A Good Scary Movie to Watch in the Dark
When I was a kid, I remember reading R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and getting decently creeped out. They were freaky, fun, supernatural little ditties that were very entertaining to read, but whose horror elements did not last long too much afterward.
I also remember reading the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. The collections were written by Alvin Schwartz, and included illustrations by Stephen Gammell. What these sets of books lacked in quantity, they more than made up for in disquiet and lasting impressions.
I actually remember being freaked out so much while reading these that I attempted to “lock” the book in my backpack one night before going to bed. However, I laid there a good while, not being able to sleep, afraid that the monsters that I had just read about were going to find their way toward me. Many, many anxiety-ridden nights I owe to these stories as, while they are marketed towards a younger audience and are technically children’s books, the stories and (arguably moreso) the illustrations were able to enter and scar my psyche with nightmarish visions that I will never to able to purge.
Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I heard that they were adapting it, and that Guillermo del Toro was going to produce and write the screen story.
It borrows from a handful of Schwartz’s stories and formulates an anthology of sorts, with all the mini-tales remaining part of the larger film. The group of kids they cast were almost as good as the It kids, and almost as likeable: when one of the main characters was about to get assailed by a creeper, I found myself not wanting them to get hurt, but at the same time wanting really badly to see the next monstrosity that was gonna crawl on-screen. And boy, when they do, it’s hard to take your eyes away.
That brings us the the monster design. I do not know how much del Toro had a hand in the aesthetics of these things, but the ghosts/apparitions/monsters looked like they literally walked out of the books and into the film. And that’s how it should have been – being precise and giving form to what made the Scary Stories books so memorable (Gammell’s illustrations) was really the make-or-break point. The overall plot is not THAT great, and the writing still doesn’t manage to avoid certain horror movie tropes and misfires (seriously, if something is chasing a character in a house, why do they never jump out a window??). It could have also continued to explore specific themes that were only lightly touched on throughout the film such as racism, maternal abandonment, war anxiety, etc.
While it does have its pitfalls, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark works in more ways than it does not. By incorporating an equal amount of body horror and supernatural terror that appeals to both younger and older audiences, it succeeds on the same grounds as its literature counterparts did, and is further proof that you do not need to have an “R” rating to get the ultimate heebie-jeebies.
>> Person to see this movie with: Someone who will appreciate “The Red Spot”