Rumors are a common theme throughout Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. If not rumors, than half-truths which brings to the light the damage of what false stories, gossip, and fear can do to someone. In this film adaptation of Alvin Schwartz’s popular books of horror tales from American folklore, produced by Guillermo del Toro and directed by André Øvredal, stories have a way of getting away from themselves, proving the power words have at stoking fear in the unknown. That’s the real terror of the film. However, with our lead Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti), a storyteller herself, there exists the potential that good tales, the right ones, can give hope to a better future.
As good as the stories in Schwartz’s books were, the illustrations by Stephen Gammel made the\m memorable, and in the film, they’re recreated to near-perfect detail. One of the film’s strengths, the creatures serve as physical manifestations of how generational fables follow you. In two instances, Ramon (Michael Garza) and Auggie (Gabriel Rush) are haunted by the stories they grew up hearing. For Ramon, the “Me Tie Dough-ty Walker!” story is a campfire tale from his childhood while Auggie’s family used to tell him “The Big Toe” story before going to sleep. Chuck (Austin Zajur) confronts his recurring nightmare “The Dream.” Stella is obsessed with the story of Sarah Bellows, and eventually finds herself in the middle of “The Haunted House,” where she has to weigh the words she’s been told with the ones she has the chance to tell. While the stories in Schwartz’s book usually ended on a punchline — albeit, an often times ironic, unsettling one — the creatures that appear in the film are derived more from fear, and as such play out as more of a convoluted revenge plot.
As far as the scares go, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark has plenty, though it doesn’t necessarily break a lot of ground. Still, Øvredal knows how to work with tension and the claustrophobic fear. What del Toro and Øvredal do really well is balance the fear of the supernatural with the everyday fears that, if left alone, can fester. For instance, Stella is constantly paranoid that she’s the reason her mother left, which is only fueled by the whispers of her classmates.
The Vietnam war exists in the background of Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, which is set in 1968, reminding us of the real life horror of war. However, it has a hard time totally connecting with the supernatural aspect, giving the film a strange dichotomy between reality and creature-horror. But even if some of the themes don’t hold up perfectly, the result is still a good time in the theater. Adults who grew up reading the books can marvel at seeing those terrifying drawings of Gammel’s come to life, while kids get an excellent introduction to the horror genre.