“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”- Movie Review
Every generation has stories to tell. Sometimes they’re grounded and sometimes they’re outrageous. Often they’re romantic, sad, patriotic, even humorous. But it seems like the kind of stories we love to tell the most are ones that keep us up at night. Case in point, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”, a series of children’s books that were published from October 1981 to September 1991. Written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell, these collections of short horror stories have stuck to the psyches of an entire generation of readers. So it makes sense that Hollywood would want to bring them to the big screen.
This feature adaptation, directed by Andre Ovredal and produced by Guillermo Del Toro, opens on Halloween night, 1968. A group of friends get together for an evening of trick-or-treating, pranks and other shenanigans. In the midst of their mischief, they stumble across an old, decrepit house that, according to local legend, is haunted by the tortured soul of its original inhabitant. They find a collection of short stories tucked away inside a hidden room. At first, they think nothing of it. A crusty old book filled with scary stories locked away in a spooky mansion? Sounds like a scenario best-suited for Halloween. But they quickly discover that these stories aren’t just words on paper. Something far more sinister is at play, and the teens must face their deepest fears as the stories themselves start coming to life.
I have never read a single “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” book. In fact, I had never heard about them until this movie came out. The series was long before my time, and even when I was old enough to read them, my horror-themed stories of choice were Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline” and R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” series. So I knew absolutely nothing going into this film, and walking out of it, I was pleasantly surprised.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is by no means a great film. The plot is predictable, the characters conform to the usual genre archetypes, and the scares, well, aren’t very scary. If you judge the film solely by its bare bone essentials, you’d probably think it was just another safe, run-of-the-mill children’s horror movie. Though despite its shortcomings, it’s clear from the execution that a good amount of thought and effort went into bringing the source material to life.
Sure, the characters aren’t the most developed or interesting, but the actors’ performances are solid enough that they keep you invested in their plight. I also appreciate the late-60s setting, and how the filmmakers incorporated prevalent issues of that time period (Vietnam, Nixon’s election) into the narrative. Not to mention its a welcome break from the 1980s backdrop that a lot of movies have been using lately. The scare sequences, while not bone-chilling enough to give you lasting nightmares, are still creepy as hell. Part of it is due to the creative set-ups and director Andre Ovredal’s excellent job of building tension and suspense. What drives it home are the creatures that spawn from the haunted stories. The filmmakers wisely (and thankfully) utilize a blend of practical and digital effects to make the monsters feel real, so in the moment. The designs, from what I understand, are pulled straight from the original Scary Stories books, which is cool. They also have that Del Toro touch, a darky fantastical quality that’s impossible to take your eyes off of and almost equally-impossible to forget.
Overall, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark does its job very well. Plot-wise, it’s very familiar, following the same beats you’ve seen in countless other movies and such. But what it lacks in that regard it makes up for in its execution. It’s thoroughly entertaining. The ending teases the possibility of a sequel, and I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing one as long as it includes a new collection of stories and characters. I don’t quite understand why this movie wasn’t released in October. It’s ripe for the Halloween season. Oh well! If you’re eager to get your Halloween kicks in a little early, this is a good film to start with.
Cosmic Grade- 3.5/5 Stars