Movie Review – Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Review by Ray Schillaci
The idea of teaming Guillermo Del Toro with André Øvredal to bring Alvin Schwartz’s popular Y.A. novel to the big screen is enough to make horror fans giddy with excitement. Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was so successful in the ’80s that it spawned two other books and eventually had two compilations in 2004 and 2017. Even with the controversy of being too violent, featuring murder, cannibalism and disfigurement, young readers ate it up much to the disapproval of some parents and activist groups.
This is prime territory for Del Toro, the man who gave us Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone, and The Shape of Water. Del Toro also did us a great service by handing the directorial reins to Øvredal who delivered quirky fantasy/horror with Trollhunter and the highly disturbing The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Together, along with their team of writers, the filmmakers lay out a new kind of creepy Creepshow that manages to rival some of the best horror anthologies, but with a PG-13. That rating does not dampen the horror or the fun one bit.
The filmmakers are not interested in telling just a straight forward anthology, and that’s what makes these scary stories so refreshing and different. There is also the added benefit of placing everything in 1968. The film beautifully captures the era along with the turbulent times (Richard Nixon, Vietnam, racism). And, then there is the small group of friends that reminded me of the popular Netflix series Stranger Things which actually owes a lot to films like Stand By Me, The Lost Boys, and The Goonies. Director Øvredal and his cast are able to make these kids believable as well as likable.
On a dare, four young people explore a “haunted house” on Halloween night. There is an urban myth about the young girl that died there. One would ask her to tell you a scary story, and it would be the last story you would ever hear. When the kids discover a secret room where the child was kept and subsequently find the book that the child wrote scary stories in, they runaway with the book. They soon discover that the book starts to write new scary stories involving them and people around them. This eventually leads to gruesome deaths.
The effects are nightmarish, especially the eerie, grinning large scale trolls. Gil Bellows (Ally McBeal, Patriot, Jett) along with Dean Norris (Breaking Bad, Under the Dome) are great grounding rods to bring everything down to earth, bringing an edgy skepticism to it all. They play off the kids so well. As for the kids, Zoe Margaret Colletti is a standout as Stella Nichols, the young girl that feels she’s responsible for her mother being gone along with any other bad thing that happens to anyone she knows. Michael Garza plays it cool as the new kid in town, a Hispanic boy that is trying to lay low and basically a fish out of water in the small town that he’s passing by. The rest of the cast, as mentioned, are a likable bunch, but it is Colletti’s performance that is the heart of the movie.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark may not break new ground, but it maintains a sweet nostalgic feel while giving us goosebumps. The scares may not be as horrific as some would like, and there is very little gore. This is also what makes Del Toro, Øvredal, and Schwarz’s tales so inviting along with the gothic foreboding of it all. Watching these tales in a darkened theater on a big screen, and even bigger sound is the kind of thing us horror hounds howl about.
Directed by: André Øvredal
Release Date: August 9, 2019
Run Time: 108 Minutes