Obviously I’m not familiar with the Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark books that this movie is based upon – a series of three books containing short horror stories for children and drawing heavily on urban legend and folklore for it’s subject matter, with the first being published in 1981. Apparently, the series is listed by the American Library Association as being the most challenged series of books from the 1990s, with complaints directed at the violence and disturbing subject matter as being unsuitable for the children the stories were aimed at. The books illustrations also drew criticism, vividly portraying the nightmare creatures and scenes contained within the stories. Perfect material for a movie version!
That movie version comes from Troll Hunter director André Øvredal and producer/co-writer Guillermo del Toro and attempts a Goosebumps style movie, taking some of the better known and effective stories from the 80+ that are available within the books and weaving them into a larger narrative, set in Mill Valley Pennsylvania during the fall of 1968.
It’s Halloween and a group of teens are preparing to go out for an evening of trick or treating – applying their makeup, getting into their costumes, fishing in the toilet for turds to use as part of a Halloween trick… They head out on their bikes but it’s not long before they run into some idiot jocks from their local school, and that turd trick suddenly comes in very handy! We’d already been introduced to the jocks earlier in the movie, out in a cornfield where they were hitting a creepy looking scarecrow about the head with a baseball bat. Yep, something tells me those guys are going to regret that one a little bit later on!
The teens manage to escape the jocks, working their way into a drive- through movie that’s showing “Night of the Living Dead” and into the car of another teen called Ramón. The group strike up a bond with Ramón after he helps them out with the jocks and they all decide to go break into a local abandoned house which is reportedly haunted. They find their way into the basement, where legend has it that Sarah Bellows, the daughter of a prominent local family in the late 1800s, was locked away. Horror nerd Stella comes across a book containing short scary stories that were written in blood by Sarah, and she decides to take it with them. As Stella opens the book’s pages, she sees that Sarah’s stories are literally beginning to write themselves – stories that put her friends in some pretty unpleasant situations, stories which then turn into reality. As Stella later puts it, “You don’t read the book, the book reads you”.
The setup and the scenarios within each story are enjoyable enough and are certainly pretty creepy, however the execution doesn’t always work so well and the payoffs aren’t quite as scary as I would have liked. The movie also suffers from some slightly dodgy CGI at times too, which doesn’t help. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the final story, and the return to the house in order to try and stop Sarah Bellows worked really well for me. It all ends with a definite opportunity for a sequel and with plenty more scary stories still to choose from within the source material, I’m sure we’ll be seeing another one fairly soon. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark taps nicely into the “It” and “Stranger Things” vibe, with it’s group of teens rising up together to fight evil, and despite it’s faults I did manage to have a lot of fun with it. I’m definitely interested in seeing more.