by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: André Øvredal
Cast: Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush
My Rating: 3/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 80% Certified Fresh

PLOT: In order to save their lives, a group of kids face their fears as manifested by a haunted book of stories that write themselves.

I learn from Wikipedia that Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is based on a popular series of horror stories from the ‘80s, written for a young-adult audience, much like the Goosebumps books, I would imagine.  (I have to imagine, because I have never read a single Goosebumps book.)  If the stories are anything like the trilogy of so-called terror presented in the film, they must be scary indeed.  At least on paper.

The plot: a group of teenagers in 1968 – why that year, specifically?  No idea – discover a book in a local haunted house, a REAL haunted house, that is supposedly filled with stories that a crazy woman would read to local kids through the walls of her basement where she was kept prisoner by her family.  They unwisely take the book from the house and should therefore be unsurprised when the stories in the book start to play out for real.

As a film, Scary Stories delivers occasional shocks without suspense.  You know what I’m talking about, right?  The scene where something jumps at the screen and the soundtrack goes DA-DUM!!!  …and it’s just a cat.  The entire movie is like that.  There are attempts to build suspense, but they fail to do so.

Ironically for a film with “Stories” in its title, I think the problem lies with the storytelling.  The stories on their own are fairly creepy, and seem like they could provide material for a much scarier film.  A scarecrow that comes to life?  A creepy-looking woman who just keeps walking closer and closer to you no matter what you do?  An animated corpse wondering who stole its big toe?  (Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea.)  These would indeed be great stories to tell in the dark, preferably around a campfire or at a slumber party with the lights out and the doors and windows unlocked.

But the film stumbles, and it’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what happened.  Maybe it rushes through the “in-between” material, the filler between the episodes of terror.  By rushing through those scenes, we really don’t get to know enough about the children who wind up in peril, and consequently we don’t care when they’re being stalked by monsters, etc.

Maybe it’s the fact that these stories, scary as they are on their own, are re-treads of classic horror tropes that we’ve seen over and over and OVER again.  But it can’t be that because, honestly, I have no beef with old tropes, as long as you tell the story well.  (Some might call that “putting old wine in a new bottle”, but if it’s a snazzy enough bottle, I’ll give it a pass… Avatar, anyone?)

So it has to be the storytelling.  The shocks were only periodically effective, and there are some disturbing visuals.  (My favorite involves the creepy-looking woman who keeps getting closer and close, which reminded me of a better film, It Follows.  For that matter, if you want a GREAT horror movie centered on a book, beg, borrow, or steal (not really) The Babadook.  Now THERE’S a scary story.  But I digress.)

There are some disturbing visuals, but the film just felt like it was keeping everyone at arm’s length.  Instead of getting sucked into the stories, I felt like I was watching it from inside the concession stand at a drive-in.  I was a distant observer.

You wanna know what the best part of the movie was?  The full trailer for Zombieland: Double Tap before the movie even started.  Not a great sign.

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