REVIEW: SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK succeeds in creating an engaging and dark atmospheric film with genuine scares.


Director Andre Overdal channels the creepiness and edge he utilized so well in The Autopsy of Jane Doe into this period piece which channels classic horror with a contemporary edge.

Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark is, without question, one of this year’s best horror films. Director Andre Overdal (Trollhunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe), along with writers Guillermo Del Toro, and Dan and Kevin Hageman, channel the creepy spirit of Alvin Schwartz’ creepy children’s book stories into a cohesive narrative arc that also serves up social commentary to bring the world of 1968 a little closer to the minds of the viewer. A task that could have easily gone as far off track as the recent Goosebumps films, but which Overdal and company navigate with skill and aplomb to bring you a film that feels like a cross between the best of Final Destination with a healthy side of Crimson Peak and The Shining.

Overdal’s film mainly follows the adventures of Stella Nichols (Zoe Margaret Colletti), a classic horror film-loving “lonely girl” living in rural Mill Valley, Pennsylvania in 1968. Along with her friends, Chuck (Austin Zajur) and Augie (Gabriel Rush), the three are celebrating Halloween until they’re accosted by high school jock bully Tommy (Austin Abrams). Tommy has mercilessly picked on the trio and the group sees this as their chance for revenge; egging his car as he steals their candy and throwing some flaming feces into his car which results in a crash. On the run, the trio takes refuge in the abandoned Bellows home, a home that is now forgotten and despised due to the mysterious case of the alleged child-murdering witch Sarah Bellows who was trapped there until her death. The trio also runs into an out-of-towner, Ramon (Michael Garza), who helps them escape the wrath of Tommy, but now finds himself a shared victim of his would-be revenge. While hiding out, the group finds a storybook owned by Sarah Bellows, which is rumored to contain the scary stories she told children through the wall of her boarded-up room as she was imprisoned for the death of other children. Stella asks the book and Sarah to tell her one last story which opens up a pandora’s box of consequences for the group as now it can manifest stories that could lead to their deaths unless they find the design behind the behavior of both the book and Sarah’s spirit.

One of the main reasons the film works is its period setting. By placing the film in 1968, Overdal and Del Toro are able to invoke some of the sense of righteous indignation and social commentary that George Romero did in his 1968 film Night of the Living Dead, which the characters see at a drive-in. Ramon is treated as an other in Mill Valley, a Hispanic drifter who’s not to be trusted much like the black Duane in Night. Both Ramon and Duane become protectors while having to overcome their own issues. Not to mention, we see issue sof race come up as the film is set in the wake of the 1968 presidential election between Nixon, Hubery Humphrey, and George Wallace. The other is the camaraderie between the leads. The relationship between Augie, Stella, Ramon, and Chuck is not dissimilar to that of the kids on Stranger Things, down to the use of walkie talkies to stay in constant contact. The audience is made to feel and sympathize for them, which makes it even harder when they’re targeted for death by the book and its master. Zoe Margaret Colletti especially shines as Stella, as does Gabriel Rush as Augie. The film’s creature design and ability to build up suspension and dread are the other big factors in its success. The film isn’t set up to be gory and gross the audience out, but rather to create mood and atmosphere, not unlike a Hammer film in the same period. When we see the creatures that Bellows’ book spits up, they create a very atmospheric sense of terror and tension coupled with physical effects on our protagonists that, while not, gory, are visceral and evoke a sense of real distress and empathy that fake gore just doesn’t. While not spoiling too much, the film could very easily have veered down the role of something as juvenile as Goosebumps or Jumanji, but Del Toro and Overdal steer the film into a genuine ghost story material, Scary Stories To Tell in The Dark rivals Crimson Peak in character design and tense dread. It follows a similar blueprint as The Autopsy of Jane Doe or Final Destination in terms of following the victim of a curse but makes you want to side with those trying to diffuse the paranormal, rather than revel in it.

Scary Stories To Tell in The Dark is a solid entry in the oeuvre of the haunted ghost story, but its the film’s treatment of social issues that really sets it apart. The performances throughout are top-notch, and the film sports its own collection of great easter eggs, including a nod to a certain beloved lupine radio DJ from the past that really brought the world it shows to a grounded and engrossing place.