Currently in theaters is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, the long-awaited horror film adaptation of the eponymous book.
There are those among us who feel a chill go down their spine at the very mention of the three Scary Stories books. Alvin Schwartz’s collections of short horror stories, paired with ghoulish, horrifying illustrations by Stephen Gammell, seared themselves into the imaginations of many a young mind over the years… including my own. Simply put, they pushed the boundaries of children’s fiction to the very edge, and made their readers think they’d come across something truly forbidden. The film, directed by (Trollhunter’s) Andre Ovredal, and produced by Guillermo del Toro is a loving and faithful adaptation, with a slightly updated twist.
Set in 1968, the plot centers around a group of young, misfit teens who spend Halloween night playing pranks on the local bullies, and ultimately going out to the local creepy, abandoned house, which local legend suggests is haunted. It of course is, and the group soon find themselves in possession of a strange book of “scary stories which seem to have been written in blood… and about real people from long ago. Soon the kids find out about the book’s sinister, supernatural powers as the book begins to write itself, penning stories involving each one of the teenagers it came in contact with. One at a time, the book picks a new victim to star in a new “scary story” and after it finishes off a few, and those that remain figure out what’s going on, the group must find some way to stop the book from taking the last few of them, how to reverse the effects its already had on others, or at the very least how to escape from their own stories being written.
Each “scary story” that’s written and played out in the book is, as you probably guessed, based entirely around one of the iconic stories in the Scary Stories book series. Longtime fans of the books will no doubt instantly recognize each featured story, as well as catch a ton of cool Easter eggs tossed in here and there for good measure. Likewise, those that didn’t read any of the books (and shame on you for that, by the way) will still find plenty to enjoy here, and shouldn’t have any trouble following along.
As for the aforementioned iconic stories, and more specifically the horrific creatures and happenings from them, every single one is exceptionally well done. The makeup and effects on display here are top-notch, and truly brings to life the spirit and essence of those nightmare-inducing Gammell illustrations that once traumatized young people everywhere. For the sake of not spoiling anything, I won’t mention which creatures or stories are featured… that part you’ll have to see for yourselves.
That being said, the film is certainly not without its faults. At the core of this film is the overlapping message about “the power of storytelling” both with the main protagonist Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti of 2014’s Annie) being an aspiring writer, and the near-constant hammering of this point into nearly every single aspect of this film… so much so that it all just feels very forced, overstated, and repetitive. Right along with that is a rather silly attempt at shoehorning in some sort of political message, with overly-frequent references to Richard Nixon, which just feels ham-fisted and unnecessary, despite it being set in the Vietnam War era. Couple those two things with an odd detour that touches on voodoo, yet ultimately goes nowhere with it, and a narrative that repeatedly tells its audience how its supposed to feel about everything, rather than letting the overarching story breathe and let viewers come to terms with things on their own, and you’ve got a strong example of overbooking in screenwriting and trying a bit too hard to make an otherwise good horror story more than what it is.
The Bottom Line:
Overall, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a fun, enjoyable horror film and a fine adaptation of the famous books. While it’s certainly not a perfect film, it definitely makes up for its flaws with fantastic effects, horrific creatures, a strong cast, and a wonderfully spooky nostalgic vibe. While this film would’ve definitely been better to have been released closer to Halloween, it’s definitely well worth a visit to see it in theaters to get you in the spirit a little earlier than usual. – 7.5/10
Editor/Staff Writer: Nerd Nation Magazine