I was a kid who grew up reading ghost stories. I especially loved those that were purportedly based on true stories. There’s nothing scarier than reading a terrifying story about something that might have actually happened. Despite my fondness for those chilling tales, I never read Alvin Schwartz’s “Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark” series. With their foundation in folk tales and urban legends, they were right up my alley. I still don’t know how I managed to miss them on my regular trips to the library. I say all of this to let you know I’m coming into Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, the film, without any childhood baggage. There’s no “they better get this right or my childhood is ruined” coming from me.
Guillermo Del Toro drafted a plot that incorporated multiple stories from Schwartz into a single narrative. Friends Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti), Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) run afoul of a high school bully (Austin Abrams) on Halloween night. During their escape, they encounter new-to-town Ramon (Michael Garza), and the four decide to visit a “real” haunted house together. It’s there that Stella finds a book belonging to the house’s former inhabitant, Sarah Bellows. Stella takes the book with her and soon learns that Sarah, via the book, is writing horror stories in real-time. Six stories appear in the book over the course of the film, each setting up a vignette where one of the main characters will become a victim.
The creatures are where Scary Stories shines. The Pale Lady, Harold the scarecrow, The Jangly Man, and the corpse looking for his toe are all ridiculously creepy. Where the film doesn’t deliver is in actual scares. Sure, those creatures are creepy, but they aren’t going to keep me up at night. The film also didn’t deliver on jump scares, if that’s your thing. The toe corpse got about half a jump from me, and that was pretty much it.
When it comes to rating the scares, it is possible I’m being a little too harsh. I’m a full-grown, horror-raised adult. This is clearly a movie aimed at tweens and teens. My youngest niece would be absolutely terrified watching Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. Of that, I have no doubt.
The film was directed by André Øvredal (Trollhunter), with the final screenplay penned by Dan and Kevin Hageman (The Lego Movie). Despite del Torro choosing to act as a producer rather than the director, this still feels very much like a Guillermo Del Toro movie. The monsters, the setting-it’s all quintessentially del Torro. I’m a fan, and for me, that is definitely a good thing.
I don’t mind that they decided to weave multiple stories into a single narrative, although there’s a part of me that wishes they had made an old-school, Creepshow-style anthology film. I also flip back and forth on what I think about the movie’s resolution. They simultaneously wrapped things up and led right into the potential sequel plot. It was all a little too neat and tidy for a horror film.
The PG-13-rated Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark won’t frighten anyone but the youngest and most easily scared amongst us. It will, however, give you an hour and 47 minutes of pretty good, creepy entertainment. And, if you’re anything like me, it will give you an urge to finally check out the book series.
About Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark
It’s 1968 in America. Change is blowing in the wind…but seemingly far removed from the unrest in the cities is the small town of Mill Valley, where for generations the shadow of the Bellows family has loomed large. It is in their mansion on the edge of town that Sarah, a young girl with horrible secrets, turned her tortured life into a series of scary stories, written in a book that has transcended time. For a group of teenagers who discover Sarah’s terrifying home, the stories become all too real in this spine-tingling film.
Directed by André Øvredal
Written by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Guillermo del Toro, Marcus Dunstan, Patrick Melton, after a book by Alvin Schwartz
Starring Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Austin Abrams, Natalie Ganzhorn, Gil Bellows