Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Review

Horror is a genre often thought to mostly enjoyed by adults. However, I was a kid that grew up loving everything horror. In fact, I can blame my fear of clowns growing up on watching IT as a child. It was around the 80s and early 90s when media companies started to take notice and produce horror content for kids. One of the first series of books, that I can remember, to do this was Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. It was written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell. What made these books so great, and controversial, was the nightmare-inducing artwork as well as the gruesome content within the stories.

Skip forward nearly forty years later and Hollywood has decided to adapt these series of stories into a film of the same name directed by André Øvredal and produced by Guillermo del Toro. If you remember, Goosebumps attempted to do the same thing but the films fell flat, unfortunately. It’s difficult to create a horror film aimed at kids while still continuing to hold true to the source material. Does Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark succeed where Goosebumps failed?

Story

The film takes place in a small American town during Halloween of 1968. Along the way, they find an old book said to belong to a local witch of legend named Sarah Bellows. They unknowingly release a curse that targets her group of friends, and unless they can uncover the mystery surrounding the town and the Bellows family, they’re all doomed to the wrath of the curse.

WARNING: The following tags contain spoilers so if you’re not interested in knowing what happens in the film, skip it.

Contents
Tell me a story

The story centers around a group of high school friends – Stella, Auggie, and Chuck. They attempt to get back at a local bully named Tommy before he leaves to join the war. Inciting his wrath, the three of them flee and run into a drifter named Ramón. The four of them decide to visit a local abandoned house that is said to be haunted. Stella and Ramón find a book belonging to Sarah Bellows, a local woman who was said to live in the walls of the house and told scary stories to local children.

Tommy attempts to trap them in the basement, along with Chuck’s sister Ruth after she protests. They are able to escape, but not before Stella asks for Sarah to tell her a story, awakening her vengeful spirit. Back at home, Stella invites Ramón to stay with her since Tommy trashed his car. They realize that the ink in the book seems fresh while Stella notes that it seems thicker than ink and almost like blood.

You’re next

One by one, each begins to succumb to the book’s curse. As a story is written in the book one of them face the horrors it creates. Auggie eventually being taken by one of the book’s monsters and Ruth is put into a mental ward after a sack full of spiders explodes out of her cheek. Stella, along with Ramón and chuck, eventually discover that the Bellows used to run a factory that poisoned the local water with pollution. Children would get sick and die, and Sarah tried to warn the town of the truth. However, her family had her committed to a mental institution and blamed her for the deaths. The town accepted their claims because Sarah was born with a deformity and was a recluse. She eventually hanged herself, and all of her hate and resentment possessed her book of stories before taking vengeance on her family.

The Final

After Chuck is taken by the pale woman, Stella and Chuck are arrested. It turns out that Ramón is wanted as a deserter for running away after receiving a summons to draft into the army. The book releases another monster to come after Ramón, and it murders the police officer holding them. They manage to escape as and head back to the Bellows’ house. Stella confronts Sarah and begs her to release her hatred. In exchange, she would write the truth and tell the town what really happened. In the end, Sarah removes the curse and the horrors from it disappear. Ramón gets on a bus headed to the army, and Stella leaves the town with her father and Ruth in order to find out how to get Auggie and Chuck back.  

Story Analysis

I found the story of the film to be entertaining and enjoyable. It really is a movie made for the fans of the books as the concept of the various monsters and stories seems to be where most of the work was put in. The main concept and plot of the film have been done before, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. There’s enough of a difference that I could enjoy it for what it was and not feel like I need to overanalyze it afterward. After all, the books were written for middle school-aged children, so to expect anything more from the film adaptation isn’t feasible.

Characters

Stella NichollsRamón MoralesChuck SteinbergRuth SteinbergAuggie HilderbrandtTommy

A nerdy high school girl who is fond of horror movies and writing. She seems to know a great deal about the Sarah Bellows legend and is thrilled when she initially finds her book. Her mother left her and her father alone, and she makes sure he is cared for.

A drifter who is just passing through town. He helps protect the group from Tommy, but only because he has his eyes for Stella. The two of them share a fascination with horror movies and quickly bond over the course of the film. It is unknown, at first, what he’s running from but there is a sense that he’s hiding something.

One of Stella’s best friends. He’s mischievous and likes to tease the others. Although, deep down he cares for his friends and sister, even if he does enjoy pestering her.

Local pretty girl and the lead of the high school musical. She initially is going out with Tommy, but she dumps him after he attempts to lock her brother and his friends in a basement. She worries about her brother, despite him being a pain.

The nice guy of the group, Auggie is Stella’s other best friend. He and Chuck seem really close and even argue like an old married couple. He is the counter to Chuck’s trickster ways and serves as the voice of reason.

He is the school bully and seems to be one of their biggest athletes, based on his letterman jacket. He is attracted to Ruth but pushes her away with his constant bullying and immature antics. It seems like he’s been bullying the main group all of their lives, which is why they seek revenge against him.

Character Analysis

All of the characters, aside from Ramón, are pretty standard teen slasher tropes. However, the director did a good job fleshing out their personalities and building up a connection with each of them. Some of it was a little cliche, like really making Tommy unlikable so the audience would hate him and feel good about any misfortunes that came his way. However, the characters of Chuck and Auggie served as welcomed comic relief and made you care what happened to them. Stella, unlike many “main girls,” didn’t come across as self-righteous or one-dimensional.

Ramón was really the breakout character for me. Through him, the audience experiences what it was like for Latino people back in the 60s. As a Hispanic man, I feel like our people’s struggles don’t get featured enough in films, but Guillermo Del Toro is great about Latino and Hispanic representation in his films. Because of his race, the local cops treat him like a criminal while Tommy refers to him as a “wet back,” a vile derogatory name for Mexican people. Serving as one of the main heroes really struck a chord with me, and It’s great to see more Latinx/Hispanic characters like him on screen. It was also great that they didn’t give him an accent or include any stereotypes in his character.

Cinematography

I found this to be one of the strongest points of the film. I think the shots were done well and did a good job of inciting fear. Everything looked clean and polished, as you would expect from a big-budgeted film. The CGI was decent for most of the film, but the Jangly man felt a little too fake and comedic. Most of the other creatures were just as unsettling as they were in the books, and I think they did an amazing job translating them into the film. I was a bit disappointed that Harold wasn’t utilized more, as that was my favorite story in the books, but that’s more a personal nitpick than anything.

Soundtrack

Nothing stood out to me as far as the soundtrack went. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t anything groundbreaking. However, there was one scene where one of the characters is being pursued in a hospital and I felt the soundtrack really made the scene. No matter where they turned the creature was right there, and the hospital’s siren sounded the entire time. It was of the more unsettling scenes because it gave you this sense of claustrophobia and helplessness.

Genre

I’ve stated previously that this film doesn’t break any new ground on the horror genre. Others have echoed this sentiment, and it is absolutely true. However, I don’t necessarily think that was necessary. Not every film needs to be a pioneer and set things in a new direction. Striving for innovation for the sake of innovation can take a good concept and completely ruin it. Sometimes, it’s nice to sit down and watch a movie without having to critically think about its deeper meaning.

As I said before, this film was made for fans of the book. It was a passion project, and we should remember the intended audience. I felt, for a PG-13 rated horror film, it did a great job with creating legitimately creepy scenes. Of course, adults who watch blood and gore-filled scenes will probably be unaffected by this film, but that’s not the target audience. The books were intended to introduce children into the world of horror stories. It is my belief that’s what the film was made for as well. It’s hard to make good horror films while sticking to the PG-13 rating, but I think they were able to do a good job. Everyone should be able to enjoy horror films without dumbing them down as they did in Goosebumps.

Final Thoughts

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is intended for two groups of people. The first is children who are too young to go see films like IT or Anabelle but still like spooky content. The second is made up of people, like me, who loved the books when we were kids. As I stated before, much how the books served as an introduction to horror for children the film was made with the same goal.

The story is entertaining, the characters are relatable, and the creatures are well made. It makes small strides to feature the struggles of Latino people, something we need right now. No, you won’t see anything ground-breaking or genre-changing, but it’s apparent that wasn’t their goal. Simply put, if you’re looking for a good horror film to enjoy with your kids then this is a great choice. However, if you’re looking for something more then IT Chapter II will be out soon enough.

Good

  • Interesting story
  • Great homage to the books

Bad

  • Nothing new
  • Not overly scary
8.6

Great

Story - 8
Characters - 9
Cinematography - 9
Soundtrack - 8
Horror - 9
A writer, video game enthusiast, Halloween nerd, and an author of stories.
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