Generally, there hasn’t been a lot of good gateway horror for younger audiences. In the 1980’s, we had The Monster Squad, Gremlins, and The Gate. If you grew up in the 1990’s, there was Hocus Pocus. Yet over the last few years, as horror has flourished, the genre has treated us to several good ‘kiddie’ horror flicks. ParaNorman. Goosebumps. The House With a Clock In Its Walls. Following in RL Stine’s footsteps, Alvin Schwartz’s children’s book series, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is now a movie. Legendary filmmaker Guillermo del Toro produced the adaptation with Andre Ovredal (Trollhunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe) directing. That’s some good horror pedigree for the beloved book series.
After a prank on the local bullies goes wrong, Stella and her friends, Auggie and Chuck, hide in the local haunted house along with young drifter, Ramon. The abandoned house once belonged to town founders, the Bellows. While exploring, Stella finds a book of scary stories in a hidden basement room. Legend claims that the Bellows’ daughter, Sarah, wrote the stories while hidden away from the world. Soon after taking the book, Stella watches helplessly as new stories appear out of nowhere. Each ‘scary story’ spells out a horrific fate for her friends, which actually come to pass.
Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark Boasts Creepy Visuals
Horror fans know both del Toro and Øvredal for their stunning visuals and uncanny atmospherics. Not surprisingly then, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark boasts several nightmarish visuals. Three individual scenes stand out as triumphs of horror monster-making. Scarecrows are, by definition, scary, and ‘Harold’ is no exception. There’s a reason ‘Harold’ featured prominently in the movie’s promotional materials. It’s a case of innovative creature design with one of the movie’s more shocking scenes. Fair warning to parents of younger kids – the scene adds the ‘13’ to the PG-13 rating.
Though ‘The Toe Lady’ isn’t as innovative in her visual design, her scene arguably produces the most suspense and perhaps the movie’s best scare.
Next, the ‘Red Room’ delivers the unsettling ‘Pale Lady’. Øvredal mixes lighting and claustrophobic halls for decent light scares. Though ‘The Toe Lady’ isn’t as innovative in her visual design, her scene arguably produces the most suspense and the movie’s best scare. Perhaps the most fun ‘scary story’ is ‘The Jangly Man’ – a ‘jigsaw puzzle’ of a monster that’s equal parts fun and creepy. However, not all the ‘scary stories’ work quite as well. Most viewers will see what’s coming in ‘The Red Spot’ a mile away. Younger audiences may get the ‘willies’, but older horror fans may be less impressed.
The Whole Doesn’t Always Equal The Sum of Its Parts
As good as some the scary bits are in Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, the overarching connective story isn’t always as engaging.Rather than film Scary Stories as an anthology horror movie, del Toro and Øvredal opted to connect Schwartz’s stories with Stella’s story and her investigation of ‘Sarah Bellows’. This is easily the least interesting part of the movie, leaving chunks of time that drag. To some extent, it’s a problem with familiarity. In contrast to the movie’s inventive ‘scary stories’, Stella’s family drama and budding romance with Ramon has a ‘been there, done that’ feel. And Sarah Bellows’ story is kind of mixed. It feels like something potentially interesting was left out, while what we get isn’t all that compelling.
Excellent Young Cast Up For The Scares
Like Goosebumps, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark belongs to its young cast. All the largely unfamiliar actors turn in fun performances. Both Austin Zajur and Gabriel Rush, playing Chuck and Auggie, bring some levity to their scenes. Michael Garza (Ramon Morales) is instantly believable, and likable, in a more understated role. But Zoe Colletti steals the movie as Stella, displaying a fantastic range of emotions. The chemistry between the principal actors never reaches the same level of camaraderie as the ‘Losers Club’ in It, but you’ll still believe that the characters are truly best friends. Breaking Bad fans will be excited to see Dean Norris in a small role. Unfortunately, Scary Stories largely wastes the veteran character actor.
Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark ‘Scary’ Enough For Late Summer Scares
Despite its somewhat uneven story, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is still a good late-summer entry for the genre. There’s a fun inventiveness to the creature designs that makes it hard not to like the movie. Yes, Scary Stories drags here and there with its more rote bits. But the young cast is engaging, and when things click, they click quite well. Younger audiences and fans of Schwartz’s books will likely enjoy the movie a little more than the uninitiated. Nevertheless, horror fans should still get out and support another good genre entry.