One from the to watch pile…
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)
Film: When is a children’s horror anthology not a children’s horror anthology? When it’s handed to Andre Øvredal, director of Troll Hunter and The Autopsy of Jane Doe, of course! Add production duties from Guillermo Del Toro makes for an even more of an event!
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is based on the children’s book series by Alvin Schwartz, of which the first was published in 1981. Schwartz was a folklore and urban legend enthusiast so the stories from the three volumes that were published feature those themes very heavily, and some of the tales may seem somewhat familiar.
This films isn’t like a regular anthology film though. For one thing, it takes about six of the original stories from Schwartz’s books and shoehorns them together into a single story, so there is no abrasive change of cast and the connecting tale is well written and thrilling.
The story takes us to 1968, Mill Valley, at Halloween, and three friends, bookish Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti), gentlemanly Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and wiseass Chuck (Austin Zejur) decide to get revenge on the town bully, Tommy (Austin Abrams) for years of abuse, but it backfires when he has an accident, damaging his car.
The three friends hide in a drive in movie theatre (playing Night of the Living Dead too, I might add) and hide in the car of a drifter named Ramón (Michael Garza) who protects them from Tommy and his friends and as a reward, they take him to look at a local infamous haunted house.
Once there they find a book that belonged to Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard) the previous occupant of the house filled with stories and Stella, being an aspiring writer, steals it.
Once she gets the book home, though, she finds that the book is writing itself in blood and that the stories within are killing or maiming people in the town. They try destroying the book but it seemingly can’t be destroyed and has attached itself to Stella, so they start investigating Bellows to see if they can find some way to exorcise it… but how many have to get hurt before they do it?
Øvredal has created a spectacular piece of art with this film. It looks beautiful and every scene is extraordinarily set like a delicate painting. The special effects and make up effects are extraordinary and take from the original books artist David Gammell and are wonderfully accurate, especially Harold the scarecrow and the woman from the red room.
I did find though, probably like the scandal surrounding the books themselves where they were regularly banned from libraries as they were maybe a bit too scary for kids, that the movie wasn’t quite a kids film and yet wasn’t quite adulty enough to be totally engaging. What I did find is that if you did read these books as a child you would probably find them more engaging than someone who hasn’t read them. Nostalgia works that way.
If I’m really going to be picky about the film it’s the inclusion of the walkie talkies. It seems to me whenever a film is set in a time where there’s no mobile phones they do the ol’ walkie talkie thing. It’s boring and unnecessary and I don’t believe kids today think it’s either cool or even a thing that was ever done.
What this film does have is a wonderful cast with a beautiful vision that occasionally felt like it was attempting to preach to converted people, rather than gather new lambs to the flock.
Format: This review was done with the Australian Bluray release of the film. Presented in a beautiful 2.39:1 image, with an amazing DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, both of which, as you would expect, are wonderful
Extras: I was very excited to see the amount of extras on this disc but quickly discovered they were a series of small featurettes, barely 5 minutes in length, that probably could have been stitched together into one below average 40 minute or so ‘making of’. It appears that they were all just advertising bits that have been thrown on here as ‘extras.
A Classic Transformed looks at the original stories.
Creature Vignettes takes a peek at the designs of each of the creatures, but each bit only runs for about 60 seconds, if that!
The cast and crew interviews see discussions about the film from Øvredal, production designer David Brisbin, Del Toro, producer J. Miles Dale, costume designer Ruth Myers and cast members Zajur, Rush, Pollard, Garza, Colletti and Natalie Ganzhorn (who played Ruth). Most of these interviews have sound bytes used in the other featurettes. Also, it’s frustrating when you hear an interviewee talk about something ‘previously mentioned’ that you don’t get to see.
Dark Tales briefly discusses how this film are a mix of a horror film and an Amblin film of the 80s.
Rebels With a Cause is about the development of the scares for the film.
Red Spot Clip is a summary of Ruth’s curse, stemming from a spot on her face she gets from when a spider bites her.
WISIA: Yeah, I can probably see myself watching this again.