Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Movie Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Scary but very entertaining movie based on classic books.
  • PG-13
  • 2019
  • 111 minutes

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 25 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 77 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Many mistakes are made, but characters do try to help each other despite being very scared -- and in the end, an important promise is made and kept.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Stella makes a fatal mistake in the beginning, but she works tirelessly to try to make up for it and rescue her friends. She's something of an outcast, but she finds an outlet through writing.


Several moments of terror and some blood. Scary monsters. Jump scares. Characters vanish. Stabbing with pitchfork. Bullies smash beer bottles and beat a scarecrow with a baseball bat. Severed body parts (which assemble into a monster). Stew filled with toes, eyeballs, etc. Flaming bag of poop thrown at car. Giant, squirm-inducing pimple on teen's face. References to the Vietnam War. Nazi symbol shown (on a poster of Nixon).


A teen has a "striptease" pen that reveals a naked woman when tilted (the ink runs down the tube); she's nearly but not entirely shown. Flirting and sex-related talk.


A (possible) use of "f--k," plus uses of "s--t," "a--hole," "hell," "goddamn," "butt," "turd," "stiffy," "perv," "shut up," "oh my God." A racial slur ("wetback") is both spoken and written.


1968-era brands shown: Tootsie Roll, Coca-Cola (in a fast-food cup with the logo on it).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teen bullies drink/get drunk on Halloween night. A teen's mother yells "Are you drunk again?"

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a horror movie based on a popular series of books by Alvin Schwartz from the early 1980s. It's well made and fun for horror fans, but it's too scary and edgy for younger viewers. Expect moments of terror, a little blood, jump scares, and creepy monsters. A character is stabbed with a pitchfork, and gross stuff is shown (eyeballs, severed toes, severed heads, etc.); body parts assemble to make a monster. A teen has a "striptease" pen that reveals a naked woman when tilted (though nothing graphic is shown), and there's some mild flirting and sex-related talk (a character is called a "perv"). Language includes a (possible) use of "f--k," plus "s--t," "a--hole," and a few other words, including a racial slur. Teen bullies are shown drunk, smashing beer bottles; one teen's mother asks, "Are you drunk again?"

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bySarahMcKay1964 August 8, 2019

The trailer is misleading!

I am a parent of 5 kids, one of them is 12 and really wanted to go see this movie. And me hating scary movies, I immediately said “I’m not going to go see that”... Continue reading
Adult Written byTurtleKid2001 August 13, 2019

Good story, but scary

Lots of scary monsters and demons, some with dead messed up faces. Lots of jumpscares. Teens talk about a young girl hanging herself.... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old November 10, 2019

Pretty Good

This movie was pretty good, it was more suspenseful than scary. The effects were done well and there were like 5 or 6 jump-scares. Kids who are sensitive should... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byLp2007 September 30, 2020

Pretty good

It is a good movie I watched in the movie theaters and I did get scared more than once . If you are thinking about watching this movie I say just go for it. It... Continue reading

What's the story?

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're caught and chased. At the drive-in, the teens duck into the car of Ramon (Michael Garza), a loner who's 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 start 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.

Is it any good?

Somewhat similar in mood and tone to It, this hugely entertaining scary story has its own delightfully demonic vibe, with strong characters, striking atmosphere, and furious frights. Based on a collection of short horror stories from the early 1980s by Alvin Schwartz (with horrific illustrations by Stephen Gammell), which was intended for kids, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark cooks up its own mythology as a way of packaging the books' mini-tales into a cohesive story. Set in 1968, the movie conjures up a kind of freedom in which the young heroes have the space and 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 Richard Nixon's re-election is right around the corner. Oscar-winning filmmaker/monster-maker Guillermo Del Toro -- who co-wrote Scary Stories' screenplay with his Trollhunters co-writers Dan and Kevin Hageman -- seems to have added the Ramon character as a way to highlight bigotry, which can be just as scary as ghosts. At the helm, talented Norwegian director Andre Ovredal 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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Scary Stores to Tell in the Dark's violence. How much is shown, or not shown? How did it make you feel? What's the impact of media violence on kids?

  • How scary is the movie? What's the appeal of scary movies? Why do people like to be scared?

  • How does the movie compare with the books, if you've read them?

  • How are bullies depicted? What happens to them? What are some other ways to deal with bullies?

  • Is Stella a strong female character? What are her flaws? What are her strengths? How much does she manage to do, even when she's scared?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love scary stuff

Themes & Topics

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