Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (Movie Review)

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

PLOT: When group of young teens discover a cursed book, their worst fears begin to come to life.

REVIEW: Whenever Guillermo del Toro brings his magic to horror, it’s at the very least interesting. While some of the film’s he has only produced didn’t quite manage to truly shine, they generally offer at least some intriguing twists. With his latest, he has partnered with filmmaker André Øvredal (TROLLHUNTERS, THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE) to tell a few tales that are familiar to many genre fans. SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK offers a curious look at the frights that haunted young minds thanks to a series of books by Alvin Schwartz. The cinematic version with these nightmarish creations is a surprisingly dark, and atmospheric feature that manages to send a chill or two down viewers spines. Unlike many terrifying tales made for the young, this manages to create a few disturbing visuals, and offers real stakes for the characters involved.

Stella Nicholls (Zoe Margaret Colletti) is a young teenage girl with a talent for writing. Unfortunately for her, she has her own demons and doesn’t quite fit in with most of her classmates. Thankfully she has found a couple of friends that appreciate her uniqueness, Auggie Hilderbrandt (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck Steinberg (Austin Zajur). On a fateful Halloween night in 1968, they face off against a local bully named Tommy (Austin Abrams) who chases them into a drive-in. Once there, they hide out in a car belonging to a stranger named Ramón Morales (Michael Garza), a young man with a few secrets of his own. After Tommy and his pals are finally gone, the four decide to do what many do on October 31st, and visit a real life haunted house. After a couple of strange occurrences inside, Stella finds a book that once belonged to Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard), a deformed girl who may have led children to their death. What happens when the book begins to write itself? Well, that’s what you’ll want to find out.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Guillermo del Toro, Marcus Dunston, Patrick Melton, AITH, Arrow in the Head, Alvin Schwartz, Andre Ovredal, horror, JoBlo.comTaking place in 1968, the film in many ways is reminiscent of Michael Dougherty’s fantastic holiday anthology TRICK ‘R TREAT, with a little bit of GOOSEBUMPS thrown in. Øvredal manages to bring a sense of wonder as he embraces the time period which it takes place. The costumes and the setting all give this story an old fashioned feel. As far as the script is concerned, this particular story manages to bring a sense of nostalgia to the audience. Partly because so many grew up on the novels, as well as the fact that you can certainly find a bit of Stranger Things and perhaps even IT in the latest creature feature. The structure doesn’t always work – especialy early on – yet once it finally gets into the horrific tales that Sarah’s book brings to life, there is an eerie sense of foreboding that is a bit more gruesome than expected.

As far as the cast is concerned, you really couldn’t have a better lead performance than Zoe Margaret Colletti. It’s a tad frustrating when movies about teenagers paint a overly attractive or way too good looking lead and attempt to turn them into somebody who is unpopular and lonely. Especially when its clear they've no understanding of what it may feel like being different or left of center. Yet Zoe brings honesty and heart to her work. When it comes to her pals, both Gabriel Rush and Austin Zajur offer solid support. Ultimately if you don’t appreciate the film’s stars, you probably won’t care about the frights that each must go through. Happily, all three teens, as well as Michael Garza give fans a group of characters that you can identify with. In addition to the younger talent, it was terrific to see Gil Bellows add a bit of gravitas to the film as a disbelieving chief of police.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Guillermo del Toro, Marcus Dunston, Patrick Melton, Andre Ovredal, horror, JoBlo.com, AITH, Arrow in the Head

With a solid cast and an creepy atmosphere, another thing that Øvredal and crew get right are the monsters. The Toe Monster is weirdly horrific, as is The Jangly Man. The strangest creature is perhaps The Pale Lady, a grotesque beast that seems to keep coming for one poor sap no matter what they do. And finally, my favorite happens to be Harold the Scarecrow. That entire sequence is wonderfully wicked, especially since the outcome is fully earned thanks to everything that leads up to it. And if you are afraid of spiders, there is one scene that will certainly give you the willies. What is most impressive about these creations is how faithful they are to the original drawings by Stephen Gammell. With practical effects with a bit of CGI assistance, the frights on display are more than satisfying for fans of the source material.

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK manages to create a sense of doom in the midst of a young adult minded horror feature. Even with a PG-13 rating, it’s a fun, twisted ride that will haunt you for weeks. Especially if you were raised on these frights. While the plot is a bit thin, and occasionally feels like it was a bit too heavily influenced by Stranger Things and the like, SCARY STORIES manages to do what it needs to do. The cast is terrific and you’ll find enough scares to warrant a second or third watch. Perhaps those that are familiar with the stories themselves will find more pleasure than those that aren’t, yet there is still enough here to add a few early frights before October arrives. Creepy, kooky and entertaining, Scary Stories makes for a terrific introduction to serious horror for a young audience, yet it still packs enough spooky sights to entertain older genre fans.

Source: Arrow in the Head

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JimmyO is one of JoBlo.com’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.