Review: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

It may be funny to think of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark as the best Halloween anthology movie since 2007’s Trick r Treat, but it’s a claim that can be defended.  The reason the claim is funny is because it is neither strictly speaking an anthology film, nor was it released anywhere near Halloween. The mystery surrounding the release date is probably easy enough to clear up.  First of all,it probably doesn’t want to compete with IT chapter two. Second, an august release is perfect timing for a home release right before Halloween and it is easy to envision a nation of kiddie sleep overs immersed in this spooky story.  Like the books themselves, the movie instantly feels like a classic rather than super-current. Making it a period piece was a smart move in this regard. The sixties aren’t going to be much more distant in twenty years than they are right now and as the film ages, the far away setting will add to the charm.

And rarely does a movie about magic live up to the appellation of “charm” quite so well.  Yes there are a few shock moments, but the films spookiness and quality rests not so much in unseen twists as superb execution of scary movie standards.  It’s going to be a re-watchable film BECAUSE even if you see something coming ten scenes away (and if you’re older than middle school, you certainly will), it’s still a fun and visually interesting journey getting there.  I found myself nostalgically reminiscing about the first scary movies and books I read as I watched this film and thought this film captured the spirit of discovering “dark entertainment” well.

The movie, while being set back in the 1960s, is in love with that time period only in regards to burgeoning social awareness, and clearly hopes that its own audience will develop a sensitivity to social issues.  Apart from the supernatural monsters, villains such as racial prejudice, environmental destruction, and corporate greed pop their head up.  The movie also has an awareness of the politics of the day. The backdrop of the Viet Nam war and the election of Nixon add to the sense of a world where danger is never far off, witches or no.

That’s not to say that it is a “politics for kids” movie.  Definitely not.  It is scary and fun before anything else.  But it fervently doesn’t want to talk down to its audience.  It’s not preaching some complicated point, but it’s not pretending things aren’t complicated either.  At the end of the film, some good things have happened and some bad things have happened. Some things can be fixed and some are to be endured.  It’s a theme that kids will appreciate because they already know it to be true but too often don’t see it depicted in more syrupy media. This isn’t a film that is going to grace the halls of the best scary movies of all time.  But it is also a fine addition, a film that technically and sometimes joyously meets all the requirements of survival horror, and one that I can easily see a generation holding tightly to as an introduction to a genre that revels in using imagination to pit fear against hope.