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Producer and co-writer Guillermo del Toro brings Alvin Schwartz’s much-loved children’s book series to the big screen, but this uneven film can’t decide who it’s trying to scare. Schwartz’s anthology of self-contained spooky short stories was popular in the 1980s, drawing on folklore and urban myths; here, the stories are stitched together as a collection of creepy prophecies.
In the fictional town of Mill Valley, Pennsylvania, a gaggle of nerdy teens led by aspiring writer Stella (Zoe Colletti) break into a dilapidated mansion. Local legend has it that the Bellows family kept their daughter Sarah locked up; in an act of vengeance, she’d tell scary stories to children through the wall. When Stella steals Sarah’s book of stories, her aggrieved spirit is reanimated.
In a departure from the books, the film adopts a period setting, taking place in the weeks leading up to Nixon’s election in 1968. The spectre of the Vietnam war hangs over the grisly proceedings, adding interesting atmospheric texture but little narrative detail. The film’s teen protagonists, meanwhile, are chaste children’s book heroes, but the horror, based on illustrator Stephen Gammell’s drawings, has a gruesome quality that feels too full-on for youngsters. A red pimple is infested with spiders, a human toe floats to the top of a vomit-like stew, and a lumpy, pale woman who smiles and shuffles ominously down a hospital corridor is truly terrifying.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark review – can’t decide who to frighten | Film