Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark: The Book Tie-In to the Movie: The Review

Happy October! I'm kicking off Halloween season today by writing about...well, pretty much the same type of stuff I write about the rest of the year.
Anyway, as I mentioned in my recent-ish review of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark movie, a book was released in conjunction with the film called Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: The Haunted Notebook of Sarah Bellows. Given my propensity for writing about anything and everything Scary Stories-related, it's only natural that I'd wanted to discuss this latest creepy collection of terrifying tales.

Now, to get the most obvious question out of the way: is this a new Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book in anything other than the most literal, pedantic terms? Frankly, no. The stories are all moviefied versions of material from the original books, enhanced by concept artwork, photos and notes from the film’s production. Yet, oddly, these are exactly the qualities that make this book perfect for what it is. It’s basically a spin on a traditional film novelization, framed entirely as short stories (like the source material) which have been personalized and enhanced (as the source material encourages the reader to do in their own retelling) to become the stories themselves as they appear in the film. Whew, that’s some serious synergy right there! It stays true to the spirit of both the movie and the original books, which is no mean feat considering the significant differences between the two.
Like the best novelizations, this one has something to offer even to people who have already seen the film beyond simple plot regurgitation. The stories in The Haunted Notebook here are more graphic and, dare I say, XTREME, than what we see in the film. For example, the film’s version of “The Big Toe” is a bit vague about whether poor Auggie actually cannibalizes corpse meat beyond mere cursory mastication, but the book leaves little doubt that he’s gulping down copious quantities of cadaver chunks in his magical fridge stew. Furthermore, when he meets his demise in the movie, he is quickly pulled into underbed darkness after a jump scare from the undead being that’s been stalking him, while in the book, he desperately tries to escape the supernatural predator to such as extent that his fingernails get ripped out, embedded in the wood of his bedroom floor as he gets dragged into oblivion.
And SPEAKING of gruesome demises, the book version of “Harold” reveals a bit of info that we never get to see in the movie. Any Scary Stories enthusiast (which, statistically speaking, is a group you likely belong to if you're reading this) can tell you that the most shocking thing in Alvin Schwartz’s version of “Harold” is the ending, in which the inexplicably animated scarecrow stretches out the skin he just removed from his murder victim to dry in the sun. Though one must admire Harold’s pragmatism in not letting good hide go to waste, the thought of a man being slaughtered and flayed is certainly chilling. Yet when Harold exacts his vengeance in the movie, this particular element is nowhere to be found. Instead, he turns his prey into a scarecrow…which, while still admittedly quite horrifying, is a bit less visceral than his original revenge. This seems like a classic example of overly graphic violence being disappointingly toned down in an adaptation (although, at PG-13, the film is ostensibly aimed at an older audience than the 9+ target age for the books), until we read Sarah Bellows's version of “Harold” and encounter this image at the end:

Trust me on this one: that is unmistakably human flesh that has been laid out to dry on a rooftop. Apparently movie Harold likes to add a little transformational twist to his skinning, and what with his quarry being a scarecrow now, I suppose the superfluous old human skin had to go somewhere. Hell, if you really want to go deep, we don’t know for sure that this isn’t exactly what Harold did in the original story, either. The specific details of the murder are left to the reader’s imagination, so I suppose there could have been some scarecrow transmogrification going on this whole time. I’m not here to speculate.
If you liked that human hide reveal, you’ll be pleased to know that it is but the first of several little Easter…err, Halloween Eggs nestled throughout this book, like spider eggs hiding under the surface of your skin. Most notably, in the film/Sarah Bellows version of "The Dream," much of the action takes place in a mental hospital. This book goes above and beyond the movie in the fan service department here and utilizes this setting to sprinkle in some references to the original books, as the various confined mental patients screech and mumble references to the happenings of stories like "The Drum" and "The Wendigo." It's an unexpected treat, much like finding an unmelted, fully wrapped Milky Way between your couch cushions.
I would be remiss not to mention that the book also makes amends for one of my biggest complaints with the film: in the version of "Me Tie Dough-Ty Walker" collected here, THE DAMN DOG ACTUALLY TALKS. Praise be to the saint of verbalizing canines! All is as it should be.

The list of ways in which this volume is a success is lengthy; beyond everything I've discussed already, it's also nice to see the background stories of various characters and events from the movie fleshed out more here, the included supplemental materials are cool, and the behind-the-scenes stories and photos from the film's production that form the epilogue are genuinely fascinating. The images of the painstakingly crafted practical effects used for the monsters show just how much work and care was put into this production, and it warms my heart to see the original art from the books used as a direct reference for these ghastly ghouls.

All in all, The Haunted Notebook of Sarah Bellows has a lot to offer, and serves as an excellent supplement to the movie. Is it as mind-blowing as a true sequel to the original Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark trilogy would be? No, but then, we shouldn't expect it to be. This book is exactly what it aims to be: a film tie-in, and a highly successful one at that. Expecting anything different would be like walking into a Popeye's and ordering a filet mignon. You're playing yourself! Just enjoy this delicious chicken sandwich for what it is instead of being disappointed in what it isn't. Plus, we've always got New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark to look forward to. If it ever comes out, that is.
I hope you've enjoyed this look at the latest installment in what may be a slowly expanding Scary Stories universe after decades of inertia. Enjoy your October, kick back with some cider or something, and I'll be back before the end of the month with something else in the spirit of the season. Probably.

Joey Marsilio wrote the novel Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior, the novel that serves as the tie-in for this blog.


Unknown said…
so scary i had one dream about this ohh this is scary i cant got to bed no more but it is till good but dont read if you get nightmares

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