Lighter frights by the book aren’t so bad

Hey, it’s not Halloween yet! Nevertheless, producer Guillermo del Toro gets the jump on spooky cinema season with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, a fun and creepy film that plays like a Scooby-Doo episode that Stephen King might have written.

Based on the popular series of short horror stories for kids, by Alvin Schwartz, with titles like “The Big Toe” and “Me Tie Dough-ty Walker!” and “The Red Spot,” I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie, which is a welcome respite from the torture porn and grisly blood and guts that dominates most modern films in the genre. (Not that there isn’t some gruesome stuff happening in Scary Stories.)

Stella Nicholls (Zoe Margaret Colletti) and her friends, Ramón (Michael Garza), Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) break into the neighborhood haunted house on Halloween night and discover a book of Scary Stories, written by a deranged (and deceased) young girl, Sarah Bellows, who used to live there.

The macabre book is allegedly written in the blood of children and appears to write itself, with its stories coming true for those in contact with its petrifying prose. Stella’s friends and acquaintances are being targeted by the Bellows book and she must uncover its secrets in time to save her pals.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark images courtesy 2019 CBS Films Inc. and eOne Features LLC

Directed by André Øvredal (Trollhunter), Scary Stories also stars Natalie Ganzhorn as a girl with an unsettling dermatological disorder and Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris as Stella’s heartbroken father.

Øvredal delivers the “just right” stew of scares, humor and teenage angst. The story is set in the late-’60s, so it is also nice to watch a movie without having to read what the kids are texting to each other.

If you dig Stranger Things and/or Stephen King’s IT (there’s even some of King’s “The Body” – AKA “Stand by Me” – mixed in here, too) then you will likely love Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

Grade: 7/10

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Bob Leeper
Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.