Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a frightful gateway horror tale with imaginative monsters.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a supernatural horror film with multiple horror tales combined in one big story. It’s a fun but frightful gateway horror that will speak to brave teenagers and young adults. It takes on 6 scary tales from the original books to unleash them in an overarching storyline about a young girl named Stella. It has some big scares, but sometimes the story that binds those horror tales together can get a bit dull. The film wastes no time and rushes into the scary parts, which are also the best parts of the film.
The monsters can be really scary, and beautifully frightening to look at, but the overall story which is a bit thin weakens the movie. The main characters aside from Stella are reduced to less than minor characters and they only function as potential victims and aren’t really fleshed out and therefore forgettable. Their demise is therefore less pungent. The setting of the sixties plays a little role in the background, but doesn’t have a real function and doesn’t really come to life.
This isn’t enough to scare adults or to get them engaged in the film. However, the target audience, age 13 to 17 may have a real treat here and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark can be a fun and scary introduction to the horror genre.
It’s Halloween 1968. Stella and her friends Auggie and Chuck are going trick or treating but get themselves into trouble with bully Tommy. After being rescued by Ramón, the new boy in town, Stella takes them to a real haunted house. The house belonged to the Bellows family and Stella tells a scary legend about Sarah Bellows.
When she finds a book with horror stories, written by Sarah, Stella takes it home with her as she herself wants to be a horror writer. But when the stories begin to write themselves about Tommy and then Auggie, she realizes that they are all in danger of becoming victims of a real horror story.
Why you should watch it
While the overall storyline is a bit meagre and not very interesting, the separate scary stories are a joy to watch. As the monsters from the books written by Alvin Schwartz and drawn by Stephen Gammell come to live, they really are scary. Each scary story takes on a fear of one of the kids and incorporates them into the story.
This results in a scary scarecrow named Harold, a ghost with a missing toe, spiders crawling out of a girls face, a haunting Pale Lady, the very frightful Jangly Man and a haunted house. Each scary story unfolds as if it were a separate little story, and each one of them is very true to the stories of the books. With both practical en CGI effects it is well worth the watch.
But when it comes to the big storyline, Stella is the only one who must hold it all together. This works best in her own personal storyline that ties Stella’s and Sarah’s storylines together. They are both falsely accused, both writers and both timid girls. But this is not enough to make this film a fine coherent watch. The writing is a cliche at times, it can be complacent and predictable.
Young adults and teenagers however may find it scary and fun at the same time, because the frights and scares can be enough to make this a fun horror watch that serves as a good introduction to the horror genre.
My favorite part
The Pale Lady is a very original monster. She looks exactly like the drawings in the book, and coming to life on screen she is very disturbing. Without saying a word, just slowly walking in a surreal surrounding and seemingly with a smile on her face, it is a very disturbing but fun scary scene.
Also the Jangly Man played by contortionist Troy James (Pretzel Jack in Channel Zero: The Dream Door) can show off his talents, which are stunning and frightening at the same time.
And last but not least, at the end there is an opening for a potential sequel. The books have a lot more scary stories to offer and Stella has some work of her own to do. It could become a great gateway franchise to the likes of Are You Afraid of the Dark or Goosebumps.
Cast and crew
Scary Stories to tell in the Dark is based on the books by Alvin Schwartz, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Stories to Tell in the Dark and Scary Stories 3 More Tales to Chill Your Bones. These books are illustrated by the very scary drawings by Stephen Gammell. The film is directed by Andre Øvredal and written by Guillermo del Toro, Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan. It stars Zoe Margaret Coletti (Stella), Michael Garza (Ramón), Gabriel Rush (Auggie), Austin Zajur (Chuck), Austin Abrams (Tommy) and Natalie Ganzhorn (Ruth).
Duration: 108 minutes. Music: Marco Beltrami, Anna Drubich. Cinematography: Roman Osin. Edited by: Patrick Larsgaard. Produced by: Jason F. Brown, J. Miles Dale, Sean Daniel, Guillermo del Toro, Elizabeth Grave. Production companies: 1212 Entertainment, CBS Films, Double Dare You, Entertainment One, Rolling Hills Productions, Sean Daniel Company, Starlight Culture Entertainment Group, Starlight International Media. Distributed by: 20th Century Fox.
Scare factor: ★★☆☆☆
Entertainment factor: ★★★☆☆