Spooky scary skeletons.
Looking back on Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark it’s kinda crazy that the book was published and widely read by children in the 80’s and 90’s. Not because of the stories themselves, although those have their own wonder, but the terrifyingly disgusting illustrations that accompanied them. There’s also the brutal murder of children and teenagers that goes on in just about every story, but that’s a tale for another time.
Many children from the 80’s and 90’s will fondly remember reading Scary Stories and it’s one of those properties where everyone who has read it has a specific story that gave them nightmares. They are concepts that seem patently ridiculous to an adult that are terrifying to a child. Like the “who took my big toe” story or the “me-tie-doughty-walker.” The books are a reminder on the power of a child’s imagination and most of the stories basically revolve around a monster saying “I’m going to get you” with the ultimate ending being he gets them.
Director André Øvredal couldn’t have picked a better person when he nabbed Guillermo Del Toro to produce the Scary Stories adaptation, outside of perhaps getting Junji Ito on board to make a film. 2013 was a strange time to decide to reboot the property and it took six years to get a film out. Was it worth it? It made a buttload of cash so probably, yea. Dan and Kevin Hageman saved money on screenwriting budget by ripping off Darren Lemke’s script for the Goosebumps movie. Oops, I’ve said too much.
Rather than play out as an anthology, Scary Stories pieces together multiple stories from the books into a single arching narrative. In a small town in the late 60’s we follow nerdy suburban girl Stella (Zoe Colletti), an aspiring writer and her chummy boys Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur). Chuck’s sister Ruthie (Natalie Ganzhorn) plays a big role as does cartoon bully and her boyfriend Tommy (Austin Abrams).
Stella finds herself falling for the exotic and not-a-boring-suburban-white-guy Ramon (Michael Garza) who rolls into town. The crew visit a supposedly haunted mansion and make it out with a spooky book written by one Sarah Bellows who the family kept locked in the basement. When bully Tommy goes missing alongside a new story appearing in the book with his name on it, Stella is fairly certain that Sarah is writing new scary stories from beyond the grave. The kind you can tell in the dark. And these ones are coming true!
I’m not sure what constitutes a hard PG-13 rating, but this film is probably it. Between Ramon getting “wetback” graffiti’d on his car and some rather gruesome murders and imagery, parents might want to give a second thought to showing this film to nightmare or racism prone children. Things like an amputated toe appearing in a pot of stew, a girl’s pimple exploding with spiders, or a character vomiting up straw. Otherwise much of the horror in this film comes from the flat anticipation of a character getting attacked and murdered off screen.
And I should note that the visuals in this film are very well done. It’s hard to pull off an animated corpse repeating “who took my big toe” or another monster repeating “me-tie-doughty-walker” and make it unnerving, and Scary Stories absolutely failed to do that. But the other segments are great. The mixing of child-friendly near goofiness mellows down the fact that these creatures are actually killing people. One dude gets his neck snapped right in front of the camera.
Scary Stories sets itself up for an obvious sequel which it will most certainly get. The creepiest part of the film was when the old lady sings the hearse song around the middle part of the film. As Scary Stories was a book naturally every kid is going to create their own version of the song in their head. The movie’s version mirrored exactly the one I have always imagined. That’s spooky.
Otherwise Scary Stories is supported greatly due to the impressive acting of its cast. At an hour and 47 minutes it somewhat overstays its welcome.