Updated: Aug 20, 2019
Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark gets two key things right. The first is that the monster designs are incredible and feel lovingly done to capture the artwork of Stephen Gammell. The second is that you care about the fates of its characters, even the lead bully. This helps to keep the film engaging even when it goes in a few too many directions.
The film is based upon the stories of Alvin Schwartz. While a proper anthology approach would have fit the material best, this adaptation concocts a back story about an abused young woman, Sarah Bellows, who spent her time locked up writing scary stories. When protagonist Stella and her pals Chuck, Augie, and romantic interest Ramon sneak into the old Bellow house on Halloween, they awaken Sarah who begins telling stories that come to life. The problem is that they are the subjects of these stories and all of them end in death.
The film is technically brilliant thanks to the assured direction of Andrew Ovredal. He knows how to craft a creepy scene, just see his previous film The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Producer Guillermo del Toro ensures that the set design and makeup are top-notch. It pays off as Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has the same polish as the very successful adaptation of Stephen King's It.
Stella and her friends are compelling characters. Stella gets to be a young girl who is into horror, a rare thing even in horror films. Her friends are all likable. We don't want terrible things to happen to them. The school bully is vividly rendered here and we even care that he gets his deserved fate at the hands of a terrifying scarecrow.
Fans of the original stories will be pleased with seeing them come to life. Some liberties are taken but overall they remain fairly faithful. The new material doesn't work as well but it also doesn't hurt the film. The film's monsters are effective and scary, even at the PG-13 level. While the film isn't a classic, it is a solid studio horror film. Fun, gross, full of Halloween vibes and horror movie love, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a good time at the movies.