2019, PG-13, Directed by André Øvredal, CBS Films, 111 minutes.
As the wave of 80’s/90’s nostalgia is in full swing, we’ve just been given the next adaptation of a beloved property. To anyone who grew up during this time, “Scary Stories to the Tell in the Dark” was a truly gruesome collection of stories, that most children were terrified of, but couldn’t put down.
For many, it was the first introduction to folklore, and it remains in important piece of childhood for millions. So let’s take a deeper look into its film adaptation and see if the magic can still be kept alive!
Difficult to Adapt
Alvin Schwartz’s collection of horrifying stories came from a wide variety of folklore and legends. Each story was unique, but admittedly short. Aside from making a collection of short vignettes, there was no way to adapt the book series without combining the stories somehow into a larger, cohesive narrative. 2015’s Goosebumps faced a similar dilemma, and wound up going with the concept of the books coming to life. Scary Stories takes the same approach, albeit in a much more disturbing manner!
The film opens with the epitome of vintage Americana, a small Pennsylvania town in 1968 on Halloween. We are introduced a ragtag trio of misfits, Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletii), Auggie (Gabriel Rush), Chuck (Austin Zajur), and their new friend Ramón (Michael Garza). They go to the local house said to be cursed, where they find a book of scary stories written almost a hundred years earlier.
By reading it, they inadvertently unleash a dark power which makes the stories come to life. We get to see such fan favorite stories as “The Big Toe”, “Harold”, “The Red Spot”, and “Me Tie Dough-ty Walker” come to life. However, some fans of the book series may be disappointed that only a few stories made it to the big screen.
The film devotes most of it is nearly two hour runtime to character development and plot. Which isn’t a bad thing at all, in fact it’s an extremely well put together film. But if you go in expecting more than five stories come to life, you may be slightly disappointed.
Capturing the Right Mood
As previously mentioned, Scary Stories relishes in its setting and puts it to good use. By having it take place in the late 60’s, it reminds us of a time, long before the internet, when folklore was more widespread, and myths were as easy to debunk with social media. The film screams Fall and Halloween as evidenced by the leaves and decorations everywhere.
The kids also go to a drive-in theater and see Night of the Living Dead (which had only just come out that very year). Despite its August release, it will quickly become a go to film to watch in October most likely. Scary Stories also doubles down on another theme, which may seem odd or out of the blue, but it fits if you think about it.
As our main characters deal with the stories coming to life, the election of 1968 and Vietnam War loom over the small town. Via the TVs and radios we see/hear in the background, we’re reminded of just how uncertain and chaotic a time 1968 was for the world itself.
It’s as if the vintage picture of small town America, is but a façade with evil and chaos underneath. And in many ways this plays right into the stories themselves, as they too remain a dark secret of this small town; a consequence of the sins of its past.
Due to its plot, Scary Stories with inevitably draw comparisons to Goosebumps. And perhaps the best way to describe it would be as a much more disturbing version. The latter was clearly aimed at young children, and the former clearly was not.
Director André Øvredal had already demonstrated he was a master of slow burn suspense and tension with The Autopsy of Jane Doe, and show is here once again! Sure it relies on jump scares, which can be cheesy, but it takes its time building up the dread first. For many children who see this, they will most likely be traumatized, just as children had been in the past from the books!
It’s a creepy film that captures the spirit of the Halloween season and brings to life beloved horror stories from our childhood, what more could we want?!