Review: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019) 1h 51min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller | 9 August 2019 (USA) Summary: A group of teens face their fears in order to save their lives.
Countries: USA, CanadaLanguages: English

Guillermo del Toro produces a film adaptation of the popular book series of young adult horror stories in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Stella Nicholls (Zoe Margaret Colletti) is a teenage girl living with her father Roy (Dean Norris) in the small town of Mill Valley. Her only friends are Auggie Hilderbrandt (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck Steinberg (Austin Zajur) and on Halloween night the three prepare to play a prank on the town bully Tommy (Austin Abrams), who happens to be on a date with Chuck’s sister Ruth (Natalie Ganzhorn). It is on the night the three meet Ramón Morales (Michael Garza) and they decide to venture to the abandoned house of Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard), a woman who died a century ago and is the subject of urban legend. Inside the house, Stella finds and takes Sarah’s book of scary stories, which ends up angering her vengeful spirit, resulting in some deadly new stories for Stella and her friends.

André Øvredal (The Autopsy of Jane Doe) directs this young adult horror film co-written and produced by Guillermo del Toro. The film, of course, is an adaptation of the “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” books released between 1981 and 1991, written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell. The stories themselves are influenced by folklore and urban legend and may already be familiar to some viewers. This film adaptation takes five of the most memorable of the stories and brings them to life, framed by an original story of a vengeful spirit.

If you are like me and grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, chances are you might have come across at least one of the three books in the “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” series, which were notable for really pushing the boundaries of young adult literature, particularly the very macabre illustrations by Stephen Gammell. As such, it seems that the primary goal of Guillermo del Toro and André Øvredal was to make a PG-13 rated horror film aimed at young adults, which still pushed the boundaries of that rating as far as it would go. Indeed, I think the film is quite successful with the first three stories “Harold,” “The Big Toe,” and “The Red Spot,” all three of which have well-built suspense and has some twisted content that may be a bit traumatic for very young viewers. Sadly, the later stories aren’t as successful, with the framing story itself being a bit on the cliched side.

However, even though Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark isn’t a perfect film, it is undoubtedly one of the better young adult horror films out there. Guillermo del Toro’s love for practical effects is on display throughout the film, which brings to life Stephen Gammell’s illustrations, particularly through Harold the Scarecrow and The Pale Lady (both played by Mark Steger). Then there’s the original monster The Jangly Man, played by the quite prolific contortionist actor “Twisty” Troy James.

With this film adaptation only featuring a handful of the 80+ stories in the book series, things are definitely open for us to see more Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in the future. So, if you are up for a good scare that won’t traumatize you, too much, then this is a young adult horror anthology to check out.

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Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).