Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (2019)

A twisted, ominous spookfest sure to become the next Halloween staple with imaginative draconian literature/live-action scares, eerie atmospherics, strong character-based storytelling, & smart del-Torro script full of genre nostalgia. 7.1/10.

Plot Synopsis: The shadow of the Bellows family has loomed large in the small town of Mill Valley for generations. It’s in a mansion that young Sarah Bellows turns her tortured life and horrible secrets into a series of scary stories. These terrifying tales soon have a way of becoming all too real for a group of unsuspecting teens who stumble upon Sarah’s spooky home.

*Possible spoilers ahead*


A G.D.T.-Scripted Horror Movie?

Coming Fresh Off A 13-Oscar Nom’d The Shape Of Water, Del Torro Returns To A Childhood Favorite & Fantasy/Horror Roots

Photograph Courtesy Of: Lionsgate

Coming fresh off the 13-Oscar nominated underwater romance flick The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Torro had all the cinesphere’s eyes to him anxiously awaiting his next project. Though not taking up the reigns of directorial involvement perhaps divertingthat heavy an involvement to a new secret film, GDT turned his sights back to childhood and a bestselling book series that meant a lot to him: Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. Easy to tell of GDT-pedigree involvement is it from the first few flickers of the film: a tremendous breath of fresh air for this franchise and greed-bludgeoned genre – and perhaps the perfect way to introduce newcomers to the genre. An effectively-eerie spookfest sure to become the next Halloween staple with draconian twists in literature/live-action scares, strong character-based storytelling, & a smart script chock-ful of classic Horror nostalgia by del Torro, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is retro horror aimed at a new generation.

The Premise

“You Don’t Read This Book, It Reads You

Photograph Courtesy Of: Lionsgate

Scary Stories‘ biggest selling point is easily its premise and the magnificent scare avenues it opens up. “You don’t read this book; The book reads you”. Though the idea has been done before in media and specifically horror-media coming to life, it’s never been done like this: a book written in children’s blood wherein anyone who disturbs its resting place gets written a fresh script-to-life story of their (brutal), bloody demise at the hands of a sadistic (inventive) omniscient master-author. It’s no surprise the book series became such a hit – it’s like Evil Dead meets Stranger Things meets It Follows meets Stephen King’s It – and that same innovative fervor shines through to this movie adaptation that had every excuse to not meet expectations and the lofty goals a GDT-project instantly evokes, but manages to blow them out the water. This is, as is to be expected, mostly thanks to its incredible scare-execution and nostalgia-riddled Del Torro-penned screenplay.

The Scares You Can’t Unsee

A Collection Of Phenomenal Scare Sequences Amongst Most Stylized & Imaginative Of 2019

Photograph Courtesy Of: Lionsgate

Meshing with its clever idea for a horror flick are the beautiful scares it pulls off once Pandora’s box is opened. Even though the rest of the film leans a bit teenish with palatability in PG-13 tonal balance and light soundscapes in 60’s/70’s rock-and-pop (overall a smart idea exploiting a wider audience and making for easier rewatch-value), the scares are effective and twisted, maintaining and delivering the aspect that matters most: dark-edge horrort. A collection of fantastic location sets ranging from moonlit cornfields to haunted houses to abandoned red-hued asylums, the creativity in scares echoes its imaginative fervor in everything from the demon-walking Jangly Man snapping necks and sprinting after you on all-fours, woman in white closing off all exit avenues while slowly getting closer and closer from all directions to a creepy scarecrow you’ve hated all your life coming alive and turning you into its replacement to watch helplesssly for the rest for eternity in silence. The Harold and Red Room sequences specifically are – quite simply – two of the best and most fresh/imaginative scenes I’ve beheld in a long time in this genre and especially PG-13 horror, alone indicative of a del-Torro level talent guidance & verifiable accomplishment easily worth the price of admission.

The Backbone Of The Film

A Crux Of Sensational Characterization & Development Through Its Smart GDT-Script

Photograph Courtesy Of: Lionsgate

The atmospherics, *perfect* set pieces, spooky soundscapes in orchestral accompaniment, and suspenseful overarching feel refusing to cop out for cheap jump scares all merge to deliver on its title’s promises: effective frights. Even more impressive though is the strong character development GDT’s script establishes as the backbone and cartilage around which these frights intertwine. Refreshing is it to see a scarefest that doesn’t fall victim to horror’s biggest genre-trap: characters we don’t care about; husks waiting for the slaughter. This is retro horror feel in a wildly-palatable PG-13 jacket constantly evocative of the Golden Age of Monster Movies with mythic Easter Egg placement of 1930’s Universal Monster movie posters, figurines, and comics and well-developed characters bursting with personality, range, charisma, backstories, and strong performances. These are led by a breakaway turn by Zoe Margaret Colletti, decent supporting performances, and even nice sentiment in culturally-representative diversity with Garza for a rootable Spielberg-esque trope of child protagonists. There’s even thinly-veiled jabs at capitalism and Nixon-era period ideologies like draft-dodging and ‘Nam – as well as multi-refraxive character development of Sarah being a victim of the malice and greed of her capitalist family, yet turning into the monster they said she was for a great canvas of storytelling.


A Few Casting Shortcomings & The Scariest Story Of All: Pointless Franchising

Photograph Courtesy Of: Lionsgate

Flaws include a few poor castings and the ending signaling a growing problem in modern horror and the scariest story of all: pointless franchising. While most of the cast serves its purpose well with some exemplary performances, three characters are miscast: Austin Zajur’s *incredibly*-agitating nasily/whiny Chuck, Natalie Ganzhorn’s messily-acted Ruth, and Gil Bellow’s overbearing Police Chief laying on the racist undertones a little too thickly for cartoonism (even more shocking considering his fall from heights like Shawshank Redemption to this overblown, un-nuanced take. Also, Bellows – where have we heard that name before?). The ending serviceably closes the chapters of this book in emotionally-resonant fashion with a fresh anti-establishmentarianism nostalgic care for storytelling over franchises – then in the final minute reverses everything that made it so charming beforehand. What’s the problem with one-offs? Or anthologies reinventing the premise with different stories/characters? Why does every new, wet-behind-the-ears horror flick feel like it has something to prove to become the new king in this stupid franchise arms-race to outdo the Marvel movies or Friday The 13th in 19+ films of subpar quality or the entire premise is a bust? What’s the problem with producing one classic entry in the genre, then diverting future efforts and manpower to other products? I simply don’t know anymore. I can’t speak for other people.. but I prefer the work of a singular craftsman boutique chef than factory-line burger at a fast food chain – and that final-minute reversal left me walking out of the theater with a worse taste in my mouth than toe-stew.


A Market Niche In PG-13 Horror

The Next Halloween Staple & A Perfect Genre Introduction For Newcomers

Photograph Courtesy Of: Lionsgate

Overall, Guillermo del Torro’s brainchild is sure to become the next Halloween staple and a perfect-tonal introduction to the genre for newcomers with enough thrills to satisfy experienced horror-junkies too. Despite a couple of problematic castings and vexatious ending choice forcing stretching of the same story to an ill-advised franchise, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark lives up to its name and was (overall) a fine exemplar of PG-13 horror with true pedigree screenwriting. An effectively-eerie spookfest with draconian twists in literature/live-action scares, strong character-based storytelling, & a smart script chock-ful of classic Horror nostalgia by GDT, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is teen-horror that fulfills a needed market niche in the genre and occasionally even sneaks up on scare-veterans – a retro breath of fresh air.

Official CLC Score: 7.1/10