Movie Review: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

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3 stars

PG-13 |

Director: André Øvredal

by Jason Koenigsberg

Viewers of a certain age grew up reading the ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ books by Alvin Schwartz. They were a staple for a lot of kids who loved creepy stories and would grow up to become horror addicts. The books were good but the illustrations by Stephen Gammell were horrifying. They are the images nightmares were made of and not just for kids but are creepy for adults too. Oscar-winning visionary filmmaker Guillermo del Toro loved the books and illustrations and wanted to produce a movie based on them. What we have is not an anthology film of short stories but a continuous narrative about teens who discover a book written in blood from a haunted house and the stories they read come true and terrorize them. It is an interesting take on the source material and it works most of the time. 

The opening shot is of dark shadows with narration and then it quickly jumps to a sunny forest and cornfield in 1968 Pennsylvania. Why the screenwriters insisted on making Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark take place in this particular time and setting is a mystery but perhaps since nostalgia is in and so are Stephen King adaptations maybe they were hoping it would make audiences think of those two things. This film does feel like a ‘Stephen King for kids’ movie. The PG-13 rating holds it back from ever being truly terrifying but it does manage to produce some effective chills and jump scares. This is reminiscent of a movie version of the 90’s Nickelodeon show ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’ with much better production value. The monsters and scary special effects are trying hard to duplicate the work of director Guillermo del Toro but they never quite make it to the same level. Possibly due to the constraints of wanting a PG-13 movie or possibly because they just did not have the same crew his films would have. 

If Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark really wanted to be terrifying it would have been shot in black and white and the special effects would have mirrored the disturbing illustrations from the book. But that probably would have never been greenlit by a major studio since black and white is usually a death knell at the box office and it may have even been too scary for a PG-13 audience. Some of the monsters and images try to recreate the artwork on the page but they feel too glossy and well done in films crisp cinematography with vibrant colors. Instead, what Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is as a film adaptation is one that is mostly effective and has zero originality. It feels like a campfire story that counselors and kids would sit around and roast marshmallows while hearing. A two-hour movie of campfire stories is not bad and is perfect for a summer night. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is nothing unique but is a fun slightly edgy horror movie that children and adults can enjoy but most likely the kids are going to like it a lot more. 

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