REVIEW: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
When I was 8, maybe 9, one of my friends busted out a copy of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark while we were at school. I don’t remember which friend, I don’t remember which book (there were 3), heck, I can’t even be sure if I was 8 or 9. What I do remember is sitting on an uncomfortable hardwood floor and staring into the very depths of hell as illustrated by Stephen Gammell.
The stories themselves were creepy to be sure. Definitely more horror influenced than the A to Z Mysteries I was reading at the time. But they were nothing when compared to the visuals. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was traumatizing. As a kid whose main source of entertainment was Arthur and The Antiques Roadshow you can imagine the nights I spent flashing back to eyeless witches and houses made of bone.
The film adaptation is quite similar. While the special effects work must be lauded for its unique style and creativity (it will certainly scar some younger viewers) the story is unmemorable. The main conflict is pulled right out of a handy dandy notebook o’ tropes, the pay offs are as painfully predictable as writing the words painfully predictable in a bad movie review, and despite flirting with the idea of late 60s culture (Guess what y’all? Nixon was bad.) this flick has no depth. It’s as if I watched the least charming episode of Scooby Doo ever created.
Just look at the character line up - smart glasses girl, taller logic type, silly pink prep, the comic relief, the newbie, yeah…except for the talking pooch, Mystery Gang’s all here. If only they were as equally endearing. The leads in Scary Stories could be replaced by Chuck-E-Cheese animatronics and nobody would notice.
It’s not the actors fault exactly (although they certainly carry some blame) the dialogue is abysmal. Robotic in its cadence and inauthentic in its subject matter, I felt myself physically cringing at lines. The Drive In scene is particularly egregious, “OMG, you like Night of the Living Dead?1!!?!)
Miss this movie and watch the Scarecrow, Spider, and Pale Lady sequences online in a month. You’ll be doing yourself a favor.
The real tragedy of this flick is that it ruins the chance for Scary Stories to be adapted as a limited series on a streaming service anytime soon. Keeping true to the actual short form content of the book instead of going all in on a Goosebumps style adventure could have created something special. At minimum it would have given the writers more time to create halfway interesting protagonists.
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