HOLLYWOOD—Let me be clear; “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is more like a compilation horror flick. What does that mean? Think of the Warner Bros. flick “Trick r’ Treat” or “Creepshow,” but a tamer version. The big screen version is an adaptation of the popular children’s book. The stories eventually link up in an impressive way. It’s not easy to take a series of stories and interlink them in a way where the previous narrative works seamlessly with the other tales.
Now, my only gripe is the notion of if “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is full blown horror or semi-horror. I will argue its semi horror. That could be a result of the flick being PG-13. You have a bit of limitation when it comes to what you can show. This is not directly linked to violence because anyone who knows me understands that horror is NOT about violence it’s about suspense, and having a quality payoff from that buildup. Too bad plenty of filmmakers have yet to discover that important motif.
The movie has two strong things going for it: 1) setting and 2) core characters. The flick takes place on Halloween in 1968 in Mill Valley, Pennsylvania, where Stella (Zoe Colletti), and her pals Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) play a prank on bully Tommy Milner (Austin Abrams). In the process of planning the prank, the gang venture into a haunted house that is full of surprises and find themselves in a hidden room where they find a book belonging to Sarah Bellows, a town legend who has a past that is at the core of the movie. It is here where the terror begins as the book ‘writes’ stories involving our core characters. Each containing a different antagonist and tales to go with it, like ‘Harold,’ ‘The Big Toe,’ ‘The Red Spot,’ ‘The Pale Lady’ and ‘Me Tie Dough-ty Walker.’ It might seem like a lot tales, but they are carefully paced and satisfying conclusions to each story that ultimately led to the climax. There is plenty of suspense that has a satisfying payoff for the audience.
There are some decent scares in the flick, enough to unnerve you, but not to deliver sleepless nights if you ask me. I need to make this clear Guillermo del Toro does not helm this flick. He is a producer people, but helped craft the story. We know del Toro has an affinity for the genre with phenomenal works like “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “The Shape of Water” and one of my faves “Mimic.” Yeah, for those who haven’t seen that 1997 flick involving the transformation of some bugs, check it out.
Would it have been nice to see the Oscar-winning directing touch behind the camera? Absolutely, but we might be looking at a completely different flick if we did. “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” gives the audience a taste of horror that is satisfying. If you’re looking for a good thrill, an original tale, some creepy villains this movie has it, and you will be entertained.