I remember the first time I laid eyes on a SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK book. I must have been five or six and already obsessed with horror. I had just gotten my first set of Goosebumps books, which since they were Chapter books, ended up on our basement bookshelf. As I was headed to retrieve the first one to read, I looked up on my older sister’s shelf and saw this black paperback with SCARY STORIES across the spine. Curiosity piqued, I picked it up, and first laid eyes on the drawings that still creep me out to this day.
The SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK books were the ones that we read around the fire or by flashlight at summer camp. They were the stories that we based our own camp legends on. They inspired the sinking sensation in the back of my mind every time I went to take out the trash alone at night, imagining The Thing just waiting beyond the trees.
SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK traumatized and defined a generation of kids growing up. Taking on a film adaptation, and making it not only true to the stories, but the imagery that has been burned into our brains since childhood, is not an easy task. However, both producer, Guillermo del Toro, and director André Øvredal, were up to this task.
The new movie is set in 1968 in a small town with a dark secret. Teens Stella (Zoe Colletti), Auggie (Gabriel Rush), and Chuck (Austin Zajur) get ready for Halloween, unsuspecting of where the night will take them. Running from the resident town bully, they meet up with the new kid in town, Ramón (Michael Garza). The group decides to check out the town’s haunted house where it is reputed that Sarah Bellows used to live. Locked behind the walls by her own family, Sarah would whisper scary stories through the walls to any kid who asked, often to that child’s demise. While exploring the house, Stella and Ramon find a secret room locked behind a wall and discover Sarah’s old room, complete with her book of scary stories. Stella takes the book with her, and, starting that very same night, new stories begin writing themselves into the book, this time starring the kids of the town.
One of my biggest concerns back in 2013 was that the imagery, burned into our minds by Stephen Gammell as children, would be impossible to recreate for the big screen. Once the first poster dropped and we saw Harold for the first time earlier this year, my fears were somewhat stymied, but the concern remained. The concern is no longer. Del Toro and Øvredal did an amazing job recreating those terrifying images into our reality. The monsters were spot on, not only looking like their inspirations, but also instilling that same sense of dread, even into my adult heart.
This iteration of SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK does a lot with it’s PG-13 rating. There has long been the stigma of PG-13 horror not able to live up to their R-rated brethren. There has been many a PG-13 horror that has been clearly pulled back from what it could have been if it had just gone for that R-rating. This is not a problem for SCARY STORIES. Perhaps it’s because the source material was intended for children, but the movie is creepy and terrifying without the need for gore, nudity, or the other factors that usually push horror into that R-rating. Del Toro has said that he wants the new movie to be a “gateway movie” making it accessible to the new generation who may not have read the books, but want a horror movie that the whole family can watch.