Anybody who goes into Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark expecting a horrifying film-going experience that will keep you up for days on end has clearly never read the original 1981 book. The book wasn’t made for adults. It wasn’t an epic Stephen King novel that dealt with death, trauma, and gave you enough scares to haunt you everyday for the rest of your life. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was exactly what the title said was: a number of scary stories you tell in the dark. The stories were short, roughly around two or three pages, that would usually end with a jump scare that was usually delivered from the person reading the story. The stories were never really scary, but more creepy and kind of fun, especially if you were with a large group of people in the proper setting.
The theater I saw the film in was relatively full, full enough that it should have been a good time watching these scary stories come to life. However, due to terrible pacing and lack of energy, it seemed like nobody in the theater was having a good time, even if the stories were adapted well and the film looked good.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is an anthology book, yet the movie goes a different route. The film is set in 1968. People’s lives are changing, whether they are being sent off to Vietnam or learning that they need to follow their passion somewhere out of their small town. Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti), Auggie (Gabriel Rush), and Chuck (Austin Zajur) are three friends who are outcasts in the small town of Mill Valley. On Halloween night, the three, along with the mysterious Ramón (Michael Garza) break into a home that has been haunted by Sarah Bellows, the legendary child murderer who’s legacy has lurked over Mill Valley for years. When Stella steals Sarah Bellows book of scary stories, the group of teens realize the power of Miss Bellows, as her book begins to write new stories that put the group in serious danger.
Before seeing the movie, I was wondering how they were going to adapt the anthology book. I was kind of hoping they were going to do it like The ABC’s of Death and just give us a number of the stories from the book in one movie. Instead, they made an over-arching story, the Sarah Bellows tale, and the stories her haunted book wrote were the ones from the books. These included such stories as The Red Spot and my personal favorite, The Big Toe. This was a very cool way of connecting the stories into one over-arching story as it made the film more of a coming of age story about growing up, guilt, and learning to deal with loss.
The problem, though, is that there weren’t enough scary stories in the film. There were only five in total, not including the Sarah Bellows overall story, and while they are executed well, look cool, and are very creepy (the “Red Spot” gave me literal chills), it’s the stuff between the scary stories that falters. When the kids aren’t being haunted, the movie incredibly slow and really boring. I don’t mind films where not a lot happens as long as it develops the characters or builds on the story, but this movie has no sense of pacing, making every scene feel way longer than it is. The film is under two hours, a runtime I approve of greatly, but it felt like it was three hours. Scenes just dragged on and on, yet didn’t really go anywhere. The cast is fine, yet none of them do anything to elevate the scenes of none horror.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is creepy and looks great. The film really sets us in 1968 and we to get some cool jump scares and creepy imagery, along with some solid themes. But with only five scary stories told and poor pacing, the movie just feels like a slog that even the great scares can’t save.
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