2019 is shaping up to be quite a year for Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book series. Not only is the much loved (and maligned) series from the 1980’s being adapted into a major motion picture by producer Guillermo del Toro and director André Øvredal, but months before the adaptation’s release (August 9), fans will be able to learn the real “story” through Cody Meirick’s documentary, Scary Stories.
Horror News Network got a chance to speak to Meirick about his new film and his love of the source material in this exclusive interview.
Horror News Network: What was the genesis of the documentary and your interest in Scary Stories?
Cody Meirick: I had been producing a lot of web content professionally, primarily related to children’s literature and education. I wanted to put together my first full-length documentary where literacy was the focal point. But I wanted it to be fun and interesting on a lot of fronts. When I thought of Scary stories to Tell in the Dark, I immediately knew there were a lot of avenues to go down. It’s among the most challenged books of the last 40 years, so there was a censorship piece. It’s all based on folklore and urban legends, so there was a lot to explore there. And generally it just had a large following of people who remember them fondly, both the stories and the original illustrations. So I thought there was a lot to tackle, which is of course what you want to do when focusing an entire documentary on one specific topic or title.
HNN: Why does Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark still capture generations of fans and detractors?
Meirick: I think there are a lot of reasons why it became and remains so popular. It was Alvin Schwartz’s ability to compile the stories in a way that caught children’s attention and made reading fun and alluring for kids that maybe didn’t otherwise have much interest in reading. It was Stephen Gammell’s artwork that paired so well with the stories and made them so memorable. It was during a time when I think the children’s horror genre was on its rise and there were a lot of kids interested in exploring darker content.
As for detractor’s, I think more than anything it was because the books were so popular. Yes it had some violence and content that could be questionable for certain ages. But parents wouldn’t have noticed much if the kids themselves weren’t interested in reading them.
HNN: The animation in your documentary echoes the classic Stephen Gammell artwork. Why was this such an important element to include in the film (and why are the illustrations so significant to the book series itself)?
Meirick: The illustrations are what many people remember from the books. Of course it was a unique melding of the illustrations and the stories that really cemented the books into the zeitgeist. Doing something new with the style, as in making it animated, while telling a unique story about the books themselves just seemed like a great way to pay tribute while also allowing a story about the controversy of the books to be told.
HNN: What surprised you the most about the series as you began to examine the legacy of the books?
Meirick: It was interesting to hear people have such attachment to certain stories, but there were a large number of stories that I heard over and over again. Everyone just assumed I would spend a lot of time on maybe just one or two stories that affected them immensely as a kid, but honestly there are probably over a dozen of those. It isn’t just one or two stories. These stories as they were collected in these particular books became a part of the ethos in a unique way.
HNN: Your first images in the film show a young child reading the book under the covers (with the help of a flashlight, of course) with a variety of comic books and monster magazines strewn all over the bed. Why was this childhood experience so important to those that became horror fans?
Meirick: It was important to me to show that although the focus was on Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, ultimately it is a reflection of a lot of kids who are naturally drawn to all things scary and dark. Most people fall in love with horror as children. Most of us don’t grow up to be murderers or Satanists or any number of things parents may fear. We grow up to read scary novels and enjoy a good horror flick. Nothing wrong with that.
HNN: Many brave librarians and educators took strong stands against those who wanted to remove the books from schools. What did you learn from these interviews?
Meirick: I learned that there are many different types of complaints, and there is some nuance to the arguments. There are questions of age appropriateness that are valid, even if I may disagree with how to address the complaints. There is a conversation to be had about the issue and I think the most important thing is that the conversation is had, rather than some books quietly being taken off shelves.
HNN: What do you think of the upcoming film adaptation of the stories?
Meirick: Looks great! I love the people involved.
HNN: Any other projects that you are currently working on?
Meirick: I have a narrative film that I’m hoping to more fully get off the ground this year. It’s a high concept horror film that I think will be very timely.
Scary Stories will be available on Video On Demand on May 7 and DVD on July 16.