Knowing very little of the original property, I didn’t know what to expect going in to “Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark”. What I got was a competently made and good looking anthology film where the framing narrative – an interesting idea in itself – is constantly interrupted by the need to service fans of the original Alvin Shwartz stories and in turn relegates its title properties to underdeveloped background details.
In late sixties America, in the small town of Mill Valley, the shadow of the Bellows family looms large. When horror fan Stella (Zoe Colletti) and her friends stumble in to the decrepit Bellows mansion after playing a prank on local bully Tommy Milner (Austin Abrams) they discover a dark family secret of the Bellows: their daughter Sarah, kept locked away, turned her horrible life into horrible stories in a book but when Stella starts to read the book, it starts writing some new stories of its own.
In trying to marry an original story to the existing short stories from the books, “Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark” too often undermines its own sense of tension by failing to really intertwine the multiple stories together. While the tale of Harold the scarecrow is at least set up by vague foreshadowing at the start of the movie, some of the later ones, especially ‘The Big Toe’ just seem forced. It’s admittedly a gross idea, but the way it’s shoehorned into the movie it so clumsy it breaks the movie’s spell and it never really recovers.
There’s a palpable lack of commitment throughout the film – it superficially brings the stories and Stephen Gammell’s iconic illustrations to life but doesn’t push much beyond their nostalgia cachet. It raises some interesting insights into the social and political upheavals of the era then fails to meaningfully connect any of the stories to the real-world issues. It can’t seem to decide between creepy and scary and, as such, ends up feeling like an awkward hybrid of “Goosebumps” and “Final Destination”.