Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark: A Sordid Horror Tale

Scary Stories is by far one of the most beloved,if not horrifying, children’s book of all time. From its gruesome illustrations by Stephen Gammell, to the dead pan style of horror writing by Alvin Schwartz, the novels were by far a mature venture for children to partake.  But in 2019, Director André Øvredal And Producer Guillermo Del Toro seek to capture all the scares and macabre visuals that helped elevate its source material to greater depths of terror. In some ways the film achieves its intent. But in the end, it still falls short when compared to its predecessor. 

The Pros

One of the many charms of this film adaptation is its cast of characters and the time in which the world of the story takes place. The plot is centered around a small town called Mills Valley, Pennsylvania on Halloween night in 1969. Everything about the world of the film really feels like it takes place in the 1960’s. From the vintage rock soundtrack to the echoes of the Vietnam conflict raging on the radio to the images of young kids being drafted into the service. One cannot simply awe at the attention to detail in recreating a world that was five decades ago and the costume design to the vintage card adds to this atmosphere. 

The acting is superb as the cast is round up by Zoe Colletti (Stella Nicholls) and Michael Garza (Ramón Morales). These two protagonists really help round out the film’s plot and are expressive in a manner that instills terror in the audience during key moments that pull certain stories from the original book into the film’s exposition. One feature of the film that really captures your attention is the way in which the truths of racism and war that had infected past generations were brought to the audience’s attention. The prejudice that Ramón experiences as a Latin American in small time America then rings a sad truth to modern culture and the director makes this parallel as a blatant political statement on the xenophobic atmosphere in contemporary society. Such depth in a PG-13 rated film is rarely scene and is an aspect that is commendable to the filmmaker and producer’s intellect as film as art aesthetics. 

Even the way in which the overarching main plot interacts with the subplot is done well. The whole Sarah Bellows back story and the discovery of the title book in her family’s haunted mansion brilliantly anchors the plot of the film together and truly served well as an anchoring device that links the film to its original source material. The vignettes The director chooses are a great expose on sone of the best short stories from the novel. The Red Spot and The Big Toe are the stand out sections of the film and are handled with such bone chilling visuals that the audience is able to reconnect with the visual aesthetic of Gammell’s work. This film is truly a genuine adaptation and strays very little from its roots. 

The Cons

With all the positives The film adaptation has it does have some weaknesses. The third act becomes very run if the mill in terms of its final resolution and many of its revelations in regards to its protagonists are less than stellar. The Sarah Bellows plot line is all to easily resolved by Stella to the point where it felt like a cheap form of conflict resolution rather than genuinely well crafted screenwriting. The romantic aspects between Ramón and Stella are not as fleshed out as they should have been. The two merely bond briefly and are immediately separated at the film’s climax. Such an abrupt break between the two disrupts the attachment the viewer has for the protagonists and gives the film a more childish vibe rather than a mature cinematic experience. But all this aside, the film itself is still a well crafted work with more positive aspects to its overall final product. 

The Verdict 

In the end, Scary Stories to tell in the Dark is a fun filled film that pays homage to the original novel in ways that exceed expectations. The young cast of characters really help move the plot forward and the little touches that Del Toro inflicts as a producer give this film a touch of his brilliance as a master of the macabre. One cannot help but love this film, not necessarily cause it’s a great work of art but because its charm and at times chilling segments help rope the viewer in. Not an excellent film but simply an entertaining one, this is by far a solid adaptation of an excellent work of children’s fiction. 

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About Anthony Frisina 65 Articles
Anthony Frisina is a graduate of the City University of New York-Brooklyn College with a BA in Political Science with a minor in Psychology. After finishing his undergraduate degree, Anthony went on to attend Brooklyn College's Film Academy and Writer's workshop program, achieving an interdisciplinary degree in Screenwriting and Film theory in the Fine Arts. Transforming his love for classic American cinema, Anthony went on to adapt a number of his own works into different mediums, including his well-received Western novel The Regulator. Anthony likes to spend his free time writing articles for magazines and periodicals that cover a wide range of topics, from science fiction to popular culture. As a screenwriter, Anthony has had his screenplays featured at numerous spec script writing competitions across the country where he one day hopes to write the next great American film.

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