The Guillermo Del Toro Produced “Scary Stories To Tell On The Dark” Gets Off To A Rough Start But If You Can Get Through The First Act, It Soon Finds It’s Inner Greatness. It’s The Perfect Gateway For Horror Fans Of A New Generation & Fans Of Classic Horror Who Like Non CGI Creature Designs. It’s An Eerie Horror Flick That Sends Chills Down Your Back.
If you were an 80’s kid, you most likely read the three book series “Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark”. As a kid this was your only gateway into what would be the closest to an R-rated horror experience you could get. The book series featured 25 or more short stories by author Alvin Schwartz, and they were frequently gruesome, but Stephen Gammell’s eery illustrations were the real triggers to the nightmares. Gammell’s disturbingly detailed horror imagery revealed itself, often quite unexpectedly, looking like Rorschach splatters of drippy ink.
The cinematic version of these nightmarish creations is dark, and atmospheric as it’s got Guillermo Del Toro written all over it, that manages to send a chill down viewers spines. “Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark” manages to create disturbing visuals, and offers real stakes for the characters.
The movie is set in the little town of Hill Valley. Sorry…Mill Valley, Pennsylvania on the eve of the 1968 presidential election. Norwegian director Andre Øvredal (“Troll Hunter” and “The Autopsy Of Jane Doe”) manages to embrace the time period which it takes place. The costumes and the setting all feel of it’s time period. It’s hard to deny the fact that you can certainly find a bit of “Stranger Things”, “IT”, “Goosebumps” and the Halloween anthology “Trick R’ Treat”.
While the structure doesn’t always work, as it takes almost the entire first act before the group of friends uncovers Sarah’s book in the rotted innards of the Bellows Mansion. When the movie eventually gets around to the ways of the cursed book, as the films lead character, Stella is put in charge of decoding the stories contained within, which are freshly inked by Sarah from the Other Side. This is where “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” finds its footing and finds it’s greatness. It not only becomes a horror film but is actually more of a detective tale, as much of Stella’s arc involves her running around, struggling to put together information leading to the liberation of the next story being written.
When it’s time for the scary stories, to come alive to murder Stella and her friends, the set pieces get impressively mounted by Øvredal and Guillermo Del Toro. Because of the involvement of Del Toro “Scary Stories” tries not to bound to too much CGI, as they try to make the creepiness count as much as possible with the creatures in full costume and animatronics. But in between the excellent scares there’s a lot of filler, a lot of perfunctory plotting and a lot of mediocre character development.
Thankfully Øvredal and Del Toro saves the day as they get the monsters right and are faithful to the drawings of Grammell. The film introduces such ghouls as Harold (a murderous scarecrow), Pale Lady (a blob-ish stalker), and The Jangly Man (a dissected zombie). My favorite and certainly the best sequence is the segment with the jangly man, a creature who represents the fears of Stella’s friend Ramón Morales, played excellently by Michael Garza (“Wayward Pines”).
With the introduction of the jangly man, it’s where the film really finds the right balance between visceral horror and psychological fear. The other scary story interludes are creepy, as Harold (the scarecrow) certainly qualifies, especially the outcome of his victim is pretty neat and the spider sequence is a squirmer, but the jangly man is a glimpse of everything amazing this movie could have been from the start. It’s worth the price of admission alone just to witness the frighteningly well crafted jangly man.
While the plot is a bit thin, and can occasionally feel like it was a bit too heavily influenced by “Stranger Things”. When “Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark” works, it really works and becomes a fun, twisted, frightening and creepy ride that will please both horror fans in a generation of old and new. When it comes to closing out the film, there is no real ending, it’s just a lead-in to future installments. Øvredal gets a little ahead of himself, but his collaboration with Del Toro is a smart move and they both nail the essentials in imagery, giving fans a cinematic vision to Schwartz’s beloved work.
GRADE: ★★★1/2☆☆ (3 & 1/2 out of 5)