Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen this movie yet, there are spoilers. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark, by Alvin Schwartz is one of a long list of books I cherished as a child. Hell, I’m lying. I still read these damn books sometimes, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Pretty sure my whole generation was touched by this trilogy. The stories were great, I’ve got four or five of them memorized. But what made these books memorable, what dialed my little horror-loving heart up to eleven, was the artwork! Holy shit, this artwork, man. If you haven’t seen it, where the hell have you been? But here are some examples.
Creepy, right? They’re the best.
Now, movies made of beloved books of my childhood are something that I try to not bring up in polite society. I tend to get angry, and then I tend to get foul-mouthed. Like, more than normal. And seeing as how I’ve managed to slip four curse words into the first paragraph of this post, and this is something that I’m writing professionally, that should tell you something. Do you know that meme about someone being five drinks in and using fuck like a comma? Yeah, that’s me when talking about The Chronicles of Narnia books.
But when I saw the first trailer for Scary Stories, I had high hopes. I felt sure that this movie was going to be epic because they got the most important thing right. They got the artwork perfect! Of course, that could mean nothing. Just because the effects guys were epic, that doesn’t mean the writers knew what they were doing. The actors might have been shitty. There were lots of things that could have gone wrong.
Now that I’ve finally managed to sit down and watch the movie in full, I can say that my worst fears were not realized, and my greatest dreams were dashed. Let’s get into why.
Within seconds of the movie starting, the husband and I both said that this movie had a strong Stranger Things feel. It was in a similar time frame, similar casting. The whole thing just had kind of the same feel. To the point that we spent a lot of time making jokes about calling Hopper. He’d have taken the racist police chief to task. And boy, did that idiot need to be taken to task. More on that later. But the movie benefited from that Stranger Things feel.
Scary Stories and Stranger Things are both part of a group of horror fiction that I enjoy. Lots of scary, small amounts of gore, and everyone keeps their pants on! So it’s great for the kids who are old enough to handle some scary stuff and the occasional oh so repeatable swearword. But you don’t have to have any sort of Labyrinth type conversations with kids who’ve never seen a bulge, bare ass or anything like that. Another option, if you’ve got kids that age, are the Paranormal Activity movies. Monster House is another great one.
Probably my favorite thing about this movie was that the design team brought the artwork to life and it wanted to kill people. Harold looked just how you’d expect Harold to look. Which is to say, scary as hell. You remember Harold, the vengeful scarecrow. He’s had a dark, seeping, terrifying place in my nightmares for most of my life. He’s back now, with some horrifying movements and sounds to work with. Yay?
Oh, and the Jenga Man! If you haven’t seen this movie yet, let me not spoil this moment that made me, a thirty-three-year-old woman, scream. If you’ve seen it, please leave a note in the comments and tell me if I’m the only grown-ass adult who was creeped right out of their skin by that thing.
While honestly not the best thing about the movie, the storyline wasn’t bad. It was better than I was expecting, but then my expectations were pretty low. It revolves around a child killer named Sara Bellows. Her family locked her away, and she told scary stories to the children of the town. Then she murdered them. At least, that’s how the story goes.
Our main characters find themselves locked in the house on Halloween night, after tricking a bully and running from his vengeance. There they find one of Sara’s books. Stella, the horror freak and writer, takes the book with her. Horror ensues when the book starts telling stories. Stories that come true. It’s not an original story, but it’s pretty good. Like I said, way better than I thought it would be.
The cast of characters was really good. I loved Stella, I was Stella as a child. Auggie and Chuck were the boys I wish I would have been friends with. Auggie was too smart for his good, and Chuck was funny as hell. And then there was Ramon. He was a remarkably well-written character. Every character seemed like a real kid this age. Which is refreshing.
Now, of course, I am a writer. I’m a storyteller. And that’s kind of a big thing about this movie. Stories have power. Words have power. And that’s my favorite thing ever.
Can I also point out that this story was set near Pittsburgh? And I think you all know how much I love my city. Also, not bragging, but Night of the Living Dead was filmed here. We are the home of zombies, just saying.
Hey, so let us talk about how they handled racism. Because they handled it well. The way the police harassed Ramon the whole movie is sadly realistic. And I want that to be a conversation that we’re having. Kids should have that conversation with their parents.
Okay, I know I praised the storyline, and it was good. But I have to say that the antagonist’s reasons were pretty heavy-handed. I don’t want to get too much into it because spoilers. And I get it that this is a movie meant for children. That doesn’t in any way mean that we need to get beaten over the head with the moral of the story. Stories can have morals. I don’t mind morals. I can enjoy it. But I don’t need to be knocked the hell out.
Now, I hate to have to do this. But there was one thing that made me hate this movie. It was the last five minutes. The last five minutes were so damned rushed, so damned tossed together. There were so many questions, without any good answers. There’s nothing wrong with an open ending to a movie. There are lots of things wrong with feeling like I have no idea what the hell just happened.
Finally, look, I hate to be that guy. But war is, um, bad. And the Vietnam war was really bad. The people who were drafted into that war were treated as disposable and it’s a stain on our country’s history. I personally have known several men who were drafted and came back broken. A whole generation of our people was shattered. We owe them an apology. The last thing we need to do is brainwash another generation of young men into thinking that if they don’t go overseas to kill people they’re cowards. Our men and women of the armed forces are heroes, but there are other ways to be a hero. Standing up for peace is heroic too. Just saying.
That’s about it. I recommend Scary Stories, I don’t care how old you are. I loved almost every minute of this movie, except for the last five.
By the way, I wanted to let you know that a lot of things ended this last week. American Horror Story, Limetown of course. And I finally finished An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. So, stay tuned for those.