Not the scariest film you’ll watch in the dark, but was it enjoyable regardless?
The following is spoiler free for your viewing pleasure.
Guillermo Del Toro helps to bring the original stories from Alvin Schwartz’s book of the same name released in 1981, to life. Directed by André Øvredal and starring a fairly unknown young cast; this flick has some fun spooks, but the overarching plot feels a little underdeveloped and fails to truly excite.
The book this film is based upon is a collection of short stories; when adapting for the big screen, producer Guillermo Del Toro decided to not make an anthology film, which isn’t a bad decision as anthology films don’t usually do all that well. They tend to really only garner a cult following – I sometimes feel like I’m the only one who likes films like ‘V/H/S’ and ‘The ABC’s Of Death’ (both released in 2012). Now, I went into this film blind; I didn’t watch any trailers or read anything about it. I was expecting – and looking forward to – an anthology film. I won’t judge anyone for it, as it wasn’t falsely marketed or anything, it’s just a little bit of a shame, but an understandable choice for them to have made. The stories are instead woven together by a narrative that is a little cliché – teenagers enter a haunted house, they awaken an angry spirit, and the spirit comes after them seeking revenge. I think it could have been better as an anthology film, as the story adaptations were the most enjoyable parts of the film.
The book was written and released in the 80s, and the stories have no specific time setting. They decided to recontextualise this film to be set in 1968. It’s never made fully clear as to why they’ve made this choice. For the most part it feels like it’s set in modern day apart from the odd President Nixon reference and one of the characters being drafted into the Vietnam War. This could have been done to feed on the popularity of ‘It’ (2017) and ‘Stranger Things’ (2016-), however these have their reasons as to why they’re set in the 80s, but with this film I just don’t quite get what point they were trying to make by setting it in 1968.
The target audience of this film has become a much debated topic. This is where I feel Del Toro’s influence can be seen. I’m sure you’re all familiar with his film ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ (2006) which was marketed as a dark fairytale for edgy kids, but there are so many horror elements in this film that I (and many others) have always considered it a dark fairytale for ADULTS. Schwartz’s 1981 book is a children’s book, and although the stories are spooky, they’re nothing more scary than what you’d read in a Goosebumps book. In America this was released as a PG-13, which is basically the equivalent of a 12a here in the UK and means children under 13 can watch if supervised by an adult. This film feels a little too intense for a child – although, I was watching films like ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ as a child, so really who am I too judge what’s appropriate? The BBFC seems to agree with me though as it was released as a 15 here. Honestly, watching it I felt unsure who it was meant for. As a horror veteran, some parts were very tame so you feel, maybe it’s meant for a younger audience just getting into horror. Other parts made me jump and squirm and it feels like it’s aimed at those of us who enjoy a more visceral horror. Maybe they were trying to aim it at a wide audience, but you just spend a lot of time judging it and then thinking ‘is this even meant for me?’.
I’ve focused on several negative elements of this film, but there is one really positive aspect I must take the time to discuss: the practical effects. They were really stand out, and were easily the best part of this film. The special effects team – Spectral Motion – did an excellent job bringing Stephen Gammell’s illustrations from the original book to life. Although I’ve seen many people argue that the original illustrations are creepier – which I can’t deny – I do think they did a great job at pulling them out of the pages and transforming them into a live action format. Yes, they did also use CGI, but only to enhance the creep factor of these monsters. They used real actors and practical effects where possible and it pays off! A special shout out also needs to be given to the actors portraying them; Troy James in particular is mesmerising as the Jangly Man.
Overall, I rate this film ⭐⭐⭐ it was an enjoyable film, and I do recommend it, but I did feel a little unsatisfied by the time I got to the end.
‘Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark’ is currently streaming for free on Prime Video, sign up to a 30 day free trial today: https://amzn.to/381Mrt1 (this link is an affiliate link, I may make a commission from anything you purchase via this link.)