Every book you read changes you, but some books change you more than others, and most people would say that there was one book in their life that changed them most of all. For anyone born between the invention of writing and roughly 1971, that book is likely to be a religious text of some flavor or another; the same holds true for people born after 2004 or so. But for English-speakers born during exactly the right tiny stripe of human history, there’s only one honest answer: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. The book, a collection of ghost stories and folk tales compiled by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell, was first published in 1981; in 2011, it was republished with new, much-less-frightening illustrations by Brett Helquist. The original version of the book was a staple of school libraries and classroom book carousels in the 1980s, and people who encountered it at an impressionable age got a crash course in body horror, decay, and disgust that provided a steady source of nightmares for years to come. In one representative example, Schwartz retells the urban legend about a woman with an insect bite that swells until the skin breaks and baby spiders crawl out. There are a lot of ways you could illustrate that; Helquist drew a spider crawling across a girl’s cheek, which is a little creepy if you’re afraid of spiders. Gammell chose to render it with a woman staring in horror at the viewer as spiders crawl out of a hole in her face the size of a plum, with an ominous blackness under the skin that suggests the spiders have also removed a significant portion of cheekbone. What’s more, her skin seems to have cracked rather than torn, although streams of blood are dripping from the hole. Like I said: it’s straight, high-octane nightmare fuel. You know, for kids!
I am pleased to report that the upcoming film adaptation of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, from director André Øvredal, producer Guillermo Del Toro, and screenwriters Dan and Keven Hageman, looks poised to traumatize a whole new generation of schoolchildren:
There’s a lot going on in this trailer, and some of it’s not that promising. The movie seems to be set in the same vaguely-midcentury-but-with-contemporary-clothing period as Chilling Adventures of Sabrina; the framing story looks corny, and there’s the obligatory Stranger Things/It shot of kids biking around the suburbs. On the other hand:
Although Brow Beat is not usually in the habit of giving financial tips, this seems like an ideal time to make sure your portfolio includes significant holdings in the child psychology industry: It’s gonna be a growth sector.