Keepin’ It Reel: Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark

As an adaptation of a trilogy I once loved as a pre-teen, “Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark,” otherwise referred to as “Scary Stories,” is a great nostalgic film for fans of the books, and a great thriller for those who have not had the pleasure of reading them. Back when I was a pre-teen, this trilogy, written by Alvin Schwartz, gave me nightmares and this motion picture brings those nightmares to life, like a “grown-up” version of “Scooby Doo” or a mellow “Final Destination.”

At first, the entire plot of this movie seemed flawed. A movie solely based on short horror stories would not be enough to fill the usual hour and a half time gap, so I was genuinely worried about the outcome of this adaptation. After the screenwriters arranged a plot twist or two, this movie slowly began to come together in a way I really enjoyed. Would I go watch it in theaters again? Probably not. But would I happily pay a dollar and some change at Redbox to see it again? Definitely.

This motion picture brings us back to the Halloween of 1968 in Mill Valley, Pennsylvania, where we follow a group of local teens who discover a book that writes its own horror stories with the town’s teens as the victims.  Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) and her friends Auggie and Chuck (Gabriel Rush and Austin Zajur) are the town’s resident “loser’s club.” On Halloween night they decide to get revenge on some bullies by disguising a bag of poop as Halloween candy. Their plan goes horribly wrong and during the rigorous chase, they run into Ramon (Michael Garza), a young Latino boy passing through town, and the four of them are chased into the boarded-up Bellows family mansion. The Bellows are Mill Valley’s resident boogeymen, who locked away their accused child-killer daughter, Sarah Bellows, in the basement until she ended her life years ago. Desperately trying to find a hiding spot, the four get locked into the very basement where Sarah Bellows spent her last days and discover the book she supposedly used to kill children with. Stella is intrigued and determined to learn about Sarah’s stories, so she takes the book with them as they escape. This mistake will soon cost them their lives, unless they can discover the truth about Sarah Bellows before their time runs out.

The most interesting part about “Scary Stories,” in my opinion, is that the monsters are plucked straight from the books that I cherished years ago, and they’re brought to life with impressively gruesome special effects makeup. This movie is a wonderful balance between a thriller flick for teenagers and adults looking to peek into the horror genre. “Scary Stories” was unnerving at times, causing the audience to grip their seat in anticipation, waiting for the next story to begin. Even when the monsters were not on display, I still enjoyed following along with the teens, watching them try to function in a society that rejects them and survive the days following Halloween. The new storyline, which included the Bellows family was a nice twist on the original short stories and gave the plot something to build on; it’s just enough so “Scary Stories” does not feel like it’s straying too far from the plot and it easily transitions back to the main stars: the monsters.

“Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark” was an enjoyable throwback, much like other 80’s children’s movies, that was a little creepy, odd and not so mundane. The amazing special effects used to create the monsters of my childhood was unlike any other. The creatures looked so real I was afraid to look in my backseat on my dark ride home, for fear Harold or the “white woman” would be looking back at me. Given the scare factor, the incredible SFX and the storyline of the individual characters, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” earned a 6 out of 10 in my book. Even though I enjoyed this movie, I recommend that others read the books before watching the movie, so that you may enjoy this thriller the way I did, maybe even more.