Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Movie Review

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A Brief History

On August 13, 2019, we went and saw the latest horror movie from Hollywood, the movie version of Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.  Perhaps you read the books back in the day (the 3 books spanned the time from 1981 to 1991), as we did.  Aimed at the preteen and teen-aged audience, even as an adult I found the stories interesting enough to read and finish the books.  It was with this fond memory that we went to the movies this morning.

Digging Deeper

We enjoyed the movie.  While not a pure anthology type of film as the books are, the movie instead uses a central story and characters around which to weave the tales related in the film.  Set in 1968, 3 close friends of the decidedly B-team category of high school students (2 boys and a girl) are developed as kids picked on by the more athletic and better looking crowd, a common high school movie theme.  Another familiar movie mechanism is for a 4th friend to become one of the core companions, in this case a Mexican American drifter of roughly about 19 or 20 years old.  The tormentors are kind of stereotypical preppy looking jock type bullies, but trust me, all this characterization works pretty well.

Theatrical release poster, as owned and copyrighted by Lionsgate and CBS Films.

The horror part of the movie (remember, we do not provide spoilers, just general outlines) revolves around a local house where a girl hanged herself after being kept prisoner by her evil family.  Of course, the friends have to go to the house and find the place haunted, especially a book written by the subject girl from many decades ago.  The scary stories in the book (get it?) have a way of coming true, much to the disadvantage of the “star” of each tale.  The 4 buddies must fight the supernatural entity and the book to survive the tale.  Will they survive?  You will have to see the movie!

The plot uses actual stories from the books, though of course not all the stories as that would make the film too long!  (Its running time is 108 minutes, a tad longer than many horror movies.)  Rather than tell you which stories are used, we encourage you to read the books (they are not long and read rather easily) and see for yourself.  You will also see the horrors in the movie closely resemble the illustrations in the books.  If you find the “horrors” kind of hokey (one in particular you will quickly recognize as the one we refer to here), remember, the goofy appearance of the specter is taken from the book.  With a modest budget of $28 million, Scary Stories does not have blockbuster actors, but those it employs do an excellent job of their characters.  None of the characters is so good looking as to be unrealistic, nor are any of the characters distractingly funny looking or displaying annoying habits.  They seem like real people.

The copyright for the front cover art for the book Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, written by Alvin Schwartz, is believed to belong to the publisher, HarperCollins, or the cover artist, Stephen Gammell.

The 4 musketeers (our name) are played by Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush and Austin Zajur, normal teen types most people should be able to relate to.  Austin Abrams, currently 22 years old, is a movie and television veteran since 2011, and plays a convincing high school bully without seeming like a college senior.  The director,  André Øvredal, is a Norwegian veteran of supernatural/horror film and television, most recently of The Autopsy of Jane Doe, a critical success that wrangled an 87% positive rating from Rotten Tomatoes.  (Another film directed by Øvredal that we have seen, Troll Hunter, from 2010, is decidedly weird in a foreign, Norwegian sort of way.)

Scary Stories reaped over $20 million its first weekend at the movies (released August 9, 2019), beating its projected gross by a few $million (plus another $4 million in foreign countries) and seems likely to be a profitable movie, although we wondered aloud, “Why was this movie not released at Halloween time?”  Especially as the movie is set during Halloween.  You will have to ask the producers!  The critics polled by Rotten Tomatoes showed 81% gave the movie a favorable rating.

While audience ratings lag a tad behind the critical acclaim, at least 70% or more approve of the movie.  Some have complained of character development taking too much time, but seriously, you either do not have character development and people complain about all action without character development or you do have it and the bottom line is, you cannot make everyone happy!  We think the film is a good balance of character development and the scary parts, although we longed for an R rated version (the film is rated PG-13).  The movie is suitable for teens and the vast majority of pre-teens that do not have some sort of emotional issue with scary stories.

If you or your kids remember the books, by all means see the film!  If not, see the movie anyway, as it can easily stand on its own even without being familiar with the books.  Enjoy!

Question for students (and subscribers): What recent horror movies have you liked the best?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Schwartz, Alvin. Scary Stories Paperback Box Set: The Complete 3-Book Collection with Classic Art by Stephen Gammell. HarperCollins, 2017.

The featured image in this article, a low-resolution image of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark‘s theatrical release poster, as owned and copyrighted by Lionsgate and CBS Films, is used in an article that provides critical commentary of the film on a website intended for educational purposes per fair use under the Copyright law of the United States.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.