SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. US, 2019. Starring Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Lorraine Toussaint, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zazur, Natalie Ganzhorn, Austin Abrams. Directed by Andre Ovredal. 108 minutes. Rated M (Horror themes and violence).
Kinda high school scary!
The main target audience would have to be high school students, the same age as our central characters here. Which means that it has a touch of the PG about the scariness – which will not be enough for dedicated fans of horror. This one is not exactly mild but, it will do for a scary night for the teenagers (and best watched in the dark rather than on a television screen with the light on!).
The most unusual aspect of the film is that it is set in 1968 and there is quite a deal of explicit reference to the war in Vietnam, the action taking place from Halloween to the week of the American elections, discussions about Richard Nixon for president and final images of his winning the election. One of the central characters is also a draft dodger – but is finally scared into a righteous attitude by his experiences and going off to the war.
The setting is Mill Hill, Pennsylvania, and it is filmed in that mellow tone that indicates the past, suggesting nostaligia, a different era (although the sunlight then was probably just as bright and sharp as it is today). The central characters are at high school and we are introduced as they get dressed to go out for trick or treat but also to upset one of the local bullies. And that happens!
The central character is Stella, living alone with her sad father, writing horror stories. She and her two companions, Augie and Chuck, take refuge from their pursuers in a car at the drive-in (screening Night of the Living Dead) - the driver, Ramon, we have already met, Hispanic, called a wetback and urged to move on. But, he becomes involved in all the action, especially when they go to a haunted house, discover a book of stories written by the young woman of legend from the house.
What follows is a series of scary stories concerning each of the young people, starting with the bully who is menaced by a desperate scarecrow in a cornfield. Then Stella discovers, as she looks at the book, that stories start to be written, in blood, concerning each of them – so, we see a succession of stories fulfilling what the blood writing tells us. The emphasis is on menace rather than anything gory.
Of course, it has to come to a climax, with Stella and Ramon, who has become inextricably involved, having a weird experience in hospital, followed by a weird experience in prison, followed by even more weird experiences back in the haunted house.
In a way, much as might be expected. But, as has been said, a bit of a scary night for the teenage audience identifying with the teenage characters.
Universal Released September 26th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.