Just like so many people my age, I grew up with the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. Hearing that they were going to make a movie out of it was one of those moments where I got super excited and then very, very doubtful. Since it wasn’t going to be just an anthology style movie of retellings of the stories from the books; I worried about trying to tie a narrative into a loose jumble of folk tales. I had a cautious level of pessimism going in but wanted to keep an open mind.
The framing device that is used to tell these multiple, iconic stories from the books centers around an old book that a dead girl named Sarah used to have. When it gets discovered by Stella and her friends one Halloween night in 1968; new stories begin to appear in the book with their names and the stories come true. Now it’s a race for Stella to try to find a way to stop Sarah before she writes the death of everyone she cares about. Also a bully gets killed and literally none of the characters gives a single fuck about him, which I find hilarious. Like they swear to find a way to get their friends back and don’t mention Tommy the bully at all. I love it.
Of course the first thing is going to be forefront in the thoughts of anybody that read the books is “How can you make this without the iconic art?” They do their best to recreate some of the most iconic images from the books and the ghostly presence of Sarah ends up looking like the streaky, black ink marks that were so prominent in the art. There’s obviously no way to perfectly translate everything to the screen but I appreciate that they tried. Unfortunately, that’s really where the connection to the stories ends. The tales told in the film would really be more “inspired by” the originals rather than direct adaptations. There might be a scarecrow named Harold but that’s the only real similarity between the book and the movie.
With a rating of PG-13, you generally don’t expect too much out of the movie in terms of nasty effects but they do go out of their way to make a lot of bloodless scenes be fairly gnarly. There is a good use of building tension between the writing appearing in the book and the characters attempting to save the next target. I wont say what the ending is but I was definitely disappointed that they didn’t take it in a better direction. What I will spoil is that one of the main characters that shows up in town just to get caught up in the horror is a draft dodger from the Vietnam War that is so ashamed that he’s a coward and the end has him bravely going off to war, which left me just flabbergasted. How weird is it to put a pro-war message in your teen horror film? Especially with it being Vietnam.
In all, the movie manages to be decent enough but would probably be better for those that hadn’t read the books than those that had. It would make a decent Halloween movie for teens.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
“How can you make this without the iconic art?” That is exactly what I thought and was continually thinking throughout the movie. It would have been cool if the movie was stylized with the artwork in mind. Kind of like a Sin City or a A Scanner Darkly kind of film that doesn’t have a realistic atmosphere. Actually, this would have been awesome in a claymation kind of media. Anyways, my problem with the movie is the cliche way they made the antagonist the book. I don’t like how movies cheaply use this theme where the book is alive or the vehicle behind the horror. Its like they copied the Goosebumps movies.