For decades, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” has terrified young readers with its nightmare-inducing tales of the macabre- myself included. The collection of short stories tackled various subjects in the horror genre, which to some was crossing the line with its graphic content. It was this more adult-themed horror is what made so many fans adore the series for its ability to break the mold of what was the youth-norm; so when word came about that a Guillermo del Toro produced film adaptation was in the works, many rejoiced in anticipation.
Similar to the books, the film shines a light on several stories; some would say the fan favorites of the series. Rather than going the anthology route, the screenplay works in a way to connect all to one source. On Halloween night, a group of teens discover a book in a house they believe to be haunted. Without their knowledge, they release the terror upon themselves as the book begins writing stories on its own, a specific story for each character.
Unfortunately, half the film revolves around the established group of characters in a way that taints the overall enjoyment. Dry humor becomes mundane as the screenplay reflects the tier of other early teen films. You truly want to care for the characters, but it’s lacking a well-defined backbone that this film could potentially have. The leering danger is downgraded to a degree simply by the all to familiar feel of the non-horror elements of the screenplay.
When the film delivers into its horror roots, it struts with a dedicated demeanor; shaking the viewer to its core. These elements of terror are what’s worth paying the price of admission. Each design is directly ripped from the pages of the three books in a way that is both haunting and alluring. Several times I found myself shivering as I imagined myself in the characters’ shoes. The Pale Lady, a standout of the film, might be the most frightening as it mixes cinematography with the creature in a gradual yet horrifying visual spectacle. Another creature, the Jangly Man, offers more of a quickly paced chase sequence that will have you on the edge of your seat. Just about all the depictions of the monsters honor the original illustrations while fitting in the world of Del Toro.
It’s easily identifiable that Del Toro’s creative genius has touched the project, but the lack of full involvement shows. The idea of his full engagement both as a writer and director would have made for an absolute achievement in the adaptation, but he’s a busy man so no blame to him whatsoever. “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” definitely has its issues, but it still manages to be entertaining with its truly horrific moments. I’d highly recommend this to younger audiences who are easing into the horror genre.