Since a studio really committed to the idea of a horror movie for children, it has been a while. Even with Goosebumps ‘ comedy-heavy revival and Eli Roth’s spooky but stupid The House With a Clock in His Walls, the trend for terrifying children’s movies have long been relegated to past video stores ‘ shelves. But that’s all about to change as horror heroes Guillermo del Toro (Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, The Water Shape) and Andre Ovredal (Troll Hunter, Jane Doe’s Autopsy) take on Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell’s iconic book series. It’s an important task, but most of the time film from the late’ 60s is an exciting and chilling success.
It was always going to be a tough task to adapt anthology retellings of classic folk tales and urban legends, and many fans were wary when the first Scary Stories trailer revealed that the film was going to follow a unique narrative. Fortunately, that main tale is convincing and well-crafted enough to offer something fresh and exciting while echoing the classic Amblin family films that molded the filmmakers that created it. Del Toro is credited here only as a producer, But his love for practical effects and film monsters shines through almost every scene, and the work of Mike Elizalde’s (Hellboy), Mike Hill’s (The Water Shape) and Norman Cabrera’s (Hellboy’s) core creative effects team provides some of the most exciting to hit screens age.
Starting with a scene-setting montage soundtracked by “Season of the Witch,” Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark doesn’t pull punches when it comes to the time’s political background. In 1968, Small City America was a place devastated by the Vietnam War and its divisions. Nixon defaced posters with swastikas cover the recruitment center walls where groups of excited young children are signing up for the service. We fulfill our primary cast against this tumultuous landscape.
As the heroine, Stella Nichols (Zoe Margaret Colletti), a young drifter, Ramon Rodriguez (Michael Garza), drives through the primary road. The latter is a horror hound with ambitions to be a writer, and we will quickly join her at home only to discover that her bedroom wall is covered with film posters and classic genre fare memories. It is an excellent example of the thoughtful design of production that raises Scary Stories and makes it feel so immersive.
Stella and Ramon cross again when the young girl and her two friends, Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur), have to hide from the local city bullies in their car at the drive-in. Not long before the group explores a haunted house (well, after all, it’s Halloween) and that’s where the title spooky tales come in. The monsters included in the story have been commonly distributed, but we’re not going to delve into them too deeply for the sake of spoilers. What we’re going to say, though, is that the first four entries— which are almost entirely practical — are amazing and very, very frightening.
The cast of children, at its core, is another thing that makes Scary Stories unique. His friendship and relationships are innately believable, which makes it much more enjoyable to follow their ever more outrageous adventures. Scary Stories also prevents the far too prevalent makeup of an all-white all-male principal cast with Garza and Colleti at the front of the group. But one of the few things the film could have accomplished better would have been to incorporate a significant black personality, mainly as the film is set against the background of 1968, a pivotal year in the continuing campaign for civil rights. Nevertheless, the importance of Garza being a romantic lead and facing not only monsters but also small-town racism and Vietnam’s horrors make Scary Stories feel like making a statement and trying to imbue the film with the same topical importance as the films of the past, echoing, in particular, the struggle of Mike Hanlon in Stephen King’s It.
Overall, in the dark, Scary Stories to Tell feels like it could light up the spark to take back to the forefront children’s horror. It’s full of big scares, fun adventure, and a cast that’s really nice. The most significant mistakes here are not narrative or due to the creators ‘ absence of thought, but apparently due to a lack of budget, with one of the most significant monster scenes hitting with some questionable CGI a little less stressful. Honestly, because of the brilliance of the other practical job that the film boasts, the only reason it stands out so much. Scary Stories may strive to enamor the adults who have grown up with it and are hoping for something horrifying, but if you want a family flick with some real fears and initial vision, you will be pleasantly surprised by this enjoyable offering.
Final Verdict: The greatest barrier facing Scary Stories is that many of the individuals are now adults with extensive understanding and horror experience who were terrified by the books as kids. This probably won’t fulfill hardcore horror hounds in the manner they were hoping, but it meets and succeeds and sometimes surprises as a children’s film that is also committed to being really frightening. It’s a shame this wasn’t a release in October because it feels like the ideal Halloween flick, but hopefully, it will find an audience in August’s wilds.