By: Jessica Goddard
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a halfway decent horror movie. However, those who grew up disconcertingly obsessed with the creepiness and morbidity of the anthologies this film is based on will be disappointed.
Directed by André Øvredal and co-produced by Guillermo del Toro (among many others), Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark tries – but fails – to make movie goers interested in a narrative that’s been done to death. In small town U.S.A., a group of kids sneak into an abandoned mansion on Halloween, and recount the tale of the mythologized, wealthy family who once lived there. They find an old, dusty notebook that belonged to the supposedly insane daughter the family kept hidden away, and spooky hijinks ensue. The stories in the book – which mysteriously begin to write themselves (in blood!) – come from the original Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and its sequels.
The teen actors are quite good and expressive, and there are definitely a few suspenseful scares. Impressive CGI monsters replicate the legendarily scary illustrations scattered throughout the 1981, 1984, and 1991 children’s books. Classics like the woman from the story “The Dream” – round and pale, flatly smiling, with stringy black hair – and Harold the Scarecrow are brought to life (pun intended) faithfully and with affection for their source material.
That said, on the whole, it doesn’t seem like a real effort was made to encompass the spirit of Alvin Schwartz’s books. Instead, it’s as if an unrelated screenplay was given a boost by wedging in a handful of references that would entice an existing fanbase. For context, each of the three Scary Stories… anthologies has just under 30 stories, meaning there are more than 80 to choose from. This “adaption” plucks out half a dozen of them and calls it a day.
The movie may be worth seeing for the novelty of the monsters. Otherwise, it’s basically a retelling of the classic, gothic tale of “the mad woman in the attic”. So, unfortunately, the film’s packaging is fairly unrelated to the books it’s supposed to be based on.
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Jessica Goddard: @TheJGod