SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is based on the series of three horror books for children written by Alvin Schwartz, the first of which bears the film’s title. The three books each feature numerous short stories in the horror genre where author Schwartz draws heavily from folklore and urban legends as the topic of his stories, researching extensively and spending more than a year on writing each book. The film comes with the praise of being a Guillermo del Toro production. At best it is an excellent ghost story made up of other little ghost stories and at its worst slides into slasher type horror with the monster chasing a victim.
The film has the benefit of being set in the late 60’s. The year is never explicitly stated but one can tell by the Richard Nixon election landslide as seen on a television set during the film. The setting is also reminiscent of the anthology ghost stories that were common in the 60’s and 70’s.
The film begins as a male film with the story concentrating on the boys going out on Halloween. The boys and a girl take revenge on some bullies before the tide changes. It is the girl in the group that survives and has to figure out what is happening and how to reverse the spell of the ghost. The ghost is also female who had made an important discovery in the past and forced to keep silent against her will.
SCARY STORIES is an old fashioned ghost story where a ghost is stuck in the present. This ghost is Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard) who was locked in a room in the house way back when. The protagonist of the film is young Stella Nicholls (Zoe Margaret Colletti), who together with two male friends Auggie (Gabriel Rush), Chuck (Austin Zajur) and a new Mexican stranger in town, Ramon (Michael Garza) venture into a haunted house. They discover the hidden room as well as a book that has a reputation. Whoever reads a story from the book will die. As it goes, the kids steal the book and unleashes the fury of the ghost as one by one is killed off.
The film has a few impressive scary set-ups based on urban legends that many North Americans are familiar with. There is the spider bite that grows and bursts leading to dozens of little baby spiders emerging from the bump. This is a bit overdone but enough to make ones skin crawl. Another is the scary scarecrow. These set-ups are good enough without resorting to senseless violence.
The film squeezes a few issues into the story like bullying, environment pollution and father/daughter relationships.
But as the main characters are the kids with the film aimed at teens and younger adults. Director Øvredal (TROLL HUNTER) does fairly good job at scaring the audience given the limited material.