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Our staff reviews “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” — a childhood favorite and the genesis of much genre love brought to life on the big screen.

Intro by Angry Princess (Editor-in-Chief)

I often wonder whether horror fans are born or made. It’s quite possible there is just something in our innate brain chemistry that makes us especially drawn to the darker underbelly of fantasy and storytelling. Perhaps we come out of the womb pre-disposed to loving all things creepy, disturbing, and terrifying.

But even if the “scary story” gene is pre-installed, it’s the exposure to these scary stories which triggers that first rush of endorphins and tells us our brains, “This here, this is something special. Find more of this.”

Most lifelong horror fans I know found their passion for the genre at a very early age.

And most of us can remember the first horror film that really connected with with us and made us fall in love with how it felt to be scared. But it wasn’t just the movies that stirred our imagination and gave us that adrenaline rush we so craved.

In fact, many young fans weren’t allowed to watch horror until we were quite a bit older. However, we could get our first taste of terror in the pages of juvenile fiction. Books were almost always socially acceptable. Whereas horror films were often ridiculed and scorned, and still are to this day by many, books were the gateway drug that most parents and educators freely pushed without reservation.

While most fiction targeted at young people was relatively tame and innocuous, there were some writers who pushed the boundaries and offered young horror fans a taste of real terror. The first volume of “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”, published in 1981, contained 29 bone-chilling stories that were incredibly fun but also genuinely frightening. These stories, accompanied by the nightmare-inducing artwork by Stephen Gammell, become a cultural touchstone for a generation.

They say you never forget your first love.

And for so many of us horror fans of a certain generation, “Scary Stories” gave us our first taste of horror euphoria and made us fall in love with the genre. We may have been born to crave the darkside, but “Scary Stories” was the education we needed to evolve into the genre junkies we are today. Thus, the idea of seeing our childhood memories brought to life on the big screen was almost impossible to resist.

Of course, for anything that holds such an overwhelming nostalgic importance, the risk of severe disappointment is high. Sometimes we can’t help but love something just because of what it represents to us. Other times, we can’t stand to see our memories being bastardized by an inferior representation.

So, does Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark deliver or disappoint? 

Our team headed to the theater this weekend to answer that question. Keep reading to hear seven different takes on the film from seven different writers, each of whom were impacted by the books in different ways. While the feedback wasn’t quite unanimous, most of us were fairly captivated by the earnest and loving attempt to capture the magic of the books and recreate the wonder these stories first instilled in our young horror loving hearts.

Note: If you’re a fan of the Scary Stories books, I strongly encourage you to check out the documentary called Scary Stories about the beloved, controversial books by Alvin Schwartz that helped shaped a generation of future horror fans.


TAKE ONE: A LACKLUSTER ATTEMPT TO RECREATE LITERARY MAGIC

By Casey Chaplin

When I heard that Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark was being turned into a movie, I had a few different feelings – mostly confusion on how they would turn it into a cohesive piece of film. But then I heard Guillermo del Toro had a hand in it, and I perked right up. My hopes and dreams were such as that we would get some mixture of Pan’s Labyrinth and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which was also written by del Toro. What we actually got wasn’t quite that.

What starts off as a classic style teen movie, with bullies and nerds at war, with a few light-hearted gags – where we’re introduced to the main cast of characters – turns into a brief subplot that has a very Goonies feel to it. It’s there where things take a turn for the group. It’s there where the clever way to turn the classic book into a movie begins to shine. However, it’s also there where things start to go downhill.

While the cinematography is brilliant (you’d expect nothing less from a AAA movie), and the sound design is flawless, the plot in-and-of-itself felt a little contrived, like it was picking things from other movies and sticking them in there simply because “that’s how movies work.”

Everything about it felt generic once we got into the second act.

There were jump-scares, there were monsters, there were events after events – and that’s where the biggest problem was presented. It felt just like a series of events. The kids went from one place to another, trying to find out more about Sarah Bellows, the author behind the book that’s central to the movie, all the while trying to stay alive.

If you read that and thought Well, that sounds like a movie I watched last week, you probably wouldn’t be wrong. Swap out the details, and you have a typical plot, with typical storytelling, which is a shame since del Toro penned and produced at least a part of it. It really makes me wonder if this was just one of those projects he was associated with, but didn’t have much pull on, and that his name was little more than a marketing ploy.

The effects used were not much better than the rest of it.

Some of the monster designs were alright, as the actual book was used as inspiration. But the execution was, well, silly. Scenes that were meant to be spooky, eerie, creepy, or frightening were almost laughable. I felt that a little too much CGI was used.

I’m a huge proponent of practical effects, and I believe one monster was almost entirely practical, while the others seemed to be a mixture of the two. And the all practical one blew the other two out of the water.

As I entered the third act, I began to really think on why everything felt so generic; the movie was rated PG-13, which I feel was a mistake. Sure the movie is centered around kids, and it is technically a kid’s book, but most of those who have read the book, or at least grew up with it are well into their 30s.

One main reason for the existence of this movie is for the nostalgia of it – at least that’s what I would have assumed, therefore it should have been made for adults. Sure, taking an R rating can hit the box office, but is this movie going to cross the billion dollar mark? Unlikely.

In the end, I feel that an R-rating might have actually made this into a solid movie, much like the latest installment(s) if It.

See it if you’re a fan of the book, as I’m sure it’ll be fun (or you’ll hate it, one or the other). Otherwise, wait for a streaming service to pick it up and watch on a rainy day.

TAKE TWO: THESE “STORIES” STILL TERRIFY…ALL THESE YEARS LATER

By Richard Tanner

I was scared of everything as a kid… I suppose you could say that I still am.  So, to face my fears I surrounded myself with horror. Everyday was Halloween! I read “Goosebumps” and watched “Are You Afraid of the Dark”… but when I was feeling especially brave I would pull out the book, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.”

I haven’t thought about that book in years, but fast forward to last Saturday when I was sitting in the middle of a packed theater and those memories came back! 

That movie was a nightmare on screen.

The old illustrations came to life in front of me, and I was filled with terror. Not just scared but genuinely disturbed, like those creatures were going to follow me home if I stared at them for too long.  

I loved the whole movie; from the small town late 60’s vibe down to the smallest spider filled pimple.  I even loved the fact that it was PG 13, I don’t remember anything too gory or rough but I was petrified for the better part of two hours. If I had to find a complaint it would be the lack of 60’s Rock.  The title song of “Season of the Witch,” by Donovan was the only one I heard.

But the segment that stood out most to me was “The Big Toe.”  I don’t want to give too many spoilers here but let’s just say I almost vomited and I actually screamed (the little girl next to me had to calm me down).  

I was running out of  the theater in fear at the end of this movie, and nothing could have made me happier.

TAKE THREE: A THRILLING TRIBUTE TO THE BELOVED SOURCE MATERIAL

By Monster Dugan

Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark is an absolutely terrifying take on the book series that frightened and captivated children’s imaginations for decades. The spooky and twisted tales within the pages have developed into a pop culture phenomenon and influenced the genre ever since. Witnessing these beloved tales being passionately and respectably projected onto the big screen, has helped provoke interest for generations to come.

The film is eerie and atmospheric, full of eye-popping fun and hair raising thrills.

It’s bursting with laughs and a truly awesome cast that really brings the screams. All the elements blend together perfectly —  it’s the stuff of nightmares. Not often do they get things right, and this time, they did.

Produced by genre legend Guillermo Del Toro, and directed by André Øvredal (Troll Hunter 2010, The Autopsy of Jane Doe 2016), Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is an instant classic. The original illustrations leap off the page and onto the screen.

It’s a total blast. All the greats are represented. The Haunted House, The Big Toe, The Red Spot, and my personal favorite, Harold.

It’s cleverly woven fear, with seriously menacing visuals. SCARY STORIES is frightfully entertaining and an all around solid watch. Plus, the fil