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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?"
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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 ...
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?
- In theaters: August 9, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: November 5, 2019
- Cast: Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Austin Zajur
- Director: Andre Ovredal
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Horror
- Topics: Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Run time: 111 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: terror/violence, disturbing images, thematic elements, language including racial epithets, and brief sexual references
- Last updated: August 26, 2020
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