Current Issue #484

Support South Australian stories Contribute

Film Review: Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark

Film Review: Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark

Drawn from Alvin Schwartz’s series of 80s young adult novels, this very average horror outing is vaguely creepy – but not really.

Guillermo del Toro’s name is all over the ads and posters, but he was only a producer and co-wrote the ‘Screen Story’ (whatever that is), with the actual plodding direction handled by Norwegian filmmaker André Øvredal (of the underrated Trollhunter and the overrated The Autopsy Of Jane Doe).

It’s Halloween back in 1968 in Mill Valley, Pennsylvania, and therefore the colours are carefully muted, Nixon and Vietnam are on TVs, and Donovan’s Season Of The Witch is on the soundtrack. Horror fan, proto-nerd and aspiring author Stella Nicholls (Zoe Margaret Colletti) lives with her depressed Dad Roy (Breaking Bad veteran Dean Norris without much to do) and is very close to her only besties, uptight Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and cocky Chuck (Austin Zajur).

After dangerously pranking nasty local bully Tommy (Austin Abrams), the three are pursued to a drive-in where they leap into a car with mysterious but nice Mexican lad Ramón Morales (Michael Garza), and watch a bit of George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead, which always crops up in movies like this because it’s an immediately recognisable classic and out of copyright (ie. free to use). However, they seem to see the film’s climactic siege first and an early scene last, for some reason, while Stella’s insistence that she’s already watched the thing late in ‘68 is hard to believe because the pic never properly caught on until well after its release that year. But anyway…

This quartet then winds up at a nearby ‘haunted house’ with a complicated urban legend about Sarah Bellows, a frightening figure who whispered tales through a wall and might (or might not) have killed some kids. Stella pinches Sarah’s book, and although you might think this complex set-up would result in an anthology like Creepshow or those English Amicus pics of the ‘70s (like the original Tales From The Crypt), we instead have the supernatural Sarah penning freaky new stories upon the pages and detailing our protagonists’ eerie approaching fates. And they, one by one, meet those sticky but showy ends.

The episodic structure (which almost feels somewhat Final Destination-ish at times) means that we wonder who’ll cop it next, and Øvredal, del Toro and their team contrive sequences that involve: a vengeful scarecrow named Harold (seen on the poster); a bit of ‘body horror’ perpetrated upon Chuck’s poor sister Ruth (Natalie Ganzhorn); a spectral zombie looking for its toe; an computer-generated thingamajig that keeps collapsing into a bunch of interchangeable body parts (and grunting like a Monty Python animation); and, in the most effective bit, a slow but relentless phantom with a disturbingly rubbery grin.

But is it, you know, scary, as the title foolishly promises? Well… no. Unless you’re a tween who’s never seen a horror movie before and, come on, who ever heard of such a thing?

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (M) is in cinemas now

Get the latest from The Adelaide Review in your inbox

Get the latest from The Adelaide Review in your inbox