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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark – Movie Review

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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy eOne Films

The Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books have been creeping out children and pre-teens for a few decades now and even those who never picked up a copy might be familiar with the covers. For this film adaptation, the filmmakers have taken an approach not too dissimilar to the Goosebumps movie and created a scenario for these monsters to come together to scare a few high schoolers. Director Andre Ovredal doesn’t stray too far from the traditional horror movie playbook, but there are enough creative elements and unsettling moments to warrant a viewing. The final result ultimately feels like a longer, better acted episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark with a higher budget.

Even though the film immediately reveals the setting as 1968, the vibe is closer to a horror film one would see in the 1980s. Following a group of youngsters thrust into a scary situation, the characters are properly established before the film takes a slasher film approach in dealing with them. Zoe Margaret Colletti has to carry a lot of the film as the aspiring writer Stella, who tries to make sense of these strange occurrences. What’s particularly refreshing is seeing her sweet relationship with her single father, played by a solid Dean Norris. There is also the necessary dynamic with Stella’s friends and it becomes believable they are lifelong pals.

Where Scary Stories shines is seeing the various monsters come to life. Understanding the film’s core audience, Ovredal never goes too bloody and gory. However, he definitely doesn’t flinch and we get some truly grotesque moments. The creature and makeup effect go a long way in creating the necessary response, with one monster looking like it came straight from a David Lynch film. Ovredal is mostly content on letting the atmosphere and imagery do the work, but there are a few jump scares thrown in, too. There is enough of a grab bag of appropriately creepy scenes for any horror fan to delight in.

The time period alternates between being incredibly in-your-face and at other points, not factoring into the plot. There are obvious nods to the Vietnam War and the presidential election of Richard Nixon, plus the horror films of the day. However, the film could also have been set in 1983 or 1995 or 2002 and not had that much of an impact on the story. After being initially impressed at how Toronto has been transformed into a ‘60s American small town, the setting becomes more of a background. The film could have been snipped a bit near the end, but there’s still enough intrigue to stay invested until the finale.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark doesn’t bring anything new to the table in terms of the horror genre, but it nonetheless manages to be a serviceable entry helped by the creativity of its special effects and creature design. There is definitely plenty of admiration towards the source material, courtesy of Ovredal and his producer Guillermo del Toro. It’s a fitting film to watch at midnight with all of the lights switched off on Halloween. Halloween even plays an important role in the plot, which makes the decision to release the movie in early August a puzzling one.

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE

Stefan Ellison