Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Movie Review
Written by Karin Crighton
Released by Lionsgate
Directed by André Øvredal
Written by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, and Guillermo Del Toro, adapted from the novel by from Alvin Schwartz
2019, 111 minutes, Rated PG-13
Released on August 9th, 2019
Zoe Margaret Colletti as Stella Nichols
Michael Garza as Ramón Morales
Austin Zajur as Chuck Steinberg
Gabriel Rush as Auggie Hilderbrandt
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, your favorite young adult (YA) short story collections you pretended didn’t scare you but absolutely did, has a new iteration as the brain-children of an isolated young woman named Sarah Bellows. Living in the early 1900s and suffering from a form of albinism, her family has relegated her to the basement with nothing but a bed and a blank book. But Sarah doesn’t sit quietly in the dark. She uses the book and her own blood to write down stories…dangerous stories…that might not be fiction at all. When she passes, the people of Mill Valley, Pennsylvania, believes they are once again safe; until 1968, when Stella Nichols and her friends check out the local haunted house and finds the novel of their own doom.
I was frankly disappointed by this adaption of my childhood classic. Knowing Guillermo del Toro was attached as writer and producer led me to believe this would be full of grotesquely beautiful puppets and a nagging sensation of danger for the entire 111 minutes. Instead, I was met with a basic of YA flicks with an interchangeable plot with any YA flick. A lead girl who acts too hard, a trope-copia of supporting characters, a mostly white cast with one token diverse actor. There is a fresh idea of comparing the stories to the Nixon and the Vietnam war…but it doesn’t make any sense.
Stella Nichols (Zoe Margaret Colletti) is a modern American Actress: pretty, understands her angles, but only knows what she should feel rather than feeling it. Michael Garza gives more as Ramón Morales, but he is there to serve the token “outsider”. Little is revealed of his background unless it serves his role to dote on Stella. Even though I’m pretty sure she’s playing 16 and he’s playing 19 and that gets weird.
Her friend Chuck (Austin Zajur) and August (Gabriel Rush) fare no better. They are there to provide a few extra bodies for the monsters to overtake before they go for Stella. And everyone is there to serve Story Arc A; Arc A should be solid.
Plot-wise, Stella’s relationship with her father is framed around tragedy, but is never resolved or used to fuel her to defeat the ghost. Why have it? The Nixon election is constantly referenced on television and radios, but with ambiguous purpose. Why have it? Draft dodging is a theme, along with the gruesome fate of soldiers, but still ends with a pro-draft scene. Whhhhaaa? The highest script sin of all is Stella demanding someone to get over trauma because it’s inconvenient for everyone else. Even in a t[w]een horror movie, that earns a big Fuck You from me.
Two saves: They got Gill Bellows in a movie about the Bellows family! Womp-womp. And a cute girl power scene that is nice after a mostly male cast for 105 minutes.
The monsters themselves are a let-down. The Pale Lady from the trailer is classic and unnerving, but the Jangly Man is just like that weird hybrid-body-parts alien from 2011’s The Thing; nothing new and I liked that CGI better. Harold having a real face is a creepy touch, but I can’t tell if he killed the bratty teen or just stole his clothes, which is not particularly scary. I wanted to see him hanging some bloody skin out to dry, bro.
One could argue with a PG-13 rating that this is clearly for kids. And Scary Stories would be most enjoyed by a jaded 12-year-old to a shy 16-year-old. I counter-argue with gusto. This movie was marketed for those who loved Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in the 1980s and ‘90s. The involvement of del Toro is not for kids who don’t know who he is, it’s for those of us with a fingerprint-covered copy of Pan’s Labyrinth. If this is truly for those weird little kids like we were, to indoctrinate them into the world of loving horror movies and reading Stephen King and listening to Serial, more effort could have been made to show them what it truly can be. Not just a copy paste from the last teen slasher I saw on Hulu.
All in all, I can still only give it a 3 and that’s for my bias hating kids-leading movies.
I shall leave you with a quote from Gil Bellows, who plays the town sheriff. “You gotta be shittin’ me.”
This page includes affiliate links where Horror DNA may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.