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There will be a documentary about banned Scary Stories books

Remember those books that were always checked out at the local library in the 1990s? Prepare to know more.

From 1981 to 1991, children’s author Alan Schwartz published three volumes of short horror stories for children adapted from folklore and urban legends. The three books are called Scary Stories to Tell in the DarkMore Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones, and if the titles don’t ring any bells, the cover art of the original printings certainly will:

Nightmares within.

The books quickly became well known in elementary school libraries for the black and white illustrations of Stephen Gammell. They provided chilling visuals to to Schwartz’s retelling of folk tales and together, the stories and illustrations lead to the Scary Stories series being some of the most challenged (banned) books of the past two decades.

Are they really that scary? Take a minute and forty-one seconds to pretend you’re 8 years old:

That story is illustrated by a pair of rotting feet coming down a chimney to suggest an entire disembodied corpse dropping down a chimney.

Also, how demented is that suggestion you lunge at your friends at the end of the story?

Citing violence in the stories and graphic illustrations, parent groups and school boards would pull the three Scary Stories volumes from libraries and schools. The American Library Association collects a list of challenged books by decade and Scary Stories tops the years 1990-1999 and only falls to seventh from 2000-2009.

Unlike other children’s horror literature of the time – say, RL Stine’s Goosebumps series – the gothic nature of the illustrations and settings for the tales combined with their origin in actual folklore made the Scary Stories series seem timeless and believable. When you were a child, this translated to terrifying.

This is an illustration for a children’s book.

As everything from the 1980s and 1990s is suddenly a potential source for new entertainment, the books have been optioned for movies and were given a re-issue on their 30th anniversary in 2011.

For the reissue, Harper Collins (the publisher) decided to remove the Stephen Gammell illustrations and replace them with new ones by Series of Unfortunate Events illustrator Brett Helquist. This was probably a move to try to avoid a second ascent to the top of the banned books list, but instead caused an uproar from fans of the original illustrations.

Illustrations for the story “The Haunted House.” Original left, 30th Anniversary edition right.

Two years later in 2013, CBS films bought the rights to the Scary Stories series to turn into a movie about “a group of outcast kids who stand up to their fears to save their town when nightmares come to life.” That version of the script died slowly and the last anyone heard of a Scary Stories movie, John August (Big Fish, Frankenweenie) was hired to write a script with an unknown premise.

In a year where RL Stine’s Goosebumps is getting a big Sony movie adaptation (this year), the children’s horror literature seems to be getting a revival. A recent crowdfunding campaign popped up for a Scary Stories documentary that wouldn’t just talk about the books, but banned children’s literature and gothic YA fiction overall.

If you want to donate to ensure this doc gets made, you can head on over to ScaryStoriesDoc.com and get some more detail on the project.

Otherwise you can just look at these illustrations and relive you childhood nightmares, like I’m doing right now.

AHHH!

AHHHH! AHHHHHH!

Whatthe-? AHHHH!

NO!


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