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With: Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Austin Zajur, Gabriel Rush, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Lorraine Toussaint, Natalie Ganzhorn, Austin Abrams, Kathleen Pollard
Written by: Guillermo del Toro, Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, based on a story by Marcus Dunstan, Patrick Melton, and on a book by Alvin Schwartz, Stephen Gammell
Directed by: André Øvredal
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for terror/violence, disturbing images, thematic elements, language including racial epithets, and brief sexual references
Running Time: 111
Date: 08/08/2019

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Tale Gates

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Somewhat similar in mood and tone to It (2017), this hugely entertaining scary story has its own delightfully demonic vibe, with strong characters and striking atmosphere, and some furious frights.

In Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, nerdy, horror-loving outcast Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) is urged to come out on Halloween night, 1968, with her two misfit best friends, Augie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur). Their plan is to prank the town bully (Austin Abrams), but they are caught and chased. At the drive-in, they duck into the car of Ramon (Michael Garza), a loner passing through town.

Later, when the coast is clear, they take Ramon to the local haunted house and tell him about the legend of Sarah Bellows, whose ghost is said to tell scary stories and make children disappear. In a secret room, Stella finds Sarah's actual book, and before long, scary things begin happening and kids begin to vanish. Stella must find out the real story behind Sarah Bellows and set things right before her own name comes up in the book.

Based on a fearful 1981 book — kind of a collection of little urban legends by Alvin Schwartz with horrific illustrations by Stephen Gammell — that was intended for kids, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark creates its own mythology as a way of packaging the mini-tales into a cohesive story. Set in 1968, it conjures up a kind of freedom in which the young heroes have the space the gumption to run about town and do their own thing. (Stella's room is filled with classic horror movie posters and monster magazines, as well as a half-finished tale in her typewriter.) We love hanging out with them, and their ghost chase is as secretly thrilling as it is scary.

It begins on Halloween night, and then Night of the Living Dead is playing at the drive-in, while Vietnam hovers in the background and the re-election of Richard Nixon is right around the corner. The Mexican-born, Oscar-winning filmmaker and monster-maker Guillermo Del Toro — who co-wrote the screenplay with his Trollhunters co-writers Dan and Kevin Hageman — seems to have added the Ramón Morales character as a way to highlight bigotry, which can be just as scary as ghosts.

At the helm, the talented Norwegian director Andre Ovredal (Trollhunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe) keeps a measured, tense pace and uses physical space, including the haunted Bellows house, a cornfield, a creepy hospital, and even a bedroom, to great shocking effect. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has the stuff to become a perennial re-watch when the frost is on the pumpkin.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray release features an excellent picture and sound, as well as a handful of featurettes. Some of them are pretty typical EPKs, but others are pretty interesting, including one on the movie's practical FX, and another one with "mood reels," assembled by director Ovredal after each week of shooting. Producer Del Toro also appears in the featurettes. Otherwise, the disc includes a batch of trailers for other Lionsgate releases, a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio mix, and optional subtitles.

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