'Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark' is a horror film that 13-year-old me would have loved

A scene from SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK featuring the character Harold (Photo: CBS Films)

"Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark"
3 out of 5 Stars
André Øvredal
Writers: Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Guillermo del Toro, Marcus Dunstan, Patrick Melton, Alvin Schwartz (novel)
Starring: Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rated: PG-13 for terror/violence, disturbing images, thematic elements, language including racial epithets, and brief sexual references.

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) – Synopsis: When a group of overly-curious teens discover the writings of Sarah Bellows, the daughter of a wealthy man who is rumored to have been hidden and locked away in the family’s mansion. They become a part of the legend suggests that children who dared to visit the home and speak to Sarah through the mansion’s walls were never seen again.

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Review: I’ve always enjoyed a bit of a fright and in elementary school there weren’t many books that could get under my skin like the first two volumes of Alvin Schwartz’s “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.” To a certain degree, Schwartz was my generation’s R.L. Stine. Not that “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” feels like either of the Goosebumps theatrical releases. Those were action films with creepy characters; this film is a straightforward horror experience. However, like the Goosebumps films, "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" takes a handful of the short stories featured in Schwartz's book and ties them together to make a long, mostly cohesive story.

Set in 1968, against the backdrop of the Vietnam war and the presidential run of former Vice President Richard Nixon, there are some real-world politics bubbling within the narrative. When the characters talk about going out to trick or treat one last time it has more to do with being drafted than it does with graduating from high school. Racism is ever-present and influences the actions of some of the film’s characters.

There are numerous genre tropes that are in play in the script including rural cornfields, bullies, outcasts, incredibly intelligent teens with limited common sense, grudge-holding ghosts and bizarre monsters.

“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” isn’t subtle, there are many moments when it shows too much, but that likely has to do with the fear that the targeted audience, younger teens, might not otherwise be able to catch on to what exactly is going on.

The film has a nice sense of atmosphere, doesn’t entirely rely on jump scares, features some genuine tension and a fair amount of scares. The performances are a little campy, but lead actress Zoe Margaret Colletti is quite good (and I love that they haven’t covered up her freckles)

I liked “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” as an adult; I would have loved it as a kid.