“Scary Stories” is this summer’s monster mash smash
Who among us doesn’t love a good summer scare? And there are so many classic horror stories that either take place in or are released during the summer season, but up until “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” debuted last weekend, the horror genre in 2019 has seen one too many lacklustre sequels and unnecessary remakes (including but not limited to the oversaturated third installment of “Annabelle” and the less than well-received remake of “Child’s Play”). The surprise summer sleeper hit “Midsommer” definitely took genre fans by surprise, but overall, horror movies have been letting us down as of late. Not since 2018’s “Halloween” has there been a scary movie worth seeing on the big screen…
Perhaps that’s why the 2019 summer movie season has been unabashedly dominated by Walt Disney family films. Between “Aladdin” (Disney), “Toy Story 4″ (Disney/Pixar), “Spider-Man: Far From Home” (Disney/Marvel Studios in association with Sony Pictures) and “The Lion King” (Disney) – which all debuted at number one with the latter three joining the coveted “Billion Dollar Club” this August – Walt Disney Pictures has nearly monopolized the entire movie industry. So when all of these major summer blockbusters are either Mouse House juggernauts and/or franchise sequels/remakes with an already established fan base (like current number one “Hobbs & Shaw” starring Dwayne Johnson), where does a rated PG-13 horror movie based on an old children’s anthology series fit in?
After hitting theatres in the dead of August, “Scary Stories” debuted at number two earning $20.84 million domestically. Its release date is also a strategic one; since the film takes place during Halloween, an August release date allows for the film to continue jump-scaring audiences in the digital and streaming markets come this October. Just in time for Halloween! C’mon marketing! This little-horror-movie-that-could may steer away from the original book’s anthology concept but it still manages to deliver an exciting new universe where these nightmarish tales can live on forever in cinematic horror heaven. Or in this case, hell!
If you’re an 80s/90s kid, you’ll likely remember how gut-wrenching the “Scary Stories” books (and the monsters they featured) were. All these years later, a film adaptation with a PG-13 rating allows for a new generation of youngsters to enjoy these tales on the big screen. Serving a family-friendly fright-fest suitable for (nearly) all ages, “Scary Stories” is still not a film for young kids. Not unless you want them waking up in the middle of the night screaming about the Jangly Man! Teens and even preteens, however, can and should relish in being able to see one of the biggest horror movies of the year – they don’t even need to sneak in!
Speaking of kids, the young actors who play Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti from 2014’s “Annie”) and Chuck (Austin Zajur from TV’s “Kidding“) steal the entire show with their raw emotions and genuine reactions to the nightmarish monsters that take over their town. Frankly, all of the young and upcoming actors pull their weight in this film, but Colletti and Zajur are the film’s obvious standouts and their adult contemporaries (like Dean Norris who plays Zoe’s father Roy) bring just the right amount of adulthood needed in a kid-centric adventure/horror movie.
Written by Alvin Schwartz, the “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” books are not-so-secret cult favourites among Millennials, so when it was announced that Academy Award-winning director Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) was going to produce the film adaptation, excitement swirled around the prospect that these well-known ghouls of the past were about to be brought to life by a contemporary guru of on-screen monsters. And boy, did Guillermo del Toro deliver! From the moment these monsters debut (which is sporadically throughout the film), they’re ingrained into the horror hall of fame. Specifically the Pale Lady in the hospital hallways and the Scarecrow in the field crops. Talk about the heebie-jeebies!
The locations of this film also highlight the time period in which “Scary Stories” is set in, which is in rural America in the 1960s and they’re among the best of the year. From high schools, drive-ins and hospitals to farms, crop fields and creepy old haunted houses, southern Ontario was truly transformed in the making of this film. A source close to me is credited as a Scenic Carpenter in the making of “Scary Stories” and they described what it was like to work on set: “It’s interesting because in the horror genre, you generally build things and it all looks very tidy and nice and then our scenic artists come in and age it and make it looked like it’s several centuries old and decrepit,” the source said. “The sheer amount of detail that went into the haunted mansion… Del Toro and Øvredal and the production designer David Brisbin really went the extra mile to make everything look authentic. Everything from the massive trim and chair rail to the incredible detail on the doorknobs and hardware was meticulously thought out.” And all of this is incredibly eye-catching while watching the film. The set design and execution truly makes “Scary Stories” look like it’s crawling with authenticity.
Director André Øvredal (Trollhunter) is relatively new to the director chair but he does his absolute best at merging author Alvin Schwartz’s books into a fitting new horror movie. And during our current times, where Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and Warner Bros.’ “IT” showcases child actors embarking on nostalgic yet dangerous adult-centric adventures sans modern technology, “Scary Stories” manifests this trend superbly. And although certain aspects of the film may be playing off of other popular films like “Jumanji,” “The Goonies” and “Goosebumps,” as well, it comes across as an homage to the genre rather than a blatant rip-off. “Scary Stories” still basks in original horror glory.
The script, written by Dan and Kevin Hageman, maintains the unique concept of the books, but the on-screen storyline merges them all into one narrative and this, unfortunately, left me wanting more. The characters weren’t as developed as could have been and the third act and – without spoiling anything – felt a bit run-of-the-mill. It was as if I’d already seen this ending before… But while the overall film may not have hit a home run and the ending a bit of a letdown, “Scary Stories” still takes audiences on an engaging, frightful and disgusting journey to third base before abruptly taking the shortcut home. Still, this movie is really fun, fresh, and completely worth your time and money. If it continues doing well in theatres, we may even get a sequel! I mean, every other movie is getting one, and there are so many more “Scary Stories” to tell!
3.5 Popcorn Kernels / 5
About the Author
Joey Viola is the Co-Founder of MoJo Toronto and an LGBTQ community leader who utilizes his passion and flair for the art of writing by bringing a fresh perspective in reviewing entertainment and advocating for equality, tolerance, and social/political justice.