Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

A bunch of years ago HarperCollins got the not so bright idea to release an updated version of Alvin Schwartz’s classic SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK, replacing Stephen Gammell’s haunting illustrations with less disturbing imagery. To say it didn’t go over too well with fans of the book is putting it lightly. In some ways, the new movie based on the books can almost be taken as a vehement apology that anyone anywhere might underestimate the value of Gammell’s spooky work. Director Andre Ovredal and producer Guillermo del Toro wisely decide to employ Gammell’s unforgettable images as the main inspiration and they are lovingly recreated down to the last detail. In fact, it could be said that the powerful images outweigh the stories themselves at times but what SCARY STORIES may be missing in the characterization department it makes up for in sheer autumnal atmosphere. It seems any space left between Schwartz’s tales and Gammell’s art are plastered in by honoring the works of Ray Bradbury (THE HALLOWEEN TREE, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES). You can almost smell the burning leaves on a cooler breeze and that’s just what the doctor ordered in the dog days of summer.

SSTTITD invites us to the small town of Mill Valley circa 1968 and introduces us to Stella, Auggie and Chuck (ZOE MARGARET COLLETTI, GABRIEL RUSH and AUSTIN ZAJUR), a trio of believably nerdy misfits trying to avoid being beaten up by the local bullies. The outcasts seek refuge at the drive-in and befriend a runaway named Ramon (Michael Garza). Since it’s Halloween night the group dares themselves to push for more thrills by entering a nearby notorious haunted house. It’s there that they discover a book that appears to write itself and they quickly discover that the terrors it’s presenting are not content to stay on the page. Like ANNABELLE COMES HOME from earlier this summer, this movie’s not settling for a single boogey man and presents a swarm of threats instead, each one more freaky morbid than the last. You really get some bang for your buck with possessed scarecrows, corpses lamenting lost appendages, smiling zaftig demons and most impressively, someone called “The Jangly Man” who is basically a living dead contortionist. They’re all sufficiently grotesque but fall closer to eerie than nauseating.

Warm and fuzzy nostalgia abounds but admirably this is not a movie that is afraid to show the darker underbelly of small town American life. Ramon faces multiple instances of ugly racism and we come to find that the catalyst behind the supernatural mayhem is an outspoken woman betrayed and silenced by her family for speaking out against corruption.

If I have any complaints it’s that things move along at too fast a clip and we’re never really allowed to learn too much about the character’s home life or everyday interactions. We tend to lose some sense of mystery as the trio catches on to what’s happening without a moment of logical skepticism. On the other hand, I have a feeling the pacing issue will only pose a problem for oldsters like me raised on seventies films and that the frenzied speed may be just fine for the central audience this PG-rated flick is courting. I should say too that the fate of one of the characters left a bad taste in my mouth but it’s kind of hard not to give this good-natured flick the benefit of the doubt. All in all, it’s a pretty neat trick to find a way to fuse a bunch of slight stories into a cohesive ode to everybody’s favorite season. If nothing else, SCARY STORIES stands as a harbinger that summer is nearly done and Halloween is right around the corner– that’s a message I’m not going to complain about.

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Florence Tuscano
2 years ago

Ouuu can’t wait to see it, it gets me in the festive mood of Halloween when I watch scary movies or read scavy books!

Dr Nick Riviera
Dr Nick Riviera (@dr-nick-riviera)
2 years ago

I was really charmed by this film. It LOOKS great. The cinematography just LOOKS like the film is from another era (mostly the 1980’s with it’s widescreen compositions and it’s film stock and distinctive lighting). But it also really sells the time period (both 1968 and Autumn). I liked the cast a lot. All the main leads were great and they all seemed age appropriate! I especially liked Zoe Margaret Colletti as Sonia, Austin Zajur as Chuck (it’s a weird performance – but I liked it and for some reason he felt like a real kid) and Austin Abrams is super punchable (but really convincing) as the jerk teenager who torments the main characters. Watching the film, I thought a lot about my 7 year old granddaughter and what she would think of it. She’s much too young for it – but I can see it terrifying her AND mesmerizing her. Maybe in a few years. I really appreciate the fact that it does not wimp out. Kids die (or, at least, disappear) and director André Øvredal tries like hell to make it scary (I can imagine, at the right age, this could be what POLTERGEIST was to early 80s kids). As someone who’s personality was shaped by early scary movies – I can appreciate that. And, even if the movie didn’t really scare a jaded old man like me, there is much to praise here. Many of the stories are super well made and creepy. “The Big Toe” was probably the scariest for me. The one with the RED ROOM was also really well done. I thought the one with the spiders could have been done a bit better (the CG was a bit lacking). “Harold” was also a strong one. Good stuff.

Ghastly1 (@ghastly1)
2 years ago

The books were great- they were one of my earliest experiences in horror- and they still have an honored place in my library, but I’m really tired of the shoehorning in to everything of retrogressive liberal propaganda. I’m not interested in being lectured to by hollywood or anyone else about “racism” or “sexism” or any other nonsense.

Ben S
Ben S (@eyesofbens)
2 years ago

I haven’t seen it yet, but I like that the monster coming down the stairs looks like the vomit monster from POLTERGEIST II! PAYING HOMAGE TO THE BEST! Or did PII get the idea from the book SCARY STORIES? Hmmm…