As the long summer nights begin to stretch into autumn, the time seems perfect for a film like this. Based on Alvin Schwartz’s retellings of classic ‘campfire’ tales, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a playful compendium of sinister settings and nicely-timed jump scares, aimed very directly at a teenage audience. Produced and co-written by Guillermo del Toro and directed by André Øvredal, the film unashamedly pushes its fifteen certificate to the limits and has a kind of galumphing charm that’s hard to resist.
It’s 1969 and Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) is a shy, story-obsessed teenager, living with her father, Roy (an underused Dean Norris), after the breakup of her parents’ marriage. With her geeky friends, Augie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur), Stella heads out on Halloween night, intent on trick-or-treating the local bully, Tommy (Austin Abrams), who has made their life a misery all year.
Ensuing events have them hooking up with mysterious young drifter, Ramón (Michael Garza), and the four teens visit a reputedly haunted house, where they discover a mysterious book of handwritten stories. Unfortunately, they soon find that a ghostly hand keeps adding to the collection and that they and their friends are all destined to feature as protagonists. Unsurprisingly, none of the stories has a happy ending.
If the concept seems a little familiar, the film is nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable. The content doesn’t seem a million miles away from the kind of fiction that a certain Danny Weston writes (which is a good thing, right?), and – even when the budget can’t quite stretch to some more convincing CGI – the overarching story sews the various narrative threads together with skill. Arachnaphobes be warned, there’s one sequence here that’s sure to give you the heebie-jeebies.
There’s a suggestion at the film’s conclusion that there may be a sequel in the offing. Would it seem churlish to hope that this remains a one-off? SSTTITD certainly makes for enjoyable autumnal viewing, but I suspect the trick will soon wear thin, if the filmmakers return to the concept one too many times.