It’s l968 in America. Change is blowing in the wind… but seemingly far removed from the unrest in the cities is the small town of Mill Valley where for generations, the shadow of the Bellows family has loomed large. It is in their mansion on the edge of town that Sarah, a young girl with horrible secrets, turned her tortured life into a series of scary stories, written in a book that has transcended time–stories that have a way of becoming all too real for a group of teenagers who discover Sarah’s terrifying tome.
Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is a fantastic movie. It’s the perfect step up for kids who have outgrown Goosebumps and Are You Afraid Of The Dark?, with all of the scares but none of the blood and gore found in more adult horror films. Everything kicks off in 1968 on a gorgeously lighthearted Halloween evening, as Chuck (Zajur), Auggie (Rush) and Stella (Colletti) get ready to go out on their last Night Of Witches before they admit that they are officially too old to go Trick or Treating. The scenes are set up perfectly to show the magic of All Hallows Eve… combined with every annoying family member that teenagers have to deal with before a night out. Behind the safe scares of the holiday are the very real terrors of the war in Vietnam and the unsteady political climate of the time. Characters were signing up (or not) to go overseas in front of Patriotic posters encouraging support for the war, while news of the election of Richard Nixon blared from every television. If this was the reason the filmmakers decided to go with this time period, then I think they picked a good one.
I was also impressed with both the script and the performances from the four main young actors. These characters were awkward, pushy, frustrated, teasing and emotional, just like real kids. They’re actually played by actual teenagers, not 20-somethings with clear faces and perfect fashion sense. Even the handmade Halloween costumes were spot on (with a special shoutout to Chuck’s Spider-Man). The older teens reminded me of the big kids from films like The Goonies, IT and Stand By Me, filled with the perfectly immature evil that so many secondary villains are born to let loose. I couldn’t wait to see them get their comeuppance.
The visual portrayal of several of Gammell’s early ’80s monsters is spot on. “The Pale Lady” and “Harold” the Scarecrow – the sounds he makes as he comes alive are teeth-jarring – are my favorite parts of Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, with their pale, wrinkled, bug-infested bodies so like the illustrations from the books. I can see why they made changes to “The Red Dot” spiders and “The Big Toe” corpse, as the current renditions work better as visuals. Honestly, “The Haunted House” ghost was a bit too hard to see onscreen, as she was mostly in the dark and continuously changing. I was highly impressed with Troy James’ Jangly Man, with his contorted body, huge teeth and ability to sew himself back together making for a terrifying creature. Although, there is no specific Scary Stories tale that he’s tied to. He appears to be a monster based on the stories “Aaron Kelly’s Bones,” “What Do You Come For?” where the skeleton falls down the chimney and dances around the room and “Me Tie Dough-ty Walker.” These monsters are all great choices, but one can only hope that a sequel (please!) will bring a few more of Gammell’s dark, sketchy creatures to life.
The actual story for the film is nicely paced and well rounded. The action starts in the first few minutes as the teens play a Halloween prank on older boy, Tommy (Abrams), and Chuck’s sister, Ruthie (Ganzhorn), and in perfect ebb and flow, things continue steadily along until the final confrontation. As a horror fan, I love the dark ending of the film and the fact that they left it open for a sequel, although my heart is a bit heavy at the way things were left as the final credits rolled…..
Do yourself a favor, and check this one out. Thanks