It’s Halloween 1968 in the small town of Milal Valley. Teen Stella Nicholls (Zoe Margaret Colletti) and her friends decide to explore the local haunted mansion.
The dilapidated Bellow’s house was the location of Sarah Bellows imprisonment and subsequent death.
Rumor has it that, when in the house, if you ask Sarah to tell you a story . . . she will – but it will be your doom. What these four teens discover is a waking nightmare that can only end with the one thing this is often most elusive – the truth.
“Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark” is based upon the infamous 1981 novel of the same name.
Stella Nicholls blames herself for her mother’s abandonment, now she is devoted to her friends and father – at the cost of her future.
Director André Ouredal brings viewers a well-paced tense horror film. Using traditional horror conventions – balancing suspense with a helping of adolescence and humor.
The time-honored horror genre often finds teens isolated or separated from adults magnifying their vulnerability and innocence. The victims/heroine fight a seemingly invincible and relentless foe – until they discover the creature’s weakness.
This film follows these conventions perfectly, making the narrative predictable. Yet, in its defense, Stella uses her brain and common sense in her attempts to disarm and stop this malevolent spirit – and those failures increase the stakes and tension.
The feel and tone instantly reminded me of the popular 1982 film “Creepshow” which offered five scary vignettes for viewers to fear. “Scary Stories” wraps individual vignettes into a larger story as Sarah Bellows seeks vengeance.
The writing is strong and the performances add to the emotional edginess. Set during the unrest of the Vietnam War and the election of Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon, the underlying racism and conservative morals of the era are contrasted with the fantastical supernatural horror unfolding amidst a small town’s whispers and gossip.
“Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark” will satisfy most horror fans, but keep in mind that this PG-13 film pulls its punches with its violence and scares to offer an old fashioned haunting.
Though “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” may be a clumsy title, the film itself is anything but, mixing terror and heartfelt moments to create a genuinely intense horror film that pushes the boundaries of the PG-13 rating.
In 1968 Pennsylvania, a group of teens discover a book in the basement of the haunted Bellows house… a book of scary stories that writes itself! And the stories within have a nasty habit of coming true. With their numbers being picked off by monsters spawned by the book, the kids must research their town’s history and that of the Bellows family to find a way to stop it.
That plot may sound silly, but it is elevated immensely by producer Guillermo Del Toro. With a characteristically professional touch, he elevates the ridiculous concept into an intense movie, designing memorable monsters, themselves the real stars. This is not to take away from the actors or director, but most filmgoers will recognize Del Toro’s fingerprints above all else. Also impressive is how closely the film hews to the books. The stories present are actually from the controversial “Scary Stories” book series – this is an adaptation in more than name, shockingly, and some of the lines are transposed verbatim.
The flaws are few and far between. The biggest one being the setting – 1968. The time period contributes little to the film beyond reminding us of how bad Nixon and the Vietnam War were, but these add nothing, and the character interactions and costume designs evoke nothing of the era. It remains a distraction, though; better for it to take place in the present day.
Overall, “Scary Stories” is an entertaining romp through a classic of children’s horror, complete with genuine scares. “Goosebumps,” eat your heart out.