A Journal Of The Dark Arts
André Øvredal’s adaptation of Alvin Schwarz‘s children’s classics Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark is a PG-13 horror movie with bite.
If we repeat them often enough,
And they become real.
These words run throughout André Øvredal‘s adaptation of the morbidly popular children’s anthologies Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. That’s certainly true of the tales contained in this series of books, for spooky children of a certain age group at least. Kids growing up in the ’80s and ’90s cut their fangs on Alvin Schwarz’s short, almost fairy-tale like horror stories. That’s a big part of the challenge of adapting beloved and well-known source material like Scary Stories. Characters like the woman missing her big toe or the haunted scarecrow have crawled, scraped, bled, and groaned throughout the nightmares and imaginations of a whole generation. Will the film adaptation live up to the horrors we’ve conjured in our own minds?
In the case of Øvredal’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark the answer is yes. Well, sort of. In their own way. First of all, the FX are top-notch. CGI has evolved to such a state that the creatures, like The Big Toe Lady or The Woman With Black Eyes and Long Black Hair are suitably terrifying. It also adds onto the original material, connecting the stories together into one cohesive narrative via a clever connecting story.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark begins on Halloween Night in the town of Mill Valley, Pennsylvania. The year is 1968. We meet Stella (Zoe Colletti), Auggie (Gabriel Rush), and Chuck (Austin Zajur). They’re you’re usual batch of misfits, the perennial horror underdogs, who decide to go out for one last Halloween, “in the last year of their childhoods,” as a voiceover intones at the beginning of a film. Enter Tommy (Austin Abrams), your classic horror movie bully. The misfits decide to fight back, throwing a flaming bag of human feces into Tommy’s car. He and his henchmen are understandably upset, chasing the trio into a drive-in movie theater.
Here they meet Ramon (Michael Garza), a seemingly itinerant Mexican “not from around there,” as is pointed out multiple times throughout the film, most often by Police Chief Turner (Gil Bellows), who’s convinced that Ramon has something to do with the rash of disappearances that are about to begin.
Ramon saves Zoe, Auggie, and Chuck from Tommy and they all decide to go to a haunted house to nightcap the evening. They break into the old Bellows’ estate, long abandoned, where the ghost of poor Sarah Bellows is still supposed to dwell, after hanging herself with her own hair.
The now-quartet quickly discover a secret – a hidden room. This was where Sarah lived. It was said, back in the day, that kids would creep into the house and whisper, “Sarah, tell me a story,” and she would, whispering creepy manifestations of her twisted imagination, warped from years in the dark. This was where she told them those stories.
Zoe, the resident horror writer and obsessive, discovers Sarah’s book of stories amongst her things. Meanwhile, Chuck gets separated and locked in a closet, where he is given a glimpse of a distant time, when the house was still in repair; an old woman and an obsidian-black obsidian simply staring at him, ominously.
All four are quickly realizing that something’s not right, that there’s something going on. They begin to notice the book is changing. New stories appear and begin to come true.
From here, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a non-stop coal mine ride, ramping up and up and up, like plunging into an inky black void. It’s a ghoulishly good time! For one thing, as i mentioned above, the special FX are really something special, if perhaps a bit Mike Flanagan-esque. We’ve gotten to a point where computer-generated spooks and spectres can legitimately disturb, and they do, in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Characters like The Lady With The Black Eyes and Long Black Hair and the Me Tie Dough-Ty Walker stand to enter the annals of classic horror characters, similar to The Bent-Neck Lady or The Floating Man from Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House.
This is also good news for a whole new generation of young horror lovers, towards whom Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is aimed. It’s PG-13 rating is one of the best things it has going for it. It means that Young Adults and teenagers will get to experience its dread. Its perhaps even a bit scarier for it. I personally find PG-13 horror to be a bit more effective, at times, as directors are forced to get creative rather than just relying on shock and gore.
There are some moments that are legitimately terrifying in Scary Stories. I had the good fortune to see this film on opening night at the undoubtedly haunted popcorn palace The Laurelhurst Theater on 28th and Burnside in Portland. There were several moments of loud gasps from the crowd throughout the film, followed by nervous laughter. I could hear people whispering to each other, “This is scary,” and we were all 12 again, together, collectively.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is reminiscent of the recent Goosebumps movies, both visually and in terms of pacing, as well as a similar amount of comic relief. It’s much scarier than Goosebumps, however, so keep that in mind when showing to your spooky kids. It’s truly got something for horror lovers of all ages, almost guaranteed to become a new horror staple and addition to the canon, to be beloved during the dark, creeping times of year for years to come.
Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is in theaters now.
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