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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark Review: Del Toro & Øvredal Deliver Chills & Cinematic Fascination

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is another highly awaited horror film this year.

The movie unites two talented filmmakers André Øvredal and Guillermo Del Toro adapt Alvin Schwartz’s collection of short stories.

It’s 1968 in Pennsylvania. Change is blowing in the wind, but seemingly far removed from the unrest in the cities in the small town of Mill Valley.

For generations, the shadow of the Bellows family has loomed large.

It is in their mansion on the edge of town that Sarah, a young girl with horrible secrets.

She turned her tortured life into a series of scary stories, written in a book that has transcended time-stories.

Soon enough, these stories have a way of becoming all too real for a group of teenagers who discover Sarah’s terrifying book.

In other words, the children don’t read the book… The book reads them. 

Innovative Adaptation from Schwartz’s Works

A bunch of dorky, adventurous kids assembled in an Indie setting during the late 60s America.

Scary Stories begins as a hybrid of It, Stranger Things and Goosebumps, which immediately puts the audience in a familiar realm.

However, the minute the teenagers step into the haunted house and the second a beguiled Stella (Zoe Colletti) picks up Sarah Bellows’ book, we are transcended into a visually fascinating but creepy journey.

Given that Schwartz’s original book series comprises over 20 short-stories each, director André Øvredal handpicks his narratives wisely.

The plots he chooses are: ‘Harold’, ‘The Big Toe’, ‘The Red Spot’, ‘The Pale Lady’ and ‘Me Tie Dough-ty Walker’.

These stories are apt to scare the audience in the next 108 minutes or so, due to the locations they are set in.

Cinematic Excellence


But thankfully, like the books, the movie is not an anthology.

As a result, this challenges writers Guillermo Del Toro, Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan to pen a detailed narrative which relates to every character in the film.

The way Schwartz’s short tales are interweaved with the main crux of Scary Stories is a mark of genius.

Plus, with the absurd and horrific monsters, you can easily spot Guillermo’s cinematic prowess.

But most credits go to Andre for creating a compelling visual voyage which immediately engages the viewers.

His talent as a filmmaker is clearly visible, especially in the climax of the film.

The dual narratives and contrasting colour schemes during this sequence is par excellence.  

Creates an Eerie Atmosphere

With regards to the horror aspect, the film does not take a toll on the human psyche like other scary ventures such as The Conjuring.

However, the movie competently creates an eerie ambience.

The viewer feels on-edge constantly throughout and the grotesque nature is not completely in our face.

But usually, in horror movies, we feel fearful, hateful towards the evil spirit. But here, we feel sympathetic towards the ‘antagonist’.

In fact, what the antagonist goes through is quite traumatic.

Having said that though, the story behind the haunted spirit and their family lacks reasoning and depth.

We find out what the Bellows family did, but the film does not justify why – which did makes the movie lack substance.

When it comes to character development, we do not know much about Ramon Morales’ life… His background.

The only thing we get to know about is his fear of the creature in the ‘Me Tie Dough-ty Walker’ story. 

In fact, the only structured character in the movie is Stella.

Final Word

Also, the movie seems to take a while for it to proceed.

The initial premise of it being Halloween, with a bunch of teenagers going trick-or-treat and trespassing a haunted house just seems passe.

Instantly, it becomes quite cliched, when a different style of backdrop could’ve worked wonders.

Rather than it being set in the late 60s, perhaps the setting of today’s digital era contrasted with the past would’ve made the narrative more fascinating.

The dichotomy of a practical world contrasting with old myths and legends could’ve been a great concept to explore.

Overall, one cannot deny that Scary Stories is a visually enriched watch. But it is the intrinsic details in the storytelling which steer the film away from perfection.

Though the horror quotient may not be path-breaking, that does not mean it does not offer chills.

If anything, creepy characters like Harold the scarecrow and The Pale Lady will be forever etched into your psyche!

⭐⭐⭐ (3/5 stars)

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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