There are images, movies, series, books and more that hardcore horror fans remember as being their introduction to the genre. For some, like me, it was the ritual of staying up late with a family member to catch a midnight movie on one of the local television stations. For others it was a campfire story that ignited a macabre fascination with the unknown. Much like the book, that frightened children everywhere who looked at the mysterious unsettling illustrations that stared back at them from the cover on a library shelf, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has an innocent charm about it that, while wrapped in a cloak of dread, will send many first time viewers on a journey that might last a lifetime.
After a simple revenge prank angers the school bully a trio of friends decide to hide out in the town’s haunted house to avoid his wrath. The house, site of a string of child murders and disappearances, holds many secrets. including a room where the murdered allegedly sat, reading stories through the wall to her victims. After seeing a hint of the supernatural scars the house has to offer the three friends, accompanied by a fourth who was unlikely enough to also find himself in the line of fire of our antagonist, find the book containing the stories the local legend centered around, make their way back home.
It’s not long before the teenagers find themselves at the center of another unfolding sinister story as new tales are magically being written in the book, each of which detailing their own demises. The is the interwoven component of the books that inspired the film and done in an effortless way where it is not just meaningful, but essential to the movie’s plot.
The story set against the backdrop of Vietnam-era America, enables Scary Stories to set up a horror film that, while chock full of time-tested industry tropes, still manages to come across as surprisingly fresh AND familiar. The teen characters here, removed from modern horror movie counterparts where only urban street-smarts and an anti-establishment attitude can outrun their pursuers, are still struggling with their naiveté and confusion over a war torn country where they are literally seeing their peers being torn away to join a cause they don’t understand.
It really is a talented group of young actors led by a troubled heroine (Zoe Margaret Colletti) that sell the scares here. This isn’t misunderstood teens lashing out at the out-of-touch fogies who don’t understand the inner turmoil of their youth. These are children who fear for their friends, their sibling, their parents and haven’t quite grasped hoe scary life is outside of the confines of their small town yet. Their fears are still the fears of nightmares realized, dreams unfulfilled and acne on the night of the school play. although their are some bigger fears at play here with our rebellious Ramone, they are still lensed through the mind of a child, making Scary Stories as endearing as it needed to be.
Seasoned horror fans might find some of the scares a little diluted for their tastes, but I really don’t think that’s the point of Scary Stories. André Øvredal‘s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a “200” class in horror, bridging that gap between Goosebumps and The Grudge. It is fun, nostalgic and, most importantly, represents a film that will leave young horror fans begging for more. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.