Review: 'Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark'

Category:  The Arts
Friday, September 6th, 2019 at 11:19 AM

“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is, to many, a nostalgic series of children’s books made up of short stories. These books, by Alvin Schwartz and with illustrations by Stephen Gammell, have had a following for years, both of fascination and controversy. As a collection of unconnected short stories of which its only purpose was to scare its audience, expecting a great film adaptation came with a grain of salt.

Going by the same name, the film introduces us to a small, forgettable Pennsylvania town in the late ’60s. Meanwhile, the references to the era seem to only exist to satisfy the core characters that exist inside.

The film stars Zoe Colletti as Stella Nicholls, Michael Garza as Ramon Morales, Gabriel Rush as August Hilderbrant and Austin Zajur as Charlie Steinberg.

While fleeing from their personal bullies, the main characters run inside of, and discover a secret room in, the mysterious Bellows house. Stella, a hopeful writer and horror buff, leaves with a book belonging to the long dead Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard), who herself wrote stories inside of. From there, the book comes alive, and the characters must face the power of Bellows’ stories to save themselves.

The plot follows the typical group of friends going about their lives, around Halloween no less, and how they become entangled with life-threatening supernatural events. Unfortunately, this plot is far from unique, falling to the tropes of much older horror movies. We have the jocks, the quiet girl, the energetic guy and the nerd friend forming an unlikely partnership. On the horror side, we have a stolen object, hidden rooms, a terrible family, ghosts, predictable jump scares, and of course, the police who do nothing. The main characters rush across town and delve into history with the goal of saving themselves from their miserable fates.

It’s unfortunate that such an acclaimed book series succumbs to an overused story structure. The film takes many liberties with the original tales, which seemed to be picked at random from the source material, and fits them to its unoriginal plot. The stories are mostly unchanged in how they transpire, interjecting the movie characters into them. This unfortunately is the only thing “original” about the story.

While the film’s plot is not all that remarkable, the stories themselves and the imagination and work put into the monsters is phenomenal. Reminiscent of the original books, the execution of the stories provides an amazing sense of fear and anxiety to even the most hardened of horror movie viewers. Just the appearance of the monsters on screen and the atmosphere they create intertwine and create an uncomfortable feeling for the viewers (not unlike the feeling one would get after putting down one of the books late at night as a child). The creatures are remarkably created and eerily like the original artwork from the books.

There are subtle nods to the source material within the story. Each character stated, at some point in their lives, that they had heard the story the book writes for them, adding more of a personal fear to each moment. This is a nice throw to the meticulous work Alvin Schwartz put into researching for his books.

All in all, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is a daring and creative attempt at a horror film. Unfortunately, it suffers from its execution, the predictability of the plot, and the choice of the time period, which does next to nothing for the story. It’s a fantastic nostalgia trip for fans of the book series and an average horror film on its own merits.

Tags: movie review

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