“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” Movie Review


     There’s a major issue that crops up immediately as you settle in to director Andre Ovredal’s “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”, one that brings forth a sense of having already been in this world recently.  And the fact is, we have.  No doubt produced to grab a slice of the lucrative pie currently being devoured by “Stranger Things” and “It”,  “Scary Stories” utilizes the Alvin Schwartz novel of the same name and marries it to the imaginative designs of writer and producer Guillermo del Toro, resulting in a younger skewing horror film that rehashes practically every genre trope found in horror lore during the past fifty years plus.  Creaky doors, spider webs, dark & foreboding old houses, and characters who don’t act the way anyone reasonably would in similar circumstances, make up a slow 111 minute runtime that leads us right where we predict it will.

     In the films opening scenes, we are introduced to Stella (Zoe Margaret Coletti) and her standard assortment of high school aged outcast friends, Auggie (Gabriel Rush), and Chuck (Austin Zajur), as they begin preparations for Halloween night circa 1968.  As the characters move about their homes, news programs indicating the horrors of the ongoing Vietnam war, and the subsequent politics behind it, play on television sets, as their parents, who are seen only briefly, apparently have better things to do than be around their kids.  Instead, our protagonists, while communicating via handheld radio just like the kids in the aforementioned Netflix show, are left to fend for themselves.  Stella, whose mother is not in the picture, is actually seen waiting on her father, Roy (Dean Norris), with the service of a delicious TV dinner, before going out for the night.

     As much as we want to believe in our kids, it is proven time and time again that many need supervision in order to avoid the kind of pitfalls they may not be able to come back from.  Perhaps “Scary Stories” was originally written as a sort of cautionary tale, though you could say that about any horror film really, given that the majority of characters do a lot of really dumb things and this film is certainly no exception.  Halloween, in fact, begins with a prank in which Chuck bags a pile of his own feces and uses it, along with a fire bomb, to get revenge on the local bully as he drives by them, while curiously making no real attempt to conceal himself.  Tommy (Austin Abrams), in other words, knows exactly who did it and intends to make Chuck and his friends pay.

     In a chance encounter at a drive in theater, and just as Tommy and his friends are hot on their trail, Stella, Auggie, and Chuck jump into a random vehicle to hide, which is occupied by a teen named Ramon (Michael Garza).  As luck would have it, Ramon is not only good with helping them, but he later agrees to drive the group to an old house on the outskirts of the small Pennsylvania town they reside in.  There, they find and take an old hand written story book said to be authored by young girl who had turned the horrific nature of her childhood into a series of terrifying stories.  Of course, this being a ghost story means the girl, Sarah Bellows, is still writing and is now using the fears of our main characters as the inspirations for her latest tales.

     As was mentioned earlier, this gives Guillermo Del Toro the opportunity to sketch a number of hideous creations who appear individually to torment Stella, Auggie, Chuck, and even Tommy.  Those close to them are not immune either, as the action sees our group moving from location to location as the stories are written right before their eyes, only to arrive just a bit too late in every circumstance.  And as expected, the creatures deliver the kind of creepy thrills only De Toro could possibly come with, but as all of this unfolds; however, you begin to wonder what exactly these kids would be able to do anyway since it doesn’t appear the ending of these stories is negotiable.

     Even though the film’s 1968 setting brings forth a number of notable aspects from the era, we are still just watching a group of kids riding their bikes, talking on radios,  and having meetings in which they attempt to work through their problems, all while their parents are off screen.  Thus creating a vibe too similar to current films and television shows looking to exploit the exact same thing.  And “Scary Stories”, for all of the visual zeal displayed by Ovredal and the clear influence from his producer, never tries to set itself apart from the competition and instead seems to revel in the similarities.  All that said, even if we saw this five years ago, it’s doubtful the impact would’ve been any different.  If you’ve watched any number of the classic horror films of the last several decades, then you’ve already heard these stories before. GRADE: C