In our modern landscape of horror movies, where The Conjuring universe now rules dominant, like some oppressive dictator, it is always a nice moment when you see a smaller, lesser known horror movie shine through. And although Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is not a modern masterpiece, it is a strong little flick that I believe any horror fan will find some enjoyment in.
Based on the controversial children’s book series, the film follows our main character of Stella, the high-school outcast who aspires to be a famous horror author. During some Halloween related hijinks, Stella finds herself in the possession of a haunted book, one brimming with a whole horde of terrifying tales. However, it soon becomes clear that the book may not be fiction, especially when the stories start coming to gruesome life. What follows feels more like a horror anthology than it does a single cohesive narrative, as each horror story is given its own monster and victim. In many ways the film recalls a far more mature version of the Goosebumps franchise, with some of the ghastly tales even recalling the best episodes of Are You Afraid of The Dark?
The film also relishes greatly in its autumnal setting, with some of the scenes set during Halloween recalling various horror media, from Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree, to Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Every shot is bathed in a brown and orange hue, and the abundance of falling leaves and jack-o-lanterns only helps to elevate the holiday cheer. However, the decision to set the film in 1964 is one I question, for the film does not feel particularly rooted in that era. In fact I would say it felt more like the early 70’s than it did the 60’s. It seems that the director simply wanted to move away from the 80’s teen cliché that we are seeing over and over again, but made the decision without thinking about the social behaviours and implications of the time. In fact, it may have been a better idea to not have a specific setting, making this film as timeless as the horror genre itself.
Because this truly is a film that respects the genre and all that it has given to the world, something which is clearly evidenced in each contained segment of the film. In five individual scary stories, we see a whole spectrum of what the genre can offer. From a chilling ghost story, to a moment of grotesque bodily horror. Each segment is also perfectly crafted and topped by their own individual monster. From a sentient scarecrow, to a decaying corpse, to a truly macabre creature referred to only as ‘The Pale Lady’ – who remains ones of the best creations of the film’s nightmarish landscape. In each segment you can see producer Guillermo Del Toro’s fingerprints marking everything. Obviously he was very hands on, being the one to come up with the story for the film, but his genius and flare bleeds into the story in other ways as well. He can be seen in the garish haunted house and in the overall visuals of the film, making me wonder why he didn’t just direct the thing as well.
The cast are also good, even though they are sometimes let down by the screenplay, which can sometimes stray into cringey territory. And sadly it may be the script that lets this film down so much, with the third and final act being the weakest part of the overall movie. Although it isn’t really enough to ruin the film it does present itself as a blight on what is a very enjoyable picture. Although it may be more suited for fifteen year olds than anyone else, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark makes a lasting impression with its eerie visuals, terrifying monsters, genre admiration and just an overall love of Halloween. I can definitely see this film becoming a staple of the Halloween season, and maybe it won’t be the only one….did I just hear someone say, sequel?