Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is, smartly, an anthology horror movie that isn’t an anthology. Based upon the classic – and controversial in the States – series of horror-for-kids short story books by Alvin Schwartz, Scary Stories is an adaptation that reminds you just how fun kids to teen horror/adventure/SF movies and shows can – and used to – be.
Taking many of its cues from the golden age of kids adventure and horror movies and shows such as The Goonies, Eerie Indiana and Goosebumps, Scary Stories molds itself in such famous shoes without ever feeling like a homage, or worse, pastiche. It’s a fun foray into life and death stakes for a group of kids who’ve gone where they shouldn’t have.
Set in 1968 during the Vietnam war and Richard Nixon becoming president, Scary Stories follows Stella, Augie and Chuck on what is going to become their last Halloween together now that school is over and the horrors of growing up are at their doorstep. A prank against the school bully for years of abuse at his hands leads them to meeting Ramon and finally taking their steps towards one of the ultimate small town, Halloween horror movie tropes – spelunking the local haunted house. They should have merely contended themselves with another beatdown instead.
In the depths of the Bellows house, the local haunted house, Stella finds the short story book of local murdering legend, Sarah Bellows, whose penchant for telling scary stories to kids before they disappeared or died mysteriously, earned her a place in the nuthouse. And before you can turn a page in said book, Stella has, unwittingly, unleashed Sarah’s shade and put herself and her friends in its crosshairs. Before long, stories are writing themselves in Sarah’s book and her friends are the stars of each story adaptation.
Scary Stories wisely avoids the common anthology setting where an individual walks into a bar/library/insert-any-setting before been regaled by stories about things that have happened to others, before, usually, coming to a ghastly end themselves. Instead, the film presents each adaptation as part of the overall narrative, using the setup to wisely provide multiple creatures on screen instead of just one to contend with. When it’s time for each of the characters to face their doom, it’s usually based around some fear that they have.
Despite the title, Scary Stories is never really scary or overly violent and gory. It does, however, present some really creepy and unsettling imagery, especially where the monsters are concerned, that leaves you wondering just how much could have been done had the PG-13 rating been left behind. At the same time, the lack of true scares works in the movies favour as it provides a haunting experience that can be enjoyed by young and old alike without having to ask the young ‘uns to leave the room.
It does, however, present some really creepy and unsettling imagery, especially where the monsters are concerned...
...it shows how our casual treatment of others can cause irreparable damage and create the very monsters we wish to banish.
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9 August 2019
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