Like I said when I reviewed the documentary, Scary Stories, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was my favorite book when I was a child and I fully and honestly confess that it is probably one of the keystones in the development of the dangerously flawed individual that I am today. The book series made me want to be a storyteller, made me want to be an artist, and made me stay up wide awake and frightened in my bed wondering when Aaron Kelly’s Bones or Harold were going to emerge from the shadows to get me. Is this book the reason I am an insomniac today?
When I heard that the books were being adapted into a movie, I was excited and yet… skeptical. How do you adapt an anthology of short scary stories into a feature film without turning it into something egotistic and self-referential like the Goosebumps movie? Thankfully, after a year of wondering and waiting, I’ve got my answer and that answer is… Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a delightfully macabre horror movie, a throwback to a simpler time, and full of very creepy and yes, very scary moments.
If I have a complaint about this movie, it’s that it didn’t pull enough from its source material, but as a fan of the books, I think that’s due more to my own greediness.
The movie takes place in 1968 when, one Halloween Night, four kids explore a haunted house and discover a book written by local legend, Sara Bellows, a woman who supposedly lured children with the promise of scary stories and then proceeded to murder the heck out of them. To their horror, the kids discover that you don’t read the book, but the book reads you and makes you the star of your own scary story and then… well… let’s just say that it doesn’t end very well for you.
Through this framing devise, the movie is able to revisit and revise several of the short tales in the Scary Story anthologies. None of them are told beat for beat, but rather highlights the monsters, ghosts, and otherworldly creatures of the stories. Harold appears, but in a new way. The Pale Woman appears, but in a new way… even as a fan of the book, I never knew what was going on with the exception of “The Red Spot” because, let’s be honest, how different could that one go?
The performances in the movie are actually good, much better than you usually see in horror movies that revolve around kids this young. What I liked about Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is that the movie is determined to sell the danger… aside from the brief flashes of comedy relief, it’s never doubted that this kids are in danger and they know it and that leads to a lot of heavy drama that sells the scares even more when they come.
There is also some commentary on racism and the political climate of the 1960s that never really lands, but it was nice to see that they tried to make the movie more than what it is.
That’s not a knock in the least bit. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark might not revolutionize the genre, but it is a masterful horror movie that has some genuine scares and some very nice looking monsters. Sure, there’s a little annoying CGI every now and then, but most of the time I couldn’t tell the difference between a practical shot or a computer generated shot and that’s saying something.
I do think that perhaps they could have pulled more from the source material, but since the movie does shamelessly sequel-bait in its last few moments, I’m perfectly happy to cough up the dough for that sequel when it comes just to see that material materialize on the big screen.
See this movie. Enjoy this movie. Buy the book. It’s really good.