The PG-13 horror film is a tough nut to crack. There’s an unspoken rule in films where “scary” equals lots of blood and gore, and too often what I’ll lamely call YA Horror is rendered toothless. So kudos to Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark for having some legitimate fearful sequences and working on a level young kids can truly get scared by without having to stray into a “R” rating. Little surprise considering the pedigree: taken from the series of book written by Alvin Schwartz and gursemonly illustrated by the great Stephen Gammell, produced and with a story credit by Guillermo del Toro and directed by Trollhunter’s André Øvredal.
THE QUICK SUMMARY: On Halloween night in 1968 a group of impetuous and curious kids stumble into the supposed haunted house of the late Sarah Bellowes, who supposedly told scary stores through the walls that caused the disappearance of numerous children. Young and troubled Stella brings Sarah’s book of stories home, beginning a curse in which the stories write themselves and come to life, spelling doom for her and her friends. Can she save her friends? Can she stop the curse? CAN SHE SAVE HERSELF?!?!
Although there’s no new ground being broken here, it’s nice to see some real engagement in the execution of the movie. Øvredal has a real eye for color and framing, and he’s able to seamlessly move from the nostalgic oranges of the town to the dark blacks and blues of the night(mare) scenes to the deep disturbing red of the R.E.D. Room sequence, probably the scariest moment of the entire film.
I think the movie does fall apart a bit in the third act, where the case sequence gets a little too CGI for my taste as it splits between two stories coming to life: Stella being locked in the nightmare of Sarah’s past and her young love Ramon’s run from The Jangly Man. I really liked Stella’s sections in the house, but after the initial fright and grotesquerie of the Jangly Man’s appearance it soon turns into another lackluster chase.
In the end though it doesn’t detract from the charms of Scary Stories To tell in the Dark. There’s a definite dearth of horror aimed at a younger crowd, and sometimes the best way to initiate someone into the pleasures of the genre isn’t to just drown them in the most brutal thing you can find. I guess my closet connection to this is something like The Gate, which as a kid I devoured and was terrified by, and certainly helped open the door to more frightening fare. So good on you guys…if there’s a sequel I’ll be there for it.