by Hans A. Carpenter
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Release Date: August 9
Director: André Ovredal
Starring: Zoe Margaret Colleti, Michael Garza, and Gabriel Rush
Mister Marquee Says: Not so scary, not enough stories.
Stella (Zoe Margaret Colleti) and her friends go to the haunted house of local legend Sarah Bellows on Halloween. Stella takes Sarah’s book of scary stories, but the gang soon find out that the stories write themselves and they are the main characters.
Scary Stories may be my favorite book as a kid. If André Ovredal really wanted to scare us, he could have just put up the original illustrations from the book, illustrations so scary that recent versions have been vandalized by having them replaced with more tame (i.e. boring) versions. While some of the monsters are translated quite well to screen, the adaptation loses much of the surreal terror of the drawings.
Very little of the source material is actually part of this movie. Instead of simply going for an anthology horror, which would have been the most logical adaptation of a book of scary stories, Producer Guillermo del Toro, who came up with the concept, opted to go with an original story based on a concept he developed for Pan’s Labyrinth about a book that reads those who read it. While I can respect trying to go a different route, this story has absolutely nothing to do with the source material and when stripping away the monster designs ripped off of the page, there’s very little substance here.
What we have is a paint by numbers mystery with all the typical trappings: gothic house, mental asylum, enigmatic evil force whose tragic backstory has to be discovered by the heroes. The stories from the book come to life, kind of. We never get the full story, just Cliffs Notes as the characters try to warn each other. The book is essentially a collection of folk stories and American urban legends, so the focus on legend is apropos. I just wish that theme was given more than just the lip service of “stories hurt, stories heal.”
The plot is predicable, the theme is half baked, and for a movie called Scary Stories, it really isn’t scary at all. So why didn’t I hate it so bad at the time? Zoe Margaret Colleti does a great job in the lead, and the rest of the young cast are fine doing the period gang of nerds thing we’ve seen so many times lately in works like It and Stranger Things. The farther I get into this review, the more I realize just how little meat is on the bone here. We don’t even have a big toe’s worth of meat to digest.
Ultimately, this is a movie for older kids, and it will be just fine for them. Scary Stories is entertaining, even if it caters to an audience that doesn’t care about the source material and has the name tacked on for millennials and Gen Xers who will find very little of what they loved in the cinema. It’s not an overtly bad movie, it’s just, hollow as a scarecrow.