Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

 

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A fun campfire anthology for boys and ghouls alike.

 

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

 

The infamous three volume series of collected short horror stories written by Alvin Schwartz and eerily illustrated by Stephen Gammell have been giving children nightmares for decades. School children of the ‘80s and ‘90s will likely have chilling memories of pouring over well-worn copies from their local library. In the US, the series landed on the top of the American Library Association’s one hundred most frequently challenged books of the 1990s and as of 2009, the terrifying titles still ranked number seven. A documentary released earlier this year explored the history of the controversial tales, which were originally published in 1981, 1984 and 1991 respectively. Schwartz spent over a year on each book, pulling heavily from his research of campfire folklore and urban legends, as well as publications like the Hoosier Folklore Bulletin of the 1940s.

 

The film adaptation from Norwegian director André Øvredal (Troll Hunter) and creature feature producer Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, The Shape of Water) is a nostalgic trick-or-treat that honours the ‘spirits’ of the source material. In the tradition of horror anthology films, the plot is largely a framing device to bring some of the book’s best spooks to life. On All Hallows’ Eve in 1968, a group of bullied teens breaks into a haunted house and discovers the storybook of Sarah Bellows -- the witch of local urban legend. As the legend goes, ask her at midnight and strange Sarah will tell you a scary story. Stella (Zoe Colletti) and her friends (Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajursoon, Michael Garza) find themselves at the mercy of Sarah’s book, which ‘ghost’ writes a new story each night as the unstoppable macabre events unfold.  

 

Although the film seems to be offering candy to a target audience well below its 15 certificate, there are still plenty of enjoyable thrills and chills for grown-ups. The best moments stem from the book’s original images. Under the supervision of producer Del Toro, Gammell’s charcoal illustrations come to life with frightening accuracy. Die-hard fans of the books will recognize Schwartz stories such as Harold, The Big Toe, The Red Spot, The Dream, Me Tie Dough-ty Walker!, and The Haunted House, as well as references to The Wendigo, The Cat’s Paw, and others.

 

Setting the film between Halloween and Nixon’s election in November 1968 strengthens themes on change and fear. As the town’s children begin to disappear, a defaced campaign sign reads ‘say no to sending our children to die’. The commentary on the war in Vietnam is perhaps most effective during a sequence in which a dismembered corpse accuses a young man of draft dodging. If there are any bones to pick, it’s the uncanny ability everyone seems to have for lock picking. Grown-ups may find the whole affair a little too tame, but this is an adaptation of books for children after all. With a large amount of material to pull from, we’ll likely have More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in future seasons of the witch

 
CHAD KENNERK
 
Cast: Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, Austin Abrams, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Lorraine Toussaint.

  

Dir André Øvredal, Pro Guillermo del Toro, Sean Daniel, Jason F. Brown, J. Miles Dale, Elizabeth Grave, Joshua Long and Roberto Grande, Screenplay Dan Hageman and Kevin Hagemanm, from a story by Guillermo del Toro, Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, Ph Roman Osin, Pro Des David Brisbin, Ed Patrick Larsgaard, Music Marco Beltrami and Anna Drubich, Costumes Ruth Myers.

 

CBS Films/Entertainment One/1212 Entertainment/Double Dare You Productions/Sean Daniel Company-Entertainment One.

107 mins. Canada/USA. 2019. Rel: 23 August 2019. Cert. 15.