SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK – Not As Scary as We’d Hoped

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is my kind of film. Teenage horror; I totally need to read the book/s from Alvin Schwartz. Kernel John reviews below, and while he didn’t totally love it, it has done well and work has already begin on a future sequel. Hence why I need the book/s, Schwartz wrote near on 50 books before he passed away and most of them are about folklore and written for younger readers. Someone just needs to make a TV show a la X-Files on all his stories. I’m in!!

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is out now from Universal Pictures, it is rated M and runs for 108mins. Enjoy Kernel John’s wonderful thoughts on the film and apologies our reviews are all a little behind at the moment. All the best……….Salty.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Gabriel Rush image
Gabriel Rush

BY JOHN MCPARLAND

The horror genre in cinema is a real separator of patrons.  Some people love it, some people hate it.  The suspense, the gore, the edge-of-your-seat trepidation, the should-have-worn-your-brown-pants mentality, all of these things combine to make many people utter a nervous little giggle, then hang up on you when you ask them if they would like to come to the movies.  Me?  I am on the fence with horror films; I like the thriller and suspense ones, but not the gore ones.  Jumping at shadows after the film on the way back to the carpark is one thing, but seeing someone laying in a big pool of strawberry sauce is just taking it too far.

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is the latest horror film to hit the screens.  Directed by André Øvredal (TROLLHUNTER), the film is based around some of the stories found in the book of the same name written by Alvin Schwartz.  It follows a group of teenagers through their various misadventures and untimely deaths after one of their number accidentally releases a malevolent force into their lives.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Zoe Margaret Colletti image
Zoe Margaret Colletti

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK SYNOPSIS:

In 1968, shy teen Stella (Zoe Colletti) and some of her friends go trick or treating on Halloween.  After befriending a young transient named Ramón (Michael Garza), the five of them make their way to the abandoned Bellows manor.  Considered a haunted house by the local residents, the group stumble into a hidden room beneath the home, where Stella locates a book of stories written by Sarah Bellows, the family’s daughter who was locked away from the world. 

The folktale goes that long ago in the years before her untimely death, children from the town would sneak into the house and ask Sarah to tell them a story.  Sarah’s voice would be heard through the walls of her locked room where she would recount various tales of horror and misfortune.  It was said that anyone who heard from her book of stories soon ended up dead.  Unwilling to believe in such things, Stella begins to read from Sarah’s book, unwittingly setting loose a terribly entity who begins to pick off the teens one by one through various gruesome acts.  Once the group realises what is happening, they must race against time to find the truth about Sarah Bellows and reverse what they have done, before they too become another deadly story in her grisly book.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Zoe Margaret Colletti, Gabriel Rush, Michael Garza, and Austin Zajur  image
Zoe Margaret Colletti, Gabriel Rush, Michael Garza, and Austin Zajur

PRODUCTION AND ACTING:

The style of SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK’s plot is almost episodic in nature.  Each teen’s death is foretold in real time, the story of their demise appearing in Sarah’s book written in blood as those very acts are playing out on the victim at that exact moment.  Each teen suffers at the hands of a different evil, specifically tailored to the victim’s personal traits and fears. 

The lack of a single, unified “Big Bad” thing hunting the kids made every twenty minutes or so of the film feel like you were watching the next instalment in a GOOSEBUMPS television series reboot.  Coupled with the fact that each night of horrible events was sandwiched between bright sunny days of investigation and research into Sarah’s past and I was consistently drawn out of any sort of suspense that this film was trying to maintain.  Towards the end I felt like I was watching an episode of SCOOBY-DOO the way the kids were running around trying to solve a mystery while trying to keep the victim count to a minimum.

The acting in SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is quite good considering that none of the teens have extensive resumes.  The one exception being Austin Abrams who played Ron Anderson in season five and six of THE WALKING DEAD (he was the kid that shot out Carl’s right eye during the fall of Alexandria).  The other stars were still quite competent in their roles with Colletti and Garza being of particular note.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Mark Steger image
Mark Steger

ABOUT THAT HORROR:

One of the key tenants of horror for me is that heightened level of suspense and anxiety that never lets you take a calming breath because you never know what is going to happen around the next poorly lit corner.  SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK failed dismally in my opinion to make that happen.  The daytime sleuthing through well-ordered hospital files and in bright and sunny local libraries just seemed so at odds with the horror tagline inspired by the film’s title.  Each of the teens have their own baggage and the terrors released upon them reflect this, though we spend so little time getting to know any but a handful that I was just not emotionally invested in the characters when the stabby stabby started in earnest.

That said, the idea of Sarah’s book causing all this carnage was an interesting plot device.  There was one scene in which a voice could supposedly be heard uttering damning threats to the book’s unsuspecting target, though the victim kept saying that they could not hear it and that the only voice they could hear was that of Stella reading the story aloud.  It was then, as an audience member, that you started to wonder if the very act of Stella reading the story was what made it come to life, like some omnipotent narrator, as a voice was indeed speaking those words out loud, just as Sarah’s book had prophesised.  That was a fun little notion to play with.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Austin Abrams image
Austin Abrams

IN CONCLUSION:

As far as actual “scary” goes, SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is not that scary at all.  Disquieting Stories to Tell in the Dark may have been a more apt title.  No one really gets disembowelled, or bloodily brutalised, nor was I ever in danger of needing to change my underwear as the horror scenes that there are were sprinkled between perfunctory plot filler and listless character development.  That is not to say that this is not a passable film, I just found it particularly dull and listless.

YOUR CRITIC:

A lifelong lover of the silver screen, Kernel John strives to engage and entertain his audience through the shameless use of humour in his reviews, even when it probably isn’t warranted. When not musing for Salty, you can often find John bouncing between his extreme states of either puppy watching down by the beach, or reflecting on the deepest mysteries of the Universe.

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.