Horror-loving millennials got a chance to indulge in some nostalgia this weekend as Guillermo del Toro’s much-anticipated adaptation of “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” hit theaters with a meaty thump. Although the books were old when I was a kid, I happily added them to my collection of spook material, right next to Goosebumps and the Short & Shivery series. So when an ad for the movie popped up in my Facebook feed, you’d best believe I got the Husband on board to see it in our sketchy local theater on opening night.
“Scary Stories” is a cousin to the horror anthology genre, which includes my favorites, “Trick ‘r Treat,” “Tales from the Darkside,” and “Creepshow.” However, there is none of the traditional back and forth between story and reality: in this movie, the stories are the reality. In this adaptation, four teenaged friends in picturesque small-town Pennsylvania find a mysterious book in an abandoned mansion with ties to local lore. After they take the book home, strange and unsettling stories appear, sampled from the three volumes that make up the “Scary Stories” series. As the kids start dying, the lonely writer protagonist faces a race against time to discover the truth about the book and its mysterious author, Sarah Bellows.
“Scary Stories” is largely a creature feature, and on this score del Toro delivered (as usual). Illustrator Stephen Gammell’s monstrous drawings that once saw the series challenged by parenting activist groups in the ’90s come to life in utterly horrifying and satisfying fashion. The eldritch snowman horror that is the Pale Lady is my personal favorite, though the Jangly Man from “Me Tie Dough-ty Walker” comes in at a close second (he reminded me a bit of the titular character of “Jeepers Creepers”).
I was very pleased with the quality of the acting from the show’s main characters, though they could have been much worse and still been redeemed by the creatures’ shock value. Since I’m a sucker for small towns and autumn foliage, I enjoyed the setting, especially the charming-yet-threatening cornfields. The soundtrack was excellent, too; I particularly enjoyed the recurrence of the delightfully morbid “Hearse Song.” (I’m sure there’s an objective reason why music box tunes are creepy, but I’ve yet to figure it out.)
Overall, “Scary Stories” is a good time waiting to be had for horror lovers of the eighties and nineties. Anyone who hid their copies of the series from the nosy PTA members would be well advised to give it a try while it’s out.