Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark or How to Eat Boiled Toe

I think I can speak for most Americans my age when I say that Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books were the most frightening thing ever.  Bar none.  Absolutely, scalp-prickling, teeth-chattering, pants-wettingly terrifying.

Actually, it wasn’t the stories.  It was those damned illustrations by Stephen Gammell.  Mr. Gammell has been a prolific illustrator of all sorts of children’s books since the early ’70s, but his style is so unique and unusual, and so wedded in my mind to the Scary Stories series that even his most whimsical pictures scare the hell out of me. Those lines and spatters (roots? Hairs? Dripping blood or whisps of… what?) in his watercolor and ink illustrations surfaced over and over in my mind.  They didn’t give me nightmares, but they were disturbing enough that overly protective adults all over the country spent the 1990s trying to get the Scary Stories series pulled from libraries.  Kids are made of strong stuff though, and indulgence in horror of the pretend helps them safely test their mettle and blow off steam while building the tools they need to counter the horrors of reality.  The most recent edition has toothless illustrations by a different artist, but if you ask a kid, they’ll take Gammell’s surreal terrors any day.

Anyway, the Scary Stories themselves were sourced from the vast folkloric traditions, and were intended to be read aloud though I suspect we spent more time paraphrasing them on the playground and in the cafeteria.  The audio version (which I originally encountered on a well-worn vinyl record, thanks to the Stoughton Public Library) is beautifully narrated by George S. Irving who strikes just the right tone between horror and playfulness.  This copy on YouTube must be taken from a CD because it’s missing the clicks and pops of a library LP.  The illustrations are mercifully pixelated, but a Google Images search for Stephen Gammell will yield results that you are not emotionally prepared for.

Dim the lights, close your eyes, and don’t turn the volume up too high because seriously, the italicized, capitalized sentence at the end of every story WILL BLOW OUT YOUR EARDRUMS!

Science Fiction Double Feature Podcast Archive

“Hey, look at this amazing thing I found!  More people need to see this!”

That was the philosophy behind Science Fiction Double Feature, a moderately successful B-movie podcast I released in 2006 and 2007.  Each episode presented summaries of two thematically-connected movies, along with production history, trivia, and my own commentary.

I decided against the conversational multi-host format employed by most movie podcasts in favor of a more scripted, documentary style (I was working through This American Life’s back catalog at the time, and the main movie podcast I was listening to regularly released 3-hour episodes with maybe 40 minutes worth of material).  After a couple of movies were chosen, I’d watch them each again in order to write a summary and choose soundbites.  If the DVD had special features, I’d comb through those for interesting trivia. I aimed for half hour episodes, and the scripts usually came in around 10-12 pages.  The process of recording and editing would usually eat up an entire evening after work.  The episodes were hosted on Odeo, a now-defunct podcasting platform, and garnered a few hundred listens each.  I should have set it up on iTunes, but never got around to it.  The snazzy logo you see above was designed by my friend Matt Anderson who was riffing on the old RKO logo.

In the end I abandoned the show, not on purpose but because I found myself with less and less time to devote to such a project.  I’m really not as fond of  unscripted conversational podcasts, but I now see the appeal of working that way. I have a small child now and I have to watch movies in increments; SFDF wasn’t that time consuming to create, but I think I’d have to make some significant format changes if I were ever to relaunch it.

Anyway, I’ve been hoping to relaunch the show for… well, forever, really.  Maybe one day.  In the meantime, here are the original nine episodes for your consideration:

Episode 1: The House on Haunted Hill / The Tingler

Episode 2: Zardoz / Logan’s Run

Episode 3: King of the Zombies / Ed and His Dead Mother

Episode 4: Santa Claus: The Movie / Santa Claus vs. The Martians

Episode 5: Wendigo / Ravenous

Episode 6: Enemy Mine / Ice Pirates

Episode 7: April Fool’s Day / Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter

Episode 8: The Wicker Man / Horror Hotel

Episode 9: Spider Baby / Bloody Pit of Horror