Movie Review: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Raise your hand if you ever sat around a campfire with friends and told scary stories. Or maybe you had a sleepover at home and you and your friends all tried to outdo each other with the scariest, grossest story you ever heard. Both my hands are up. Beginning in 1981, Alvin Schwartz published a collection of short, scary stories for children, appropriately called “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”. Over the following ten years, two more compilations came out, and the three anthologies have collectively sold more than seven million copies. A handful of Schwartz’s 82 stories have now been stitched together and framed as the movie SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK.

Directed by Norwegian André Øvredal (THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE) and co-produced by two-time Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro (THE SHAPE OF WATER; PAN’S LABYRINTH), SCARY STORIES follows a group of teens in the fall of 1968 in the fictional town of Mill Valley, Pennsylvania (actually St. Thomas, Ontario), who find a mysterious book that seems to be able write new stories as they happen. The book once belonged to Sarah Bellows, who was the daughter of the town’s famous industrialist. Legend had it that Sarah, who lived a century before, had been locked away in a secret room in their house and she used to read the stories she wrote through the walls of the house to scare any kids away who would come by. Each night, as a new story gets written, something happens to one of amateur writer Stella Nicholls’ (Zoe Margaret Colletti, WILDLIFE) friends and classmates, forcing her to team up with drifter Ramón Morales (Michael Garza) to quickly find a way to return the book to Sarah before any more stories can be written.

SCARY STORIES is a bit of a mixed bag, both in content and execution. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where the story is going after the first twenty minutes. The only surprises are the scary stories themselves and for those we have to credit Schwartz. The thread that tenuously ties them together though, is not very interesting. This may have been better structured as a weekly TV series with one scary story taking place each episode. To somehow add to the story’s foreboding, the writers set it against the backdrop of the 1968 American presidential election where Richard Nixon came to power and when America was engulfed in a war with Vietnam. I’m old enough to remember both those events but even I don’t understand the connection. Was Nixon a demon? My grandmother thought so. I can only imagine what millennials must be thinking when they watch this film. Do they even know who Richard Nixon was? As for the characters, Stella and her friends are not all that dissimilar to the teams of spunky teens that we’ve seen in far too many horror films over the years.

For better or worse, it’s very clear that this isn’t the last SCARY STORY we’re going to see on the big screen. The story leaves a lot of questions unanswered and, in a voiceover at the end, Stella even says as much. The film has already taken in US$72 million at the box office globally off a production budget of US$25 – 28 million. In Hollywood, that only means one thing: A sequel is coming whether we want it or not.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, August 30th, 8:30 am HK time!

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