by Jules Banks / Features Editor
Since 1981, nothing has continued to simultaneously hypnotize and traumatize young children more than Alvin Schwartz’ trilogy “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.” As a young child, I too was a fan (or victim) of Schwartz’s haunting tales. The monsters and ghouls he wrote about, such as the Me Tie Dough-ty Walker, continue to be iconic figures in the horror genre. However, “Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark” had a clumsy and campy jump onto the big screen. The film, directed by Andre Ovredal, did what the book carefully avoided: trivializing the fears of children in a way that created a bland, corny tone.
“Scary Stories” had epic potential as a movie adaptation. With Schwartz’s source material bringing terrifying visions to life on the page, it seemed like an easy transition to put those same illustrated monsters on-screen. When the initial trailer was released on June 3, it caused an enormous media stir. The same fan base that was once enthralled by the books as children was eager to scare themselves once again in movie theatres as adults. Additionally, with Guillermo del Toro as one of the producers, this movie seemed set up to win. However, while the movie provided mild entertainment and sufficiently scary scenes, the formulaic outline and one-dimensional characters left a bad taste in many people’s mouths. Although the movie currently sits with an audience score of 72 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, review upon review of the film echoes the same complaint: “Scary Stories” wasn’t quite scary enough.
Ovredal’s adaptation was neither offensive nor terrible, but that in itself was the problem. The film tries too hard to be compatible to a mainstream audience by making a campy story involving four young main characters with no strong or compelling backstory—at least, none that was kept in the nearly two hour runtime. Main characters Ramon and Stella were classic caricatures of “children in the 60’s,” throwing unconvincing slang in their dialogue at any opportunity. While the scenes involving the actual monsters from Schwartz’s book were superb due to their well-timed suspense and thrilling special effects, the weak plot that tied them together caused the film to drag. The main antagonist of the story, a ghost named Sarah Bellows, is only briefly mentioned in the first book of the original “Scary Stories.” Her overblown plot coupled with some comical plot holes (for example, why does an 18-year-old from the 1960’s know how to use recording devices from the 1800s?) made the story hard to follow.
This ties into the main issue of the movie. To make the film PG-13 and acceptable to a wider audience, producers of the film calmed down the source material and attempted to make the plot character-based rather than staying true to the story’s horrific roots. However, the plotlines of many of the short tales within “Scary Stories” are about imperfect people making mistakes and paying for it with their lives. Readers are not supposed to get attached to the main characters—they are simply supposed to feel the same fear as the people within the book. While Schwartz mastered the art of articulating this nightmare-like aura within his writing, the attempt to make moviegoers feel strong empathy for main characters that were not given enough time nor backstory made the film adaptation feel flat. “Scary Stories” feels rushed and cheesy, and while that is acceptable for the random low-budget horror flicks that pop up around Halloween, botching a well-loved series like “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is a faux pas that many die-hard fans of the books will not soon forget.
Rating: 5 out of 10 Torches.