Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
By Lucas Allen
If you were a kid in the ’80s and ’90s, you may have looked around your local school library and come across an eye-catching but terrifying book cover illustrating either a creepy scarecrow or a giant clown head growing out of the ground. That’s what most people remember about the book series “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell. The book paved the way for “Goosebumps,” with horrific stories written for pre-teens.
Now those stories are brought to life with producer/co-writer Guillermo Del Toro spearheading the first filmed version of Schwartz’s series under the direction of filmmaker Andre Ovredal.
The terror begins halloween night in 1968 in the small town of Mill Valley, Pa. Middle-school teen Stella (Zoe Colletti), who’s an aspiring writer and horror fanatic, is hanging out with her friends Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) while avoiding the relentless town bully, Tommy (Austin Abrams). After meeting a drifter, Ramon (Michael Garza), they decide to explore the abandoned mansion that once belonged to the wealthy Bellows family. Legend has it that the youngest member of the family, Sarah, was hidden from the world and tormented by her family before her terrifying writings caused her family’s disappearance.
Before the kids leave the creepy place, Stella takes with her a book containing all of Sarah’s writings. Returning to her house, where she lives with her single dad (Dean Norris), Stella begins to look at the book, which starts to have a life of its own. A story is being written by Sarah from the other side about Tommy being terrorized by the creepy scarecrow Harold. Upon the bully’s disappearance, Stella believes the book is the cause of it.
Soon enough, she and her friends start to investigate the mystery of Sarah’s history, her family’s cruelty, and the book’s origin. But the book adds more stories to the terror including a pale lady, a jangly man, and Chuck’s sister Ruth (Natalie Ganzhorn) having the biggest zit on her face.
While the movie certainly aims for the younger crowd, it’ll likely find more of an audience with the 30 and over crowd. It appeals best to those who grew up reading the books or watching scary movies. It’s the same thing with 2017’s “It,” which brings nostalgic value to those who were ’90s kids reading the “Goosebumps” books and watching Nickelodeon’s “Are You Afraid of the Dark.” With the release of this year’s “It: Chapter Two,” the movie serves best as an early fix before the return of Pennywise.
Since Del Toro is producing it, expect some gothic horror and hideous monsters on full display. The makeup/CG effects give the monsters their unique look, while the haunted house setting is certainly a terrifying pleasure to look at. However, the film drags for much of its too long two-hour runtime. It’s nice to have character development, but horror fans wanted scary, not sad. If they could’ve cut down on the drama and add more monster scenes, the movie would’ve been more of a crowd-pleaser.
There is some decent acting from the main young cast and they seem to be trying hard enough to be believable. Colletti works the hardest to make her character relatable to the audience, especially during her intense emotional scenes. Though he only appears in a few scenes, Norris still manages to work with what he got playing Stella’s father.
The film version of “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is simply a good attempt at bringing the book series to life. It’s worth it for those who remember the illustrations more than the stories themselves. If they ever decide to make a follow-up, they need to find a way to include the iconic clown-head monster because that’s what the fans really want to see.
THE MOVIE’S RATING: PG-13 (for terror/violence, disturbing images, thematic elements, language including racial epithets, and brief sexual references)
THE CRITIC’S RATING: 3 Stars (Out of Four)