As a kid I remember going to my elementary library and seeing a book series that was unlike anything else on the shelves. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is just terrifying for a young mind to read, and yet I couldn’t get enough of it. While the stories themselves could range from a alright spook to bone chilling, it was those insane illustrations that really burned an imprint into my mind. So seeing that it was getting a movie adaptation always interested me. Now as an older and more experienced horror fan, could this be more than just your average scary nonsense flick?
It’s way more than that. This is one of the most interesting and legitimately scary movies I’ve seen in a long time. But fear is subjective, there are plenty of people who will watch this and not feel a thing. There are several “stories” that play out during the course of the film, and they specifically target different characters and amplify their fear until a conclusion, sometimes ending in death. This movie isn’t afraid to get really messed up, sometimes making the audience gag or scream out. All under a really good sense of suspense, without the need for blood or gore.
It’s Halloween, 1968. The Vietnam War is raging and a the country is in the middle of a new presidential election. So what can a group of young kids and their new friend do on a night like this? Go to the towns local haunted house, of course. Inside Stella (Zoe Colletti) finds a book of scary stories written by Sarah Billows, a girl who was locked away by her family and never seen by the world outside. Curiosity quickly turns into a nightmare as the book starts to write itself and the stories within become real. One by one the book targets the kids who entered the home and they have to find a way to stop it before all of them become nothing more than just another character who dies in a book.
This idea has a lot in common with IT. Group of kids trying to survive an entity that preys upon their inner fears. While IT is a pre-established narrative about the group of kids and their backstories, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has to work from the ground up to create a plot around the stories originally in the books. To it’s credit, the writers were able to come up with a really smart way to not only make the group of kids fun to watch, but also have the setting and the stories themselves have a deeper focus.
The time period is not random, they choose for it have this overarching theme of dread as the nation gets ready for a new president and what will come next. Our hero’s run away from a threat no one else can understand, but the town around them is watching what happens with TV’s constantly updating them on what is coming. From a book series that doesn’t have a plot to it, this is one of the smartest ways to incorporate setting as a character.
The scary stories is what we all remember though, so how do they translate onto the big screen? Of course, they are not direct adaptations from the books. And fear is subjective, some of the “stories” are going to hit home with some more than others. Scary Stories has a really good sense of suspense, each scare works relatively well and as a film that focuses on trying to scare it’s audience, this is one of the best examples of horror in years. You just don’t know what the next scene is going to bring and that makes it all the more terrifying. Harold, The Red Spot, The Jangly Man, these are classic tales from the books that are really well done and actually make sense to be in this film, for that I give this film a round of applause.
Alright, time to talk about it. I see a lot of horror movies and read a lot of scary books. You could say I am a horror junkie, and I am always looking for that next scare. When it comes to “what scares me” it’s a really limited list. Black (or “missing”) eyes, the idea that something can see you without looking at you is really freaking scary. Soft whispering, I CAN NOT stand soft whispers in my ear. That’s a hard nope from me, can’t do it. And finally, the inescapable reality of death coming towards you. You can run, and you might be faster than what is coming after you, but no matter what you will somehow fall victim to your monster. The Pale Lady is the perfect combination of all those things. Even the book version of this thing didn’t actually get to me as a kid, but here it is the physical representation of my worst nightmare. It doesn’t scream, or run, or even seem all that menacing. During this scene I was openly not OK with what was happening. Jump scares are one thing, a quick bolt of fear and then resolution. Here, it’s the slow build of dread until it is all over.
Again, fear is subjective. The Pale Lady is my nightmare put on screen, but I have seen others say they thought she wasn’t all that scary. They point out other monsters or moments that actually got them squeamish, and that is understandable. There are other moments here that still got me uncomfortable, which is shocking for a movie more aimed towards a younger audience who can still read the books. For a movie to cover that much ground and still have really good characters and an interesting story, that is impressive. It has some problems with exposition dumping, these are brand new characters that need to explain their past in a short amount of time. so at times you feel rushed into knowing more about them than you were prepared for. But that is a small gripe in a movie that is very entertaining, fun, and most importantly, scary.
Will you become the next story in the book?