Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a 2019 horror film directed by André Øvredal, based on the children’s book series of the same name by Alvin Schwartz. Originally, Guillermo del Toro looked set to direct. However, he merely produced the film and was involved in developing the screen story instead.
It’s Halloween in 1968 and friends Stella, Auggie & Chuck are out trick or treating. Unbeknownst to the others, Chuck plays a prank on Tommy, the local bully. The trio flees to a drive-in movie theatre showing Night of the Living Dead, where a drifter named Ramón hides them in his car. Later, they invite Ramón to explore a haunted house which once belonged to the wealthy Bellows family. Inside, they find a secret room and a book of horror stories written by Sarah Bellows. Sarah takes one of the books with her and invites Ramón to stay over.
Stella reads the book of scary stories and discovers that a new story, entitled “Harold,” has been freshly written in Sarah’s book. The main character is Tommy who we see get hunted down by a decaying scarecrow named Harold. Tommy attempts to flee but is inevitably stabbed with a pitchfork. Then, he begins to vomit hay as his body violently transforms him. Stella is convinced that was she read was fact and not fiction, especially when Tommy is missing the next day. However, her friends convince her not to go to the police.
That night, Stella and Ramón witness a new story called “The Big Toe”. Unfortunately, Auggie is the main character. The pair attempt to warn him about the monster in the narrative: a zombie searching for its missing toe. Auggie is attacked by the ghoul and disappears after it drags him under his bed. Realizing they are next in line, Stella, Ramón, and Chuck attempt to destroy the book. When this proves impossible, they decide to research Sarah Bellows’ life in hopes of finding a solution. Will they survive?
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a lot of fun on the surface. However, dig a little deeper and the many problems appear. Firstly. The characters and their friendships feel extremely underdeveloped. Tommy is a bully but we never actually see him doing anything to warrant the extreme prank that is played on him. His gruesome death certainly doesn’t feel justified. Other characters like Ramón have arcs that are similarly underdeveloped.
The film may be set in the 60s but it felt more like your stereotypical 80s movie. Each of the kids is a stereotype with predictable tropes that you’d expect.
Considering the 108 minute runtime, I was shocked at how rushed it all felt. Each of the scary stories present interesting ideas that are ripe for scares but they don’t get enough focus. It tries to cram in too many different things at once. If that wasn’t bad enough, the primary storyline involving Sarah is hard to follow.
One more negative before I talk about what I did like and there are aspects I did enjoy. Right, the ending is terrible. It leaves so many unanswered questions and the way it’s all resolved is for lack of a better word, lame. It’s major sequel bait but left me more confused than anything.
Now, what I did like. Firstly, the performances of the actors are really great. Zoe Margaret Colletti really impressed me, definitely one to watch. The material may be weak but you can tell everyone is trying. Chuck serves as the comic relief and he has a couple of funny moments. Secondly, the effects throughout are high quality, top notch stuff. Also, I liked each of the scary stories. They do manage to generate some creepy tension. Although, you can tell it’s geared more towards a younger audience. All in all, there is fun to be had as long as you leave your brain at the door.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark