The book Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark terrorized kids everywhere in the 80’s and even when I was growing up in the 90’s. Now, there’s finally a big-screen adaptation of the children’s horror-anthology book ready to scare the pants off of a new generation while making us feel the same fear we did in our youth. Even though the book featured several, unconnected stories, the movie aimed to tie them together in a single narrative. Is this new live-action version just as scary as the book? Let’s read on to find out.
The idea of using different stories from an anthology in a single narrative can be iffy. The stories weren’t written to go together, so forcing them to together can make the events feel awkward or inorganic. However, they did a fairly successful job with that here. The story flows well, and the way each story from the book is tied together feels organic and just as creepy as each of the stories. It’s actually really clever. We even see some of the stories from the book literally being written. It’s worth noting that not every story is represented, unfortunately, but they did a great job incorporating as many as possible without the movie ever feeling like too much is going on.
The monster designs throughout the movie are extremely unsettling, especially the pale woman. The sight of them sends a chill down my spine. Not only do their designs add to the eerie tone of the film, but they match the disturbing drawings seen in the book perfectly. If you were creeped out by the images in the book, then I’m sorry to tell you that the movie has them reimagined in live-action exactly how they look on the pages.
There is a real feeling of danger for the characters. Early on, we see a pack of bullies chasing the main group of friends, and it does cause one to assume someone will get hurt in the process. Once the monsters appear and the paranormal activities begin, it’s hard not to feel like each character is in real danger. Not a lot of characters are spared, and they are put through some brutal psychological horror. One of the first monster scenes even has a fairly violent outcome for the character involved, creating this sense of danger early on. It all adds a lot to the chilling atmosphere of the movie.
The main characters all feel real and every viewer can relate to at least one of them. This causes the audience to feel an attachment to the characters, so when they are “gotten” by these monsters, you feel sad for them and sad for their friends for losing them.
The movie is set in the 1960’s, and the time period is cleverly used throughout. The sets and props, including the clothing, cars, and household decor, make one feel immersed within the 60’s. One of the most interesting details in the film is how they bring the politics of the time into the story. We see both Richard Nixon and the draft during the film and how they relate back to the main characters. It adds a further sense of realism to a rather surreal story.
When most of the monsters “get” the kids, they go missing. The town and the media treat it as a simple missing persons case. Plus, they allude to the possibility of getting those people back. However, there is a scene in the town jail when a cop is killed by one of the creatures after he locks up Stella and Ramon. I’m sure there would be some record of them being there, so wouldn’t that make them primary suspects in this cop’s death? No one knows about the monsters, so the blame would have to be on Stella and Ramon. However, it never comes up again. No one questions the murder of this officer, and there’s never something in the news about it.
Other than the police officer being killed, the bully becoming a scarecrow, and spiders coming out of Ruth’s face, it’s unclear what happens to the victims once the monsters catch up to them. Are they dead? Were they dragged to Hell? Are they in some dark dimension or trapped in the book? It’s never explained. On one hand, the mystery of what happens to them is pretty creepy. On the other hand, it’s frustrating that there is no attempt to explain it. Even if there was a brief line about being trapped in the book or just plain dead, it would be more satisfying. The most frustrating part is that the friends of the victims never question where they are. They just accept the fact that they are missing. They don’t even mention trying to get them back until the end of the movie.
Like a lot of horror/sci-fi thrillers, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark uses the trope of an elderly person who is thought to be senile actually being wise and helpful. However, the trope is especially useless here and could have been entirely removed from the movie. This older character of Lou Lou didn’t help the protagonists much and her character was just there for filler and to maybe have some dark foreshadowing that the filmmakers could have done in a different way. The trope isn’t bad; it’s just underused and a little in the way in this movie.
The tortured ghost child of Sarah Bellows, the one controlling all of the stories, is responsible for the disappearance of her family members who tortured her, which makes sense. However, there’s not much of a reason for Sarah to go after Stella and her friends. They never hurt her or did her any wrong, and yet Sarah writes evil stories about each of them. Stella asked her to tell a story, but why does that mean she should start hurting people? It seemed random for Sarah to go after this group of friends. There was no real motivation for it.
In the Know
As mentioned previously, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is based on a children’s horror anthology series from the 80s. Each story Sarah writes in the movie is an actual story in the book. There are a lot of stories in the original book, so not all of them could have been used in the film, but quite a few of them are. There are two sequels to the book, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones. Hopefully this means that the movie will get spooky sequels based off of those books.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was originally going to be directed by Guillermo del Toro, but he stepped away from the role and stayed on to produce and do some of the writing. Del Toro’s fingerprints are certainly all over this movie, but imagine what sort of twisted imagery he would have been able to pull off with this source material. I could picture much more traditional effects being utilized rather than the CGI that was used, not that the CGI was bad in this film at all.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark could have used some more explanations of certain events and does get stuck falling into the trap of using cliches here and there, but it’s overall a really fun and twisted tale for multiple age groups. When it does it’s own thing and doesn’t bother with typical horror movie tropes, it absolutely shines. It can be difficult to make children’s horror stories scary for adults, but this film accomplishes that. Fans who grew up with the chilling book and members of a younger audience can both find enjoyment with this one.