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– by Daniel Tafoya

Add another film to the list of all-time best movies set on Halloween night. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is that film, and its tale starts on said holiday but goes on from there. The vibes it puts off throughout though will make it an all-time watch for the spooky season. Plan on making it a part of your yearly October viewing, right along with 2007’s Trick r’ Treat.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is an adaptation of the very popular kid lit book series published from 1981-1991. The three volumes told short, scary tales, five of which this movie combines along with a throughline story, to form a sort of modified anthology horror film. 

The main characters are a group of kids a little too old for trick or treating who go out on Halloween night to prank a local bully. One thing leads to another and they end up at the purportedly haunted house of a long-dead local woman named Sarah Bellows. Sarah was locked in the basement of her house by her family and was said to have read scary stories to local kids from her underground prison. Stella, a writer, horror movie fan and leader of the group, finds Sarah’s cursed book of frightful tales and inadvertently brings it to life. New stories start appearing on the pages right before her eyes, some involving and endangering her friends. This leaves Stella and Ramon, a young man who is passing through town, to try to stop the book, and the ghost of Sarah Bellows, from bringing an untimely end to all of the denizens of their small town.

Director André Øvredal and producer Guillermo Del Toro make for a dynamic duo in bringing this celebrated but controversial book series to the big screen. More than one generation of children have grown up as fans of Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories… collections, and I believe the majority of them will be satisfied with this translation. The disturbing illustrations by Stephen Gammell are realized on screen perfectly. What once scared youngsters on the page is just as creepy on the big screen to filmgoers of all ages.

Del Toro, long a director of fantastical genre works, here reaches a high watermark as a producer. Not since 2007’s The Orphanage has a film he only shepherded as a producer been so successful creatively. Part of that is likely his choice of directors in these two projects. J.A. Bayona helmed The Orphanage and has gone on to much Hollywood studio success taking the reins on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and soon Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series. With Scary Stories… he entrusts André Øvredal with the job, and given his past work on indie chillers Trollhunter and The Autopsy of Jane Doe, I imagine he well knew what a capable director he was placing in charge.

Another great part about Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is the fact that with this movie they have only scratched the surface of the source material. There still remains a wealth of terrifying yarns to be spun from Schwartz’s three volumes, be it in theatrical form like this, or as a future TV show, a la Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark?. That will hopefully lead to many more years of haunting entertainment to be enjoyed by viewers young and old alike.

Recommended if you like: Trick r’ Treat, Tales from the Crypt, Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Final Grade: B+

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