Anyone who is a lover of horror remembers the gruesome and terrifying stories in the Alvin Schwart’s retelling of the American folklore, Scary Stories to Tell in the dark. And one cannot forget the chilling images captured by the illustrator Stephen Gammell.
This book left such an impact on children’s nightmares that in 2018 they decided to turn it into a film. Director, André Øvredal went with an interesting plot to introduce the stories to us.
In the opening scene, a grimy quote by the lead character, Stella Nicholls, telling us how we start to believe stories we tell over and over through time, this applies to the ending of the film.
We are quickly aware of the time stamp being in 1968, in a small town called Mill Valley, on the day of Halloween. Stella’s character is raised by a single father who is overworked and stressed. Her BFF’s Chuck and Auggie plan to get revenge on the town star player Tommy, who bullies them relentlessly every Halloween. Tommy, however, releases anger on a scarecrow in his field named Harold, who will ultimately be the cause of his demise.
Immediately they start their plan of payback and their harmless prank on Tommy backfires when they throw a lit fire inside his car. After a chase in the woods, they’re introduced to their new Allie Ramon, whose backstory is an issue many men faced back in the ’60s dealing with the draft of the war.
After Tommy finds them in a drive-in movie and his threats go unnoticed, and the gang decides to go on a creepy adventure.
They stumble upon the Bellows’s haunted house. This family has a history of torturing the town and their daughter Sarah Bellows has a book of stories that’ll leave you dead… literally.
The curiosity to enter the house came from Stella, who is obsessed with stories. After stealing the book from Sarah’s room things start to get a bit crazy.
WARNING KILLER SCENE SPOILER
The scenes chosen for the film were based on the books: “The Haunted House,” “The Red Spot,” “The Big Toe,” “Harold,” and “The Pale Lady.” The new monster “The Jangly Man” was a mixture of multiple characters from the book series. And hats off to the design crew for bringing each character to life in each of the deaths.
The cool detail added into the story that the characters didn’t know was that the stories write themselves at the moment that the kills are occurring. Stella realizes this when she runs her fingers on a blank page and the red ink “Harold” leaves blood on her finger.
As she began reading she sees Tommy’s name and things go left after that. As Tommy walks through the corn-field to deliver a product his mom instructed he notices that he’s walking in circles past the scarecrow one too many times. Harold mysteriously is off of the stick and begins walking to him, after stabbing Tommy with a rake he starts to turn into a scarecrow.
The next morning the town is in a frenzy because no one has seen or heard from Tommy but Stella knows exactly what happened. After providing evidence of her suspicions with Chuck’s story, Auggie is unphased by it and believes it is non-sense until he realizes he’s next in the book.
When Stella realizes the danger of the book, she tries to return it back to the Bellows haunted house, but it ends up back in her room moments later. And the killing scenes continued to write themselves. Later they discover the truth about Sarah Bellow, and how she was indeed tortured by her own family and used the stories as a way to get revenge for the pain she endured.
Stella and Ramon are the last two standing, and in the middle of Ramon’s story and his flee from Jangly Man they both end up back in the Bellows house. After going through the final moment as Sarah did Stella Finds herself in the very room they left her in where she began writing her stories. After coming face to face with Sarah’s ghost, Stella makes a promise that saves both her life and Ramons.
Although the film was not as expected, the true applause goes to the art and makeup department for capturing the illustrations of Stephen Gammell. In the video below you can see the step by step process to taking the characters beyond the pages and into action. Amazing job cast and crew!
I will rate the overall film a 7 out of 10 solely based on the effects of the monsters in the film. The art and stunts of each of them were brought to life through the design, sound, and the stunt-men. The plot was a genius way of introducing the stories to the audience, especially those who did not read the novel growing up. I prefer there be a television spin-off of the book rather than a movie so there can be more suspense and information on each story. With there being three books, can we expect a sequel or will the writers and producers go with the series route? We will find out later in time.