Must Be the Season of the Witch: A “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” Review
by Andrew Mawhinney
If you could, for a moment, try to remember back to elementary school. Specifically your school during the early days of October, when pumpkins and dry corn stalks decorated the entrance, and any craft you would do in class involved orange or yellow construction paper. If you can remember this time of the year clearly, I’m sure you’ll remember the books that were displayed at the library, and I’m sure that, among the numerous copies “Goosebumps” and “A to Z Mysteries,” one series stood out to you as unusually mature-looking, with covers that stuck with you even if you didn’t open the book. This series was Alvin Schwartz’s “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” a book series that became notorious for its frighteningly detailed illustrations along with eerie campfire stories for any child who was brave enough to turn the pages.
Now it’s 2019. Many of the children who grew up with “Scary Stories” are now adults or in college, and with a lot more to scare them than spooky folk tales. However, in tradition of modern Hollywood, the past will always come back to haunt us–in an endless stream of adaptations and remakes. Terrifying!
André Øvredal’s “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is an adaptation that gets what made its source material scary. The plot, while not being much to write home about, fits comfortably with other seasonal items like “IT” and “Stranger Things.” A group of kids find a book of scary stories that writes itself, and when your name is used in one of these stories, you’d better keep an eye out for something going bump in the night.
Scary Stories has a PG-13 rating, which is usually a bad sign for any horror movie. The need to appeal to a younger audience usually means that the creators lack confidence in their work, but for this movie I feel that it’s a necessity. The original stories were, in the end, still children’s stories. A PG-13 rating means that “Scary Stories” will need to stick closer to the source material and rely on psychological and visual horror rather than cheap jump scares and unnecessary gore.
Without a doubt the best part of “Scary Stories” is the monsters that are summoned from the pages of the book every night. Each one of them were lovingly crafted to look like the perfect renditions of Stephen Gammell’s illustrations from the original stories come to life. They’re each truly nightmare-inducing, and are some of the most impressive and creative creature designs in modern horror.
What holds this film back from being a modern horror classic, in my opinion, is the plot. Generic does not always mean bad, but the issue with “Scary Stories” is that it becomes cyclical. It falls almost literally into a night-day cycle. Every night a new monster comes out of the book with an impressively frightening scene. But then during the daytime we follow the cast of kids as they try to solve the mystery of the book. Things do get a little more intense later in the movie, but it just becomes obnoxious as the movie goes on.
This detractor should not be a reason not to see the movie. As I said, it plays off of the “kid-friendliness” of the original books–in that it’s not kid-friendly in the slightest–and has some absolutely stunning monster designs.
André Øvredal’s “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” should not be missed, and is the best Halloween movie to come out in years.
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