There’s a story inside the stories that makes it likable.
I’ve been skeptical about whether or not I should dish on “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” because of how most jump scares bore me these days. And I’ve gotten into a conversation with a friend about how the best horror movies, like “The Shining,” “The Exorcist,” and “It,” are R-rated, and the PG-13 rating is kind of weak. There has been some entertaining PG-13 horrors like the original “Poltergeist,” “Insidious,” and “A Quiet Place,” while others tend to be tedious.
I’ve decided to give “Scary Stories” the B.O.T.D., because of the positive reviews it’s been given so far. I was annoyed by some of its demon sequences, like a Michael Myers-lookalike scarecrow, a severed toe, a white deformed woman, lots of spiders, and a monster who can dissemble himself. But there is a story inside the stories, and the people in this movie have personalities. That’s what makes “Scary Stories” watchable.
Based on Alvin Schwartz’s horror short stories for kids, the film is set in 1968 in Mill Valley, Pennsylvania (California in real life for the record, where we meet three high school kids-Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti, “Wildlife”), Auggie (Gabriel Rush, “Moonrise Kingdom”), and Chuck (Austin Zajur, “Fist Fight”)-and a well-meaning drifter named Ramon (Michael Garza, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 1”). They all break into a haunted house, which holds the history of how its deceased residents locked up their daughter Sarah Bellows in a secret room, isolating her from the world.
Stella, a young would-be writer living with her single father (Dean Norris), takes Sarah’s storybook, which she read to children through her walls. The result: all Hell breaks loose.
“You don’t read the book. The book reads you.” Why? Because the ghost writes more stories in her blood, each one aimed at one person per night. People are thereby disappearing, and burning the book is out of the question. So, Stella and her friends have to learn the true mystery behind the stories that Sarah crafted.
“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is entertaining when we meet the teens and their interests in the stories. I’m riveted that director Andrew Overdal (“Trollhunter”) and producer Guillermo del Toro chose to have the film set in a late 60s setting, which means there’s no iPhones, no texting, no Ubers; just teens with real feelings and ambitions. Sure, there are generic ones like the cynical Auggie, Chuck’s older sister Ruth (Natalie Ganzhorn, and the school bully (Austin Abrams), but Stella, Ramon, and Chuck are the ones you really care for; and they’re well portrayed by Colletti, Garza, and Zajur.
I didn’t care for the monsters, as much as I cared for the main human characters, because they tend to routine and standard. And I’m always going to be annoyed at how certain people (like Gil Bellows’ sheriff character) refuse to believe the horrors that apparently came from the book.
But I have to admit, the movie has more brains and heart than some recent bad horror movies like “The Curse of La Llorona” or the “Child’s Play” reboot. This is made for teens, and it’s inoffensive.