It’s 1968, and we’re in a small town called Mill Valley where a group of teens are dressing up and getting ready for Halloween. This trio consists of Stella, an aspiring horror writer, a nervous nerd named Auggie, and the prankster Chuck. It’s their final year of trick-or-treating on Halloween together, and they’ve planned to use it as an opportunity to play a trick on the local school bully Tommy. This ends up with Tommy’s car getting vandalized, and he and his gang starts chasing them into a drive-in theater. While the trio is desperately looking for a hiding place, they all enter a young man’s car. His name is Ramon, and Stella immediately feels attracted to him as it becomes clear that he also shares the same passion for horror movies as she does. When Tommy and his gang are out of the way, Stella suggests that they visit the haunted house nearby: the old Bellows family residence. The Bellows family had a daughter, Sarah Bellows, whom they locked inside the house. No photos of the girl existed, and the story tells that she hanged herself inside the house after being accused of causing the death of several children after reading them some of the scary stories she used to write. When the group of teenagers enter the old house, they find the secret entrance to the room where the family kept Sarah locked in…and one of her “Scary Stories” books. Stella brings it back home with her, but when she starts reading it, a new story suddenly starts writing itself on one of the blank pages. Sarah Bellows is back at telling scary stories again…
“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is a movie that plays a lot on the nostalgia for those of us who have read the book series by the same name, with the infamous illustrations by Stephen Gammell. The illustrations have played the biggest role in making the blood run cold in many a child’s veins when browsing through the pages, and the movie is actually taking clear references from the actual drawings themselves, even more than from the original stories. Like for example “Harold”, the scarecrow story. The story in the movie is nothing like the original story (in fact, the original story from the book is much darker), but in the movie’s setting it works in order to tie it up with the rest of the characters. And the woman from the story called “The Dream” is so much like the character from Stephen Gammell’s original illustration that I actually got a little chill. Now, in order to tie the original stories together with the plot in this movie, changes had to be made of course. Many of the stories from the original books were also based on folklore and urban legends, and thus some of the characters in the movie actually references to remembering some of the stories from their earlier childhood. There is also a new addition to the movie: the “Jangly Man”, which is a character composed from several of the stories and Stephen Gammell’s illustrations (including the “Me Tie Dough-ty Walker” story). While there aren’t references to every single story in the series of three books, there’s enough to keep you satisfied.
Now, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is not a horror movie for gore-hounds or those looking for something really scary. It’s a visually rich film with the excellent dark fantasy-mood that Guillermo del Toro has become so known for, and the direction by André Øvredal (who previously made “Trollhunter” and the quite dark and scary “Autopsy of Jane Doe” is confident and strong. Also keep in mind that the books were all written for and intended for children (so why they had some of the most nightmare-fueling illustrations you could possibly find is a bit mind-boggling, but really cool nevertheless). Still, the movie is really entertaining and chock-full of atmosphere (and actually some creepy scenes as well). You’ll also easily be able to enjoy it without having read the books, but there’s still no doubt that this movie will probably get a stronger hold on those of us that have read (and seen) them.
There’s also possibilities for a sequel or two here, and I hope they use that opportunity. Maybe a trilogy, just like the books. We’ll find out, sooner or later!
And, of course, the Horror Ghouls own the books and have done so for some years now. Here’s some photos from the books, and you’ll easily be able to see the similarities of the characters from Stephen Gammell’s illustrations. And for those interested in getting their hands on these books: they used to be out of print and not so easy to get your hands on (aside from some eBay listings), but they had a reprint a couple years back. The books had a reprint earlier as well, but that version didn’t contain Stephen Gammell’s illustrations as instead they hired Brett Helquist for the job to make new ones. While Brett Helquist is a very talented illustrator, known for making the art for books like “A Series of Unfortunate Events” and many others, the new illustrations just weren’t as bloodcurdling as the originals by Stephen Gammell. Thus, the replacements in the previous reprint did of course disappoint a lot of people. But now, you can easily get your hands on the books with the original drawings!
Director: André Øvredal
Country & year: USA | Canada, 2019
Actors: Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Lorraine Toussaint, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, Austin Abrams, Kathleen Pollard, Stephanie Belding, Hershel Blatt, Brandon Knox, Jane Moffat, Amanda Smith