on Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
The full review will be up later this weekend on Cultofwhatever, but in the meantime here’s a snippet and final score.
If you’re not familiar with Alvin Schwartz’ “Scary Stories…” book series, the best way to describe them would be “Goosebumps for high schoolers.” By that I mean it has all the campiness and young-reader terror levels of the R.L. Stein classics, but with the horror, the gore, and the terror ratcheted up a few notches. If Steven King is “Rated-R Horror” and R.L. Stein is “PG-rated Horror” then Alvin Schwartz sits comfortably in the PG-13 range, sort of the way Temple of Doom and Poltergeist ushered in the rating in between PG and R.
Upon release, the books (three in all) were among the most controversial on the market, with parents and schools hosting all the usual book burnings and “won’t somebody please think of the children” speechifying against it. Even a decade after release—even two decades after release—the books remain high on the list of banned books in the United States. The most common complaint against them is, expectedly, the level of violence and unfiltered brutality it describes. But Goosebumps this isn’t, nor was it designed to be. This is a horror for those too old for Goosebumps but too young for Salem’s Lot.
On the negative side, I was a perhaps most disappointed in the story itself, and in the structure around the various monsters and their attacks. One of the biggest points of contention around the movie was that it would not be adapting any of the stories in particular, either in a “one story per movie” format, or as a mini-anthology film with several stories presented in a row. Instead the writers (Guillermo del Toro and Dan Hageman & Kevin Hageman, and story writers Marcus Dunstan, Patrick Melton) went with an original story that served as sort of a hub around which a few of the more famous monsters from the books could make an appearance.
This worked well in the Goosebumps film but it didn’t work as well here, probably because the former movie had Jack Black as a strong anchor and central voice, whereas this one had to rely on a contrived, quasi-Ringu knockoff story to frame its (entertaining) horror moments.
The center of the plot wasn’t strong, which made the rest of the movie suffer as a result.
8/10 – Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark isn’t going to revolutionize horror, but it can sufficiently inject some nightmare fuel into the minds of its target audience, ages 11-16, despite a weak overall story.