With the upcoming Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark movie only a few months away from release, taking a look at a documentary that explores the controversy about the books and their author seemed pretty fitting.
In fact, Scary Stories is a documentary about American children’s horror classic Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark – the three books published between 1984 and 1991. It includes the author’s family, scholars, folklorists, artists, and children’s book authors such as R.L. Stine (The Goosebumps series) and Q.L. Pearce.
Following the limited theatrical release on April 26th – which includes Los Angeles, New Orleans, Columbus, and Texas – Scary Stories will be available on VOD May 7 with a DVD release set for July 16. You can watch the trailer here and check the IMDb official page for more info.
Growing up in Italy, I’ve never been exposed to this series of children’s horror novels: here, The Goosebumps series has always been much more famous and successful. I’m just saying that because it might be part of the reason why I found this documentary very interesting and insightful.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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The focus of Scary Stories – directed, produced and edited by Cody Meirick, and distributed by Cody Meirick – is split in two: half of the documentary focuses mainly on the controversy revolving around the appropriate age for those books; the other half is centred around Alvin Schwartz (the author) and his private life, with particular attention dedicated to his relationship with his son Peter. This duality makes for an interesting combination of emotional impact and educational facts.
Through more than 20 interviews, Scary Stories delves into the importance of Schwartz books for American society assessing, in particular, whether certain contents shouldn’t be available for a younger audience or they should be accessible for everyone. The documentary does a very good job at presenting both point of views and letting the audience decide whether those books improved the imagination of many generations of kids or they were too violent and disturbing to be read in elementary school. Personally, I think that even the rating system in cinema should be re-discussed because dreadful consequences, death and suffering (to name a few taboo topics) need to be taught from a young age.
Back to Scary Stories, the documentary also succeeds at reuniting the two main focuses towards the end, where a very interesting debate ensues, providing the audience with both food for thoughts and an emotional punch.
As a person who wasn’t particularly familiar with the series of books Scary Stories to tell in the dark, I found the documentary to be extremely informative and useful, while also challenging in terms of topics such as censorship and children education. In regard to its content, this is a documentary I would strongly recommend to anyone interested in these books, horror folklore and children exposure to strong contents. It’s a great companion piece to the upcoming horror film Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (which I’m very excited about, by the way).
Nonetheless, Scary Stories has a very low-quality presentation that makes it look, unfortunately, extremely amateur.
The main issue I have is that the same footage is being used multiple times within the runtime. This depends on the fact that either they didn’t have enough footage for what they were going for or they thought it was fine to have a flat and visually uninteresting documentary. When you film a documentary, you need at least double the amount of footage that, in post-production, you can cut and edit together. Here it seems they ran out of material and so they had to reuse some of the same shots.
Speaking of repetitiveness, Scary Stories features some animations that are very well-done and creepy: however, they keep reusing them over and over. Again, this only makes the viewing experience cheap and tiresome.
Another major issue this documentary suffers from is the way it’s edited. The editing, especially in the first half, is jarring and sloppy. For example, at one point the documentary cuts to news footage about the books by Schwartz: instead of transitioning directly to the topic, there are 15 seconds where the presenter is speaking about a completely different issue (the Cold War, to be specific). This is a very lazy and distracting goof that, unfortunately, enhances the amateur nature of this project.
I, also, had quite a few minor issues about the interviewees (when a person isn’t interesting, you shouldn’t feature them in the final cut), the music (sometimes it was a bit overbearing) and the camera angles during some of the interviews (just put the camera down and roll, you don’t need Dutch angles while interviewing an expert in American folklore!).
Overall, Scary Stories delves into an interesting chapter of American culture and history. It achieves what the filmmakers want to, and it does that through strong narrative and a few interesting interviewees. At the same time, it’s visually dull and feels amateur at points in its presentation. Still, if you’re interested in the subject and/or want to give yourself a background of information before the movie comes out, I’d very much recommend it.
Scary Stories 6/10
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