the film shifted so much until it started getting into high contrast green and red lighting. The film seemed to continue with a digital look as more CG monsters began infesting the lives of the characters.

Overall, I liked that the myths were particular to the characters’ lives, and that they were all haunted in some way, suggesting we all have our own fears, our own personal scary stories.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s