The Reel Review
A group of teens must face their fears to save their lives in this film adaptation of Alvin Schwartz’s popular 1980s collection of children’s horror stories. Produced by Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro, the film, set in 1968, centers on a group of small town teenagers poking around inside a haunted house. When they open a book belonging to Sarah Bellows, a long-dead girl associated with a spooky urban legend, the stories literally write themselves (in children’s blood, no less!), unleashing a variety of ghoulish monsters.
Directed by André Øvredal (The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Trollhunter), the film focuses less on big scares and more on creepy vignettes with well done visual effects – the equivalent of a roller coaster that has lots of swerves and dips but no massive, breathtaking plunges. It can still be a fun ride, and this one is.
Stylish visual effects, strong performances from the ensemble cast (especially Zoe Margaret Colletti as Stella) and the clever incorporation of more adult themes from that era (racism, the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon’s Presidential win) makes for a well-crafted, old fashioned horror tale. Lana Del Ray caps it off with a haunting tune in the closing credits.
• Co-stars Austin Zajur (Chuck) and Dean Norris (Stella’s dad, Roy) also co-starred in the 2017 comedy Fist Fight
• Gil Bellows (Chief Turner) was Tommy in the iconic 1994 drama The Shawshank Redemption.
• Alvin Schwartz’s books – 1981’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, 1984’s More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and 1991’s Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones were the most challenged series of books in the 90s, targeted for bans at school libraries by parents upset with the macabre topics and nightmarish artwork.