In Praise of Ill Intentions: I watch “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”

In Praise of Ill Intentions: I watch “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” September 6, 2019

& review for America:

What we remember are the pictures. Children of the ’80s through the ’00s—the heyday of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, whose first installment was published in 1981will tell you that the stories themselves, by Alvin Schwartz, were only O.K. It is true that we think of them now and then: the grisly nursing school prank; the bride who played hide-and-seek and got trapped in a trunk. Eerie phrases do float through our heads in dark hours: “Wait till Martin comes.” “Somebody fell from aloft.” “She was spittin’ and yowlin’ just like a cat.” But what we remember—what made us pad down the stairs in the dead of night to shove the books in the fridge, where they couldn’t get us—are those drawings.

Burnt-out eyes and splayed screaming figures. Spider legs and splotches of ink. Roots and hair and everything that twists. Stephen Gammell’s illustrations made Scary Stories feel like a pop-up book, with a new grinning horror springing forth from every page. Those unforgettable drawings seemed to leave a child’s mind soiled; the very pages reeked of grave-dirt and the sweetness of rot. Those drawings could convince a kid that reading is bad.


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