Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Review: "Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark" is a pretty nifty adaptation

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark Review
I have been a big horror fan pretty much all my life, and I have hunch as to what lead to that fascination. While I've been a fan of authors like Stephen King, Richard Matheson and Edgar Allen Poe, I think the author that really set me over the edge of horror fandom was Alvin Schwartz. Schwartz wrote three anthologies under the "Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark" moniker. The stories were aimed at children, and I collected these anthologies when I was in 3rd and 4th grade. The stories were fairly easy to read, and had many humorous moments. But there was stuff that really got under the skin of young readers. Did I mention the artwork in the books? Because damn, it was nightmare-inducing. In fact, as the anthologies got reprinted, the original artwork was taken out as it was deemed too scary for young readers.

For a long time I tried to imagine a screened version of "Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark," I didn't care if it would be a movie, a TV series or some kind of mini-series. I wanted to see someone step up to the plate and give it a try. I learned maybe two or so years ago that a movie was being planned. I pretty much jumped for joy when I read that Guillermo del Toro would be involved. As the movie got closer to release, I was bummed that it wasn't going to be a natural anthology.

At the same time, I get it. Anthologies are tough, they are only as good as their best story, and as bad their worst story. So maybe creating an original movie binding the stories, a la "Goosebumps" wasn't all that bad an idea. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the movie that was created here. Do I think it's a perfect movie? Absolutely not. The movie certainly plays the cliche game throughout. I think my dream adaptation would be a Twilight Zone style television series, where each story gets its own spotlight and can get fully explored. But hey, director Andre Ovredal did the best possible job he could to find a unique and cool way to throw in as many stories as possible.

The movie takes place in 1968, and we follow horror fan Stella (Zoe Colletti) and her two friends Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur). They get together on Halloween night in that year of 1968, and they eventually meet a new friend Ramon as they sneak into his car at a drive-in movie to get away from some bullies. Ramon is played by Michael Garza. Before we get too far into this review, let me point out that all four of these children don't even have Wikipedia pages yet. They are about as unknown as unknown actor gets. I have to say, for child actors, they give 110% to their roles. I think they did their very best and when I care about the fates of characters in a horror movie, that's a good sign. I cared about these guys.

This foursome decide to check out a supposed haunted house. The house originally belonged to the Bellow family, which helped found the town. Inside the haunted house they find a secret room belonging to the family's daughter Sarah. They also find Sarah's book of scary stories, the legend has it that if Sarah told you a story, it was the last story you'd ever hear. Sarah was removed from all family photographs, so even the family was afraid of her. So of course, the group eventually leaves the house with the book. Similar to the "Goosebumps" movie, the famous stories from Schwartz's anthologies begin to appear in the book as if by magic. Sure enough, they begin to come true in the town and terrorize the people of the town. Unlike "Goosebumps" though, this isn't some comedy where a silly version of Alvin Schwartz appears to help our group. The kids are on their own, and the results are sometimes fatal. We see lots of disturbing things happening to young people. Take a scene where a teenager begins to turn into a scarecrow and vomit hay. Much like the original artwork, this is a horror movie that really goes all out on the scares, and I applaud Ovredal for never holding back.

 For this movie, I was scared they'd water down the scares and numb the movie down a bit. But oh no, that's not true at all. I've read on Twitter that parents who took their kids to this were told by their kids that they probably won't sleep that night. I was amazed by the atmosphere created in this movie based on children's stories, and I was similarly amazed by the creepy scenes. I don't know if I'd say they all land, but the mood and atmosphere created for this was totally shocking.

I wish they cooked up a story that wasn't so similar to "Goosebumps." But like I said, they tried. It's not a perfect horror movie. In fact, better ones have already come out this year. But I have to say, that I went in with low expectations, and I ended up liking the result. I hope fans of the old Schwartz stories have a good time in the theater, and get all the nostalgic feels. 


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