On Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and How to Avoid It

7 Sep

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

  • Spoiler Alert

Alvin Schwartz‘s goal of writing stories inspired from folklore from around America is almost forgotten in the cinematic adaptation of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Just as quick as it entered theatres, it’s getting harder to find it as the seasons change, and October approaches. Just why it’s released early is because spending time at the movies during Halloween month is very crowded! Plus, it has to compete against IT, Part 2.

Executive Producer Guillermo del Toro, Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan’s vision was left to the Hageman Brothers to finesse. The movie’s name is appropriately titled and its author, Sarah Bellows, was essentially writing these tales to entertain herself. The reason why she took to the horror genre is easy to guess. She had no one else to interact with and what she lays down are manifestations of a deep resentment of her life and family. One might say she and HP Lovecraft can make a happy couple. Some of her tales suggest a horrible outlook on her life and what she thinks lay around in the small town of Mill Valley, Pennsylvania. Its sordid history is appealing when Stella (Zoe Colletti)–who shares a similar obsession with the genre–shares this fact to Ramon (Michael Garza), an individual seemingly on the run from something.

When the movie takes place at the height of the Vietnam War, the reveal is eventually forthcoming. He doesn’t want to be involved. Fortunately, Stella’s other two friends are not of adult age yet. Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) still have a lot of growing up to do.

André Øvredal directorial duties is to realize the ideas the team has put on paper and have us care about these kids. He’s not out to mimic Alfred Hitchcock or George Romero at the height of their career. The late 60s and early 70s has its share of terrific scary movies–many are plastered on Stella’s bedroom walls– but to say they are influencing what’s going on–the nuances are not quite there.

But yet, bits of Robert Wise’s The Haunting alludes to the similarities Stella shares with Sarah. Put in a splash of ideas from Stranger Things and Evil Dead, and that’s the framework which attempts to unite the idea from Schwartz‘s work together.

Out of all the reasons for why these monsters are manifesting, the best ones are from those who are running away from some personal demon. Ramon’s fear is because of what he dislikes about the war many countries away. The second best is the scarecrow which town bully Tommy Milner (Austin Abrams) hates staring at every day he leaves for school and comes home to. Del toro’s touch is more evident with the visual design than the narrative. It makes me wonder how involved he was during the screenwriting process versus visual design.

The manifestations from Sarah/Schwartz’s book only scratches the surface of why the terrors are chasing after the kids. Usually no rhyme or reason is needed to explain hauntings. In this films case, it’s required because the 70s was ripe. Whether that’s with racist attitudes towards a fellow man, protesting involvement in a war that America didn’t need to be involved in or trying to deal with bullies, a lot gets packed in.

When a movie is written by a committee, trying appease more than the intended audience can lead to mixed results. While it has a few genuinely creepy moments, it does not stand out in a very crowded paranormal movie scene, build-up to a franchise notwithstanding.

3 Stars out of 5

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