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Movie Review: "Scary Stories" Is Frightfully Fun

Starring Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza. Gabriel Rush, Austin Abrams, Gil Bellows 
and Lorraine Toussaint
Screenplay by Dan Hageman and Kevin Hageman
Directed by André Øvredal

Reviewed by Patrick Gibbs

 Out of Four 

Alvin Schwartz' iconic Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark books have adapted for the big screen, with no less a name than Oscar Winner Guillermo del Toro behind it (co-writing the the screen story and producing the film.). It's a film that has been met with a lot of anticipation, but does it deliver the goods? The answer (if your expectations were reasonable) is yes.

It's the fall of 1968 in America, and the story is built around the two spookiest days of the year: Halloween and Election Day. In the the small town of Mill Valley, the shadow of the Bellows family has loomed large for generations. It is in their mansion on the edge of town that Sarah, a young girl with horrible secrets, turned her tortured life into a series of scary stories, which she read to children through a crack in the wall.

On Halloween night, a group of misfit friends in their mid teens, two boys and one girl (there is always a group of misfit friends in their mid teens, always containing precisely one girl) get into a series of misadventures and the leader of the group, Stella (Zoe Colletti) pulls a mysterious newcomer named Ramón (Michael Garza) into the group. When the kids break into the Bellows mansion, they discover a book written in a book of Sarah's hand written stories. Legend says that Sarah wrote the stories in blood, but of course that can't be true. Or can it? And are they just stories, or is there more to it?

The lands somewhere in between Goosebumps and It in terms of the level of intensity, with director André Øvredal relying on atmosphere and suspense over gore (not that there isn't any blood or gruesomeness, but it's a very mild level for a horror flick), and Del Toro's distinctive design style comes through in most of the supernatural imagery. Øvredal is best known for the Norwegian film Trollhunter, which is not to confused with the Netflix animated series Trollhunters (which would be easy to do as that series was created by Del toro, and it's where he got the screenwriters, Dan and Kevin Hageman). Øvredal already has projects lined up, and this film is likely to get him more.

The cast is strong overall, especially Zoe Colletti as Stella, and if you're as big a Shawshank fan as I am, it's always great to see Gil Bellows in anything. But for me, the most interesting aspect of the film was the choice to make the night that Nixon was elected President an important backdrop for the final act. Øvredal wisely chooses not to overplay this and get too heavy handed, but it's effectively creepy (especially after recent events remind us how important a role Nixon's rise to power signalled a new era in exploiting and fanning racism in politics. Frankly, this was the aspect of the film I found truly terrifying). The musical score by Marco Beltrami and Anna Drubich is effectively spooky, as is the use of Season of the Witch on the soundtrack.

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark
isn't up there with Jordan Peele's Us, but it reminded me of when it was was fun to be scared at Halloween, and not much can do that. It should play very well to its core audience, and signal not only that Øvredal is a director to watch, but that the era of Del Toro as Spielberg-esque mogul is really on track to be something exciting. It's not a truly great film by any means, but really does the job it sets out to do.

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