Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark originated as a series of three collections of short horror stories for children, written by Alvin Schwartz and originally illustrated by Stephen Gammell. The titles of the books are Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1981), More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1984), and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones (1991).
After nearly 40 years, a big screen adaptation of the first book finally arrives, produced by Academy Award winning director Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water) and directed by Andre Øvredal, who is best known for the 2010 Norwegian film Trollhunters. This is his first English language film.
To say that it isn’t completely fair reviewing a movie based on a book that is 40 years old, and that has been read presumably by millions of children, yet having not read it myself, is an understatement.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a $28 million production (not including a bare minimum of $10 million in marketing costs). While the film is visually stunning and is full of supernatural elements, its screenplay lacks any sort of magic. Harry Potter it is not.
The movie does not boast even one D-list teenage star, yet revolves around the teenage characters. While the cast is certainly capable of handling what they are presented with, lots of running around, screaming and pretending to be scared because of being ensnared in perilous situations, they are not likeable or endearing.
One might argue that Harry Potter (the first movie) at its outset, when the pre-teen stars in the film were names audiences had never heard about, nor seen before, didn’t boast any top name talent. And they would be correct. However, the first Harry Potter film (and book), and all of its sequels, captivated audiences of every age. The characters were appealing and charming. If one got killed, a tear was shed. That is not even remotely the case with Scary Stories. When characters are killed, you couldn’t care less.
The question this film asks is, “what if the most startling legends of supernatural horror, revenge and the ghostly macabre suddenly became your actual reality?” The books were written specifically for 10-13 year olds, and the movie is rated PG-13. While there are what the director and writers think are scares, based on today’s climate, where 7 year olds are subject to X-rated violence while playing video games, and on the internet, cable, Netflix and the like, the film is very tame. There is nary a scare.
Simply put, the film tells the tale of a group of young misfits who must confront all the fears that stand between them and the future. It all begins on Halloween night, 1968, in a small farm town. In a time of turmoil, the Vietnam War raging, Richard Nixon being sworn into office, things remain relatively sleepy in Mill Valley. That is until outcast teenagers Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti), Ramon (Michael Garza), Chuck (Austin Zajur) and Auggie (Gabriel Rush) dare to explore their town’s infamously 100 year old, uninhabited, creepy haunted house—the cobwebbed former home of the reportedly murderous Sarah Bellows—and discover in the house a book that proves to have colossal supernatural powers. Almost immediately, the book changes their fates. One by one, they find themselves living out the stories Sarah chooses to tell, Harold, The Big Toe, The Red Spot and more, as each is inexorably summoned to do battle with their own most uniquely terrifying dreads.
A murderous scarecrow comes to life. A ghost wreaks havoc. A creature that can dismember itself and put itself back together chases everyone. Of course, the police chief doesn’t believe a word that the kids tell him, throws them in jail and is immediately killed by the creature out to get the kids.
Will there be a big screen sequel? That is highly doubtful, as the chances of this film earning its production budget back are slim to none. Movie studios and movie theater chains split box office revenue 50/50. In order for this film to break even at the box office, it will need to take in well over $70 million.
Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark Review by Tim Nasson