Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark stars Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, and Austin Zajur and was directed by Andre Ovredal. It adapts the book series of the same name and tells the story of Stella, played by Zoe Colletti, as she and her friends stumble into a ghost story mystery that they thought was only legend. They find a book of scary stories, but as the real life subjects of those stories start to disappear, they must solve the mystery of the book before it’s too late. I’ve been a fan of horror since I was a little kid.
I watched a lot of real horror movies back then, but I also grew up on a steady diet of kid-oriented horror. I used to read Goosebumps, I obsessively watched shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark and Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, and I repeatedly devoured movies like Hocus Pocus, Tower of Terror, Under Wraps, and Don’t Look Under the Bed. So, I’m completely flabbergasted that I never even heard of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark before this movie was announced. They’re definitely the kinda books that I would’ve loved when I was a kid. Now knowing of these books (and the fact that they were aimed at kids), I went into this movie expecting typical modern kid-horror fare, but this film really surprised me. Nothing was overly intense, but the movie really didn’t pull any punches regarding its horror elements just for the sake of kids. Some of it was actually kind of unsettling and I can see this as a good gateway movie for kids interested in getting into horror.
The story itself has horror elements, but our main protagonist is also a big fan of horror, so that introduces a cool twist on the story. Horror is a genre that’s notoriously presented in anthology form. Creepshow, Black Sabbath, Kwaidan, and countless other movies anthologize short horror stories. Even the three Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books were just collections of short stories. I’m really not a fan of anthology films, so I was a little concerned heading into this movie, but I gotta say, I really liked how they handled it here. It is an anthology movie, but it’s also not. Movies like Creepshow have framing devices or narrative bookends to group the short films, but Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark truly integrates its anthology components into a larger mystery story, very effectively connecting it all together.
I actually never watched any of the trailers for this movie, so I was very pleasantly surprised to find out that it’s set in 1968. As you might know, I’m a big fan of the 60s and I love movies set during that decade. There’s just something so cool about the set design, costumes, and music in these movies and this one’s no different. We only really get one song at the very beginning (fittingly, Donovan’s Season of the Witch), so that was a little disappointing, but I still liked the time period setting. The lack of cell phones and other modern technology worked really well for a horror movie. It was refreshing to see characters using real flashlights and looking at microfiche in the library. As somebody who was unfamiliar with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, this was a surprisingly good movie.
I didn’t know how the stories were gonna play out and, in general, they were pretty decent little horror sequences. Is this a great movie? No. The plot’s pretty contrived and there’s a ton of jump scares, but as a horror movie designed for kids, it’s really pretty good. Like I said, without ever getting too intense, it doesn’t pull its punches, which is great cause I think it’s important for non-juvenile kid horror to exist. Alright, let’s talk about the pros and cons. Pro number one is the anthology presentation. Horror anthologies that simply present their stories as a series of loosely connected or completely unconnected short films kinda drive me crazy. So, the integrative approach that this film takes with it was really nice. It’s not the best-crafted overarching story, but I thought it was more than serviceable. The mystery was interesting and the protagonists were very likeable, so it made those interim moments between the horror stories enjoyable.
The 60s setting was just a cherry on top. The second pro is the creature design. The stories themselves weren’t all of the same caliber, but the ones that featured creatures or monsters were all pretty unnerving. Guillermo del Toro served as a producer for this film and his influence on the creature design is very apparent. The Pale Lady and the Jangly Man are especially creepy and with their exceptionally unsettling movements, I was really surprised to find out that Doug Jones wasn’t involved with the project. As far as cons go, my biggest issue is the predictability, specifically with characters. The overall plot was pretty predictable too, but I don’t really count that against the movie cause it might not be predictable to horror novices.
But the characters I don’t know. They weren’t bad, but their development was just really generic for the most part. The only characters that stood out in any way were Stella and Ramon. Everybody else was kinda just there, doing exactly what you’d expect their characters to do. I’m gonna give Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark 3.5 out of 5 paws. I went back and forth between 3 and 3.5 quite a bit and it’s still very borderline, but this one just surprised me as a solid kid-geared horror movie. I would recommend Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark to people who like kid horror movies, especially ones that aren’t pandering or overly childish. I think this is a great gateway horror movie for kids and even adults who are looking to ease into the genre. Preteens and teens won’t have any problems with this movie.
Younger kids will probably get decently freaked out, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’m not saying show your 6 year old The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but I think this movie could be good light-horror exposure. If you liked Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, I would recommend Monster House for another unexpectedly solid kid’s horror movie. Don’t let the animation fool you, this is a surprisingly dark kid-aimed tale that’s still really enjoyable for adults too. Along those same lines, kids (and adults) looking to ease their way into horror might like Paranorman, with its ghoulish story and stop-motion animation.
If you liked the event-prediction plot device in this film, be sure to check out Final Destination for a creative and fun horror movie. And if you liked the creature design here, you’ve gotta check out Pan’s Labyrinth. You’ll love the Pale Man. Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark? If so, what’d you think of it? I’m especially curious to know how you think it compares to the books if you’ve read them. And number two: Did you like horror as a kid? If so, what got you into it? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.