Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark might prove an excellent gateway to horror for some, especially young teens and tweens who are too old for Jack Black’s Goosebumps and too young for Midsommar. Still, I can’t simply chalk up any flaws to the old adage “it’s for kids.” Scary or not, this adaptation of a book series I cherished many years ago misses the mark on its primary goal of nostalgia. Where Goosebumps tickled my funny bone AND made me nostalgic for the Halloweens of yore, Scary Stories uses a late 60’s period setting and amber lighting to try to evoke such feelings without committing to the bit. Plus, if you want a young-ish audience to recall their childhood Halloween, appealing to Boomers won’t cut it. For an eighties, nineties child like myself, Vietnam and a civil rights era is forever synonymous with hot marches in the dead of heat and ugly, heartbreaking assassinations of our greatest activists and orators. Draft-dodging and Nixonian turmoil ain’t exactly the ticket for conjuring up memories of hot cider, golden leaves, pumpkins, and ghoulish pranks.
Couple with bad acting and worse dialogue and Scary Stories might’ve been better served in 2005 on ABC Family. Mid-aughts-level effects do their best to render creepy imitations of the Pale Lady or the Jangly Man, but if there’s one rule of horror it’s never go CGI. Obvious computer-generated imagery is tough when you’re trying to scare the bajeezus out of people, even kids. Regardless, brief moments of body horror must be commended, such as when a character begins vomiting straw or another discovers a moving boil on her face. Euphoria‘s Austin Abrams makes a good villain, much to my surprise, and Austin Zajur and Gabriel Rush (looking like the spitting image of Jason Sudeikis; are they related?) are good for sputtering comic relief. Lead actress Zoe Colletti is an ounce too earnest and I personally believe there ought to be a moratorium on kids-horror conflicts where the young lead’s cries aren’t heeded by those in danger. Mostly, I can’t help but roll my eyes at a plot device identical to the aforementioned Goosebumps, where a book or books are full of black magic and the stories and ghouls written therein come to life. Scary Stories is simply too derivative to recommend.