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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark


Starring Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Abrams, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Lorraine Toussaint, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, Kathleen Pollard, Marie Ward, Stephanie Belding, Hershel Blatt, Javier Botet, Will Carr, Will Corno, Daniel Gravelle, Troy James, Brandon Knox, Jane Moffat, Tavia Pereira, Amanda Smith, Mark Steger, David Tompa and the voices of Elias Edraki and Andrew Jackson.

Screenplay by Dan Hageman and Kevin Hageman.

Directed by André Øvredal.

Distributed by Lionsgate. 111 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Horror is not my genre. I admittedly have to watch every horror film (and I’ve seen my fair share) wearing a hoodie sweatshirt so that I have a means to withdraw into my own personal space when the going gets rough. So, why did I voluntarily choose to go see Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark? Guillermo del Toro, master filmmaker and storyteller, who produced and contributed to the writing. With hope, I walked in thinking that I could handle all the jump scares and gore filled moments with good storytelling.

Besides, Scary Stories is for children, right?

Let me start by saying that this is NOT a movie for children. While the language stayed fairly clean and the stories stayed pretty true to their original source, the actual monsters play way creepier than how I read them as a child. Remember that scarecrow from the cover? In the movie he looks like Michael Myers and Leatherface wrapped into one, with super creepy bugs crawling through every available crevice. And I am not even going to mention the spiders. Yet.

My guess is that Guillermo del Toro had little input into the screenplay – being one of four writers and not getting a screenwriting credit – in the adaptation of Alvin Schwartz’s horror fiction trio for children. Schwartz’s stories are classic, and the film showcased them well in the framework of a mysterious book of stories that writes itself, each one creatively being used as the driving force behind the horrors that each character faces throughout the film.

But the framework itself felt a bit used, with the character group banking on the popularity of Goonies, It, and Stranger Things with its quirky, underdog character profile.

The Scary Stories leads are, not surprisingly, a group of misfits bullied by older boys.

The group includes two local boys (Chuck and Auggie) and an older, cooler outsider (Ramon), who instantly attracts the lone super quirky, beautiful-without-knowing-it girl (Stella). There is the older sister (Ruth), coincidentally dating the bully bad boy (Tommy), who finally gets a heart and draws her line in the sand when someone other than her threatens her baby brother.

It begins on a Halloween night, when the kids decide to stand up against the bullies, which leads to a chase that ends at a haunted house, and the discovery of the book of scary stories belonging to the legendary abused youngest daughter of the house, Sarah Bellows.

The framework wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t great. Too high of a standard? Maybe.

The film was at its best when it focused in on the stories, adding extra fearful details into the sounds, silent moments, make up, and monsters.

I guess it was time to rekindle fear of the corn field, because everyone in their 40’s knows that nothing good ever happens in those seemingly quiet, gently swaying rows (sorry, Field of Dreams), particularly when you are both verbally and physically abusing the family scarecrow. In this first story, the audience gets its first truly scary moments, and the storyline shifts to change the focus of villainy from the playground bullies to the raging Sarah and her book.

It’s been a long while since I read Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, but I distinctly remember the story of the girl with the growing spider bite. It has haunted me forever, and very well could be at the root of my arachnophobia. The film version of this story does not help with my fear in any way. And yes, my sweatshirt hood went fully over my face for a few moments of this story.

The underlying score was pretty unmemorable except for the music box version of “The Hearse Song” that played throughout. The worms go in, the worms go out… it becomes an earworm that has been hard to release in the days following the screening.

The film ends with what feels like an opening for a sequel. Question is, will the film captivate audiences to give reason for a second installment? My gut says no.

Bonnie Paul

Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved. Posted: August 9, 2019.

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