Film Review: Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark

Written By: Riyan Bajric

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is a revisionist tale of all of your favourite horror movies from the 1970s to our present time, amalgamated into one very solid and well done horror film. Directed by André Øvredal and heavily influenced and produced by Guillermo Del Toro, Scary Stories is a fresh yet cozily familiar peak into a growing genre of cinema that is not only its due diligence, but gaining exponential notoriety in the film industry. The film manages to be youthful but not irritating and scary but not grotesque, blending clichés and devices together and delivering them with class and effortlessness.

The story kicks off on Halloween; no punches are pulled when it comes to nostalgia considering the film is based in the 60’s. Heavy nods to films like 1987’s Adventures in Babysitting are made, giving light to a very breezy yet heartwarming entrance to the characters.  Our main protagonists Stella Nichols (Zoe Margaret Colletti) is a young aspiring horror fiction writer who has, as expected, a geeky group of friends. Auggie played by Gabriel Rush, the kindhearted rational player in this game and his best buddy Chuck played by Austin Zajur, are just a bunch of nerds trying to get back at the resident jock Tommy (Austin Abrams) who so happens also is dating Chuck’s sister Ruthie (Natalie Ganzhorn).

While the characters are somewhat cliches embryos, each character serves its purpose with glee; Chuck provides the main comedic relief in the film, Stella is the bookworm, Auggie is the realist and newly formed friend Ramon Morales (Michael Garza) is the newbie who they tumble upon and find shelter after chucking faces in Tommy’s car, stumbling upon Ramon at a local drive in. What’s interesting yet weirdly satisfying about the film is how Del Toro, who had a heavy influence in the creation of the film being the film’s main producer, incorporates some social consciousness and real-world dilemmas into the film with minority based subtexts and racist undertones, giving the film a familiar yet authentic feel.

So after thwarting off Tommy and his band of Outsiders inspired jocks, it being Halloween and all, it only seemed fitting that Ramon and the trio of main characters visit an old, resident haunted house owned by the small town’s primary original family. While some jokes and pranks are delivered throughout the house, Chuck comes across an unsettling encounter with an unnamed figure, and Stella, being the horror fanatic that she is, ends up stealing on the supposedly haunted Sarah Bellows’ books. What she doesn’t know is, the book starts to live out the deepest and darkest fears of our protagonists as well as antagonists, in horror delight fashion. Each story of our characters are done in a very interesting and ingenious vignette style with each spooky story in my opinion getting scarier and scarier, or in cinematic terms, more Del Toro. 

Del Toro’s contributions to the film are quite obvious; his signature coloring of scenes is prevalent and absolutely adds to the eeriness of Scary Stories. Heavy rich reds used effectively to show either impending horror or in one case thrusting us right into it, the grayish blues that I feel are Del Toro’s go to for atmosphere are breathtaking. My first exposure to Del Toro’s color palette was when I watched Pan’s Labyrinth back in 2006; yet despite the film being less of a horror film, the eerie atmosphere and tone of the film was spine-tingling, to say the least.

Scary Stories plays close to Labyrinth’s stylistically and I couldn’t have been more visually satisfied especially considering that palette paired with 60’s nostalgia which, [any of my readers would know] I adore. The monsters are all truly terrifying in their own way and possess an unsettling realness to them; no creature or ghoul feels too outlandish, or too far from our own reality. For the first time in a long time, the monsters actually feel like they were plucked from our own consciousness; our deepest fears and demons. That’s what Scary Stories so good is how the film and narrative revitalizes horror and the genre as a while, but allow it’s characters and spooky set-pieces to stand alone and create a world that is familiar, yet new. It makes you as the viewer feel young again, touching that place deep down that I don’t think horror has touched in a long time, a aura of retrospective and nostalgia.

Scary Stories does everything a horror film should do and more. Yes it scares, induces jumps, scream and terrors but like so many horror films of the 1980s, its also a good time at the cineplexes. Much like the Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Child’s Play were a riotous time at the cinema back then, those films didn’t take themselves too seriously yet were still as spooky, fun and entertaining. More than anything, Scary Stories had me entertained, from beginning to end.  

I’m sure we all remembered those insanely vivid and outrageously scary covers of the original Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark books, with the creepy black and white covers and hint of red and blue, terrorizing our eyes and awaiting our eyes to close to flood our dreams. The stories in those books traumatized me as a child and always had me gripping my pillow and sheets tight. The cinematic version of the film might not do that, but, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark absolutely puts the fun back in horror and the scary back in story; taking us back to our younger more impressionable years of childhood, adolescence and innocence.

Night Film Reviews: 7.5 Stars Out of 10.

What did you think of Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark? Amazing horror adaptation? Or stalky and inflated Hollywood blunder? Did you read the books as a kid? What was your favourite story? Leave your comments below! 

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