I must confess that I have never read the books this film is based on. That being said, I was still looking very forward to seeing this movie. The reason? A documentary about the books and their author, Alvin Schwartz, was released and I watched and reviewed it. I found the subjects of that documentary to be quite fascinating. Afterward, I couldn’t wait to see what the movie had in store for us. I was hoping it would stay especially true to the sketches of the monsters Schwartz’ illustrator, Stephen Gammell, came up with to kickstart his reader’s imaginations. I’m happy to say… they most definitely did.
Oh, I would like to mention that I also found out that the series was one of the most banned books of the 1990s. Now my imagination was set afire to not only see the film, which is produced by Academy Award-winning Guillermo del Toro, but to read the books when I get around to it. Having seen the film now, it just might do, but maybe one day.
Daniel Hageman and Kevin Hageman came up with the idea of taking the books, which is a series of three and weave them together by telling a nice ghost story. The film is predictable in this respect but it doesn’t mean it can’t be eerie. I honestly think any fan of the series will be happy with how ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ turned out. If you’re new to horror, this is a good introduction into the genre. it’ll be your ‘Jaws.’ If you’re a big fan of gory horror films, this will look weak to you, but you’ll appreciate the craftsmanship and artistry that went into making it. All the visuals; all of the sound… you’ll be blown away. What I’m saying is… see it regardless of having read the books.
I wasn’t sure what to expect but where the film starts is in the year 1968 in the small town of Mill Valley. A feminine voice tells us that stories have power, stories heal, and stories hurt. There’s a strange, dark cloud cast overhead that seems to follow you. A darkness that no one has any understanding of and one that once you’re no longer a child, you pay no attention to. Why I say that is because of the haunted house. A house all children learn about. It’s been haunted for decades and is still haunted to this day, as one group of three teenagers is about to find out.
It’s Halloween, of course, when we meet the three spirited high school students in our yarn. In order of who’s more important to the storyline, there’s Stella (Colletti), Auggie (Rush), and Chuck (Zajur). They’re all curious in nature and too smart for their own good which works nicely to give the adolescent viewers maximum benefit without boring the more mature. You’ll genuinely care for them which helps you to become more terrified for them.
Stella, a writer, Auggie the know-it-all and Chuck, the class clown have a plan. They’re going to pull a prank on an older student named Tommy (Abrams), who picks on them every chance he gets. However, their plan goes south and they end up running from him and into Ramon (Garza) instead. I think that some of the politics the country is experiencing right now slips into the film with the character of Ramón, but I’ll leave that for you to decide.
They all end up at the Bellows spooky mansion. The set design here is outstanding. Legend is that Sarah Bellows used to tell scary stories through the walls to the children playing outside. Stella tells Ramón Sarah’s story of being locked inside. Never able to go and play, writing is how she entertained herself.
Later, Sarah’s accused of poisoning children and using their blood to write her book of scary stories. She eventually hangs herself with her own hair to escape this cruel world once and for all. Is it possible to hang oneself with one’s hair? Anyway, Stella, a writer herself, does something extremely ill-advised. Inside, she finds the book and takes it home. Now we have the start of the horror film. It’s time for Sarah to seek her revenge.
What happens next is some of the creepy stories from the books come to life. Brilliantly. The first one is about Harold, a scarecrow with a grudge. This is fantastic. Another is about a woman seeking the person who has her toe! These monsters are so well done that Øvredal should be applauded for it. And how the tales are woven into the lives of the teenagers will make you a fan of the film whether you read the books or not. What Øvredal managed to put together here, from his actors to the sound design and lighting, it’s obvious he chose to take great care of the original text, so much so that he almost makes for himself a new series of fables to create in years to come. In fact, I’d guess that’s exactly what he has in mind. We’ll have to wait and see.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Director André Øvredal
Writers Daniel Hageman & Kevin Hageman, Guillermo del Toro
Stars Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Abrams, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Lorraine Toussaint, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn
Running Time 1h 51m
Genres Horror, Mystery, Thriller