Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark
Directed by André Øvredal
Written by Dan and Kevin Hagemen
Starring Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, Austin Abrams, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, and Lorraine Toussaint
Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark meant little to me upon hearing about its release. Unlike many, I had no nostalgic visions fly back to me the second I heard the title. I never read the children’s book series written by Alvin Schwartz by the same name. With that in mind, there would be no bias whatsoever going into it, nothing from the past to reflect on, and the truth is I didn’t expect a whole lot. Much to my surprise, I not only found the storyline to get progressively more fascinating as the plot unfolded, but I was also greatly impressed by the creativity. Anymore, a lot of horror movies are reboots of old films, or done-to-death possession flicks that all branch from The Exorcist one way or another. For Scary Stories, that is not at all the case. So for my Tales From The Vault debut, I’ve decided to take a shot at this film. As you should expect, there may be spoilers.
Set in Mill Valley, Pennsylvania on Halloween night in 1968, the film follows the three main protagonists Stella (Zoe Colleti), Auggie (Gabriel Rush), and Chuck (Austin Zajur). Early on, it shows many signs of cliches that have been used and abused. We have your “too cool for school” angsty teen (Chuck), his nerdy and standoff-ish beta-type sidekick (Auggie), and your slightly weird but low-key attractive female character (Stella). There’s also the standard group of varsity jacket, jock-type bullies that help kick this off, and with them is even Chuck’s older sister Ruth (Natalie Ganzhorn). She later realizes that their main bully Tommy (Austin Abrams) is too much of an asshole even for her to deal with, as she shortly sides with her brother and his friends. What’s neat is how it kicks off with the protagonists counter-pranking the bullies, because otherwise, it would have been way too much of an IT resemblance (more on that later). But regarding the plot at hand, that ends with the bullies chasing them to a drive-in theater, where we meet our fourth protagonist Ramón Morales (Michael Garza). He inevitably winds up helping the teens escape the bullies, bringing them straight into a supposedly haunted house. Here, Stella finds a book of scary stories written by the previous inhabitant Sarah Bellows, who was believed to be kept in one room forever and removed from all family photos, by her family.
I get it, just about all of this sounds like every ridiculous horror film, but rest assured, things change after this. The book begins writing stories of its own, based off of the main characters themselves. Once the stories are written, a short amount of time passes before they come true and actually happen to whoever is involved in the story. Each one either involves a horrible death or results in a drastically altered future, depending on how the story was written, or if the remaining characters can get to the victim fast enough. As the things progress, the protagonists realize that it’s impossible to return the book or destroy it, as it always returns with more stories. Each “story” is pulled off quite spectacularly, throwing in some unexpected twist that gives them their own unique spin. I can also appreciate the shift during the rising action from what appears to be a typical ghost story to a more detailed, elaborate tale that weaves classic kid’s tales into a spooky film. Beneath all of this, the culture of the late sixties is captured very well, which is always a plus.
Like most films, there were a lot of things that I drew connections to. Earlier I mentioned IT being one of them, for some obvious reasons. The whole concept is built around a bunch of kids that have bullies of their own, before discovering something paranormal that follows them around for the remainder of the run-time. If that’s not enough, it also has the same idea where adults aren’t aware of anything, and none of the kids can go to them for help. Near the end, Stella calls her father (Dean Norris, known for playing DEA agent Hank Schrader in Breaking Bad) and explains to him that she may not make it back. When he panics and asks what’s wrong, she is unable to explain. It even involves a dick-head cop who has been suspicious of Ramón from the start and scoffs at everything the children say. Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark also reminded me a lot of the book Say Cheese And Die – Again from the Goosebumps series. Considering that the classic kids novel is written around a camera that takes disturbing images that later come true, I couldn’t help but think of it in the same light. Some could also point to the popular Netflix series Stranger Things, but the only real resemblance there is the fact that its kids from decades ago that encounter a strange creature. Weirdly enough, Halloween: Resurrection came to my mind before the plot revealed itself, just based off of people roaming an old abandoned house where an infamous person died, trying to figure out what everything was used for and where Sarah was kept. Rest assured though; nothing even slightly resembles this once the plot hits.
So the fact is, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark doesn’t introduce an entirely new idea for a film on its own. What it does do, is take existing concepts, adding in just enough spice and innovative ideas to make it a very interesting watch. No, it isn’t without cliches, and I wouldn’t call it mind-blowing, but I recommend this to anybody who loves the paranormal-type horror flick. And of course, if you grew up with the stories, I’m sure there are other reasons to check this out. Definitely one that I’ll be revisiting in the future, and a great way to kick off this Halloween season’s horror-thon!
Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark premiered on August 9th, 2019 in the United States, distributed by Lionsgate.