As a child there were always stories that were told to frighten us; some of them were whispered on playgrounds, others used as threats by your parents, but they were the monsters that occupied nightmares and resided under your bed once the lights were off. Even in adulthood, these childhood demons leave us reeling at the amount of times terror was prickled on our skin and that’s exactly why Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark was created.
Like every small town, Mill Valley has its legendary ghost tale about a young girl, Sarah Bellows, whose family locked her up in the basement where she spent her days and nights fabricating stories for children. That is until her harrowing demise at the hands of her evil parents… On Halloween night, a group of friends break into the abandoned The Bellows house to entertain some spooks and thrills, however, they uncover her book of scary stories which they take for themselves and unleash the reality that some monsters really do come to life.
This film is an adaptation of the children’s book series of the same name by Alvin Schwartz. If you grew up in the US you’ll immediately recognise the title as it would have been one of those creepy books you read before bedtime that both fascinated and horrified you. For those who grew up in the UK, it’s the equivalent of our Goosebumps tales, with many tales of ghouls that are conjured up from our worst fears. Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is from director André Øvredal who is known for his horror fantasy film Trollhunter and more recently his exceptionally frightening supernatural film The Autopsy of Jane Doe starring Emile Hirsch. What makes Scary Stories even more enticing is that it is produced by none other than Guillermo Del Toro, the master of disturbing fairy tales that rely on dread, creatures and nightmares.
Zoe Colletti stars as protagonist Stella who is a young teenage girl obsessed with vampires and scary movies, which is why entering the haunted house was her idea in the first place. After stealing the book from The Bellows home, she realises that stories are being written about her and her friends which don’t just stay as stories but amalgamate into real-life terror. There are some horrific scenes that will truly put a chill down your spine, including Ruth, played by Natalie Ganzhorn, who is plagued by a spot on her face (worse than death as a teenage girl just beginning to date) that eventually begins to wriggle and squirm until one leg slowly creeps out causing the spot to burst and a mass of spiders to begin crawling out… It’s a scene that will make your skin crawl for nights to come, and creep around your memories with all eight legs.
Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark does feature some hideous creatures including the ominous Pale Lady and freakish The Jangly Man, however, without having prior knowledge of Alvin Schwartz books, it seems some of the nostalgic horror is missing, which might leave non-US audiences feeling a little confused as to why these stories are deemed so frightening. This film also previewed at FrightFest 2019, which is a festival for the most hardened horror fans and therefore wasn’t the most suited film; although it has similar vibes to It from Andrés Muschietti, it’s a film designed for a younger audience that still find some belief in the monsters under their bed and haven’t quite discovered that horror has some truly scary aspects to it.
If you’re scared of things that go bump in the night, then Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is going to leave you feeling unsettled and reminiscent of all those creepy stories your parents told you about what the scratching from the attic was. However, if you’re someone who holds their frights well, you might want to take along a younger sibling to live vicariously through their terror of the film. Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is an atmospheric adventure film, with nostalgic fear to remind children that not all fairy tales have happy endings.