Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Based on the beloved anthologies by Alvin Schwartz, whose writing and accompanying illustrations by Stephen Gammell kept many a tween up at night in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark delivers impressive horror for a PG-13 film.
Skilled at building atmosphere and executing with proper genre timing, Norwegian director André Øvredal (Trollhunter) achieves the above without graphic violence, excessive profanity, or sexual content. More importantly, he and his collaborators don’t pander to younger audiences hungry for a good startle at the movie theater, sans parental accompaniment.
Featuring a winning framework on which to hang multiple tales, courtesy of none other than Guillermo del Toro, Scary Stories follows tight-knit outcast friends Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti), Chuck (Austin Zajur), and Auggie (Gabriel Rush), and their new Hispanic transient buddy Ramón (Michael Garza) as their paths cross on Halloween night.
In the wake of a fairly slow but generally entertaining start, the teens visit the local haunted house and find a legendary book of spooky fiction whose empty pages soon form fresh narratives starring them and a few other peers who were at the estate that fateful evening.
Terrifying monsters and related imagery soon arrive, beginning with a scarecrow that comes to life and the damage it wreaks, and the creepiness only grows from there. Each new set piece is a thrilling testament to how far creature designs (which have del Toro’s fingerprints all over them), set-up, and gore-free execution can go in delivering frights.
Hamstrung by the occasional inane bit of dialogue and rickety plot point — not del Toro’s fault! — Scary Stories is also seemingly arbitrarily set in 1968. Other than to force the protagonists into analog ingenuity, or perhaps draw parallels between the Nixon administration and what’s currently in the White House, the year carries minimal significance but doesn’t impede the narrative’s momentum.
Instead, the chills keep coming, and should viewers give the film the attention it deserves, its creators have set up an intriguing sequel — one of the few times in modern horror where a second round feels warranted.
Grade: B. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande, and Carolina Cinemark