Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

A nice blend of cheese and true fear inducing filmmaking combine to create an endearing and enjoyable halloween romp.

Based on the series of books by the same name, this adaptation follows a group of teenagers in the late 60’s as the discover a book of stories that seem to be coming true around them.

The film can be easily divided into the based on a book segments and the original segments. The original segments feel a little cheesy and a little generic. The filmmaking is often pretty straightforward. The dialogue scenes are filmed in standard back and forth medium close ups. The style is standard medium budget filmmaking. However, when the stories take over, the filmmaking ratchets into high gear. Every element works together to generate some wonderful moments of terror and suspense. This was probably done intentionally to divide the scenes of reality from the scenes when the supernatural takes over, but it can divide too much. It begins to feel like the supernatural should just take over full time and do away with the bland cheese of the original story elements.

A big aspect of the films success is the creature design. The monsters here are clearly inspired by the original books haunting artwork. It is stunning to see these creatures leap off the page in such vivid detail. The effects work is chilling and frightening. It fully realizes the childhood nightmares inspired by the books. It does not disappoint.

The biggest triumph of this film however is the sound design. It’s often an overlooked aspect of filmmaking, but this film wouldn’t be half as effective without it. The sounds created for the film enhance every moment and create a deadening fear throughout. The sound of a book being taken off the shelf is so powerful it turns a simple act into the most intense and dreadful thing a person can do. The sound of straw as it interacts with a character early on in the film is one of the scariest things ever featured in a horror film.

The story framework doesn’t work as well as the horror elements. The characters are all fine, but they don’t become fully realized or fully engaged dramatically. There is so much potential in each of them, but it is often left by the wayside. They are great characters and fun people to follow, but they need more to do and more resolution to their stories. They have great setup, but not enough payoff.

It’s an imperfect film, but it is a lot of fun. It is worth seeing for the “Harold Sequence” alone. With all its positives its flaws are easy to overlook. I have great affection for this film and the craft that went into it. It’s my cup of tea. – B+

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