Slow to get going and lame once it gets there.
I’m tempted to leave “Scary Stories to tell in the Dark” at that, because that’s about all it amounts to.
There are effects, sure, in this collection of supernatural stories about…stories.
But the framing device, kids coming across a haunted book that the town’s legendary madwoman/rich woman/witch would tell to children who came to hear her at her haunted mansion, is tepid.
The child actors playing the kids barely register, and without empathy for them, where’s the pathos?
And the tales in Sarah Bellows’ “book of stories,” which write themselves, in blood, on the page as the “terrified” kids watch, waiting to learn of their fate, are a soggy set of recycled scares that won’t frighten anyone.
I get that this supposed to be a kid friendly horror movie. But when the frights are worn out and the few attempts at jokes don’t land, what you’ve got is “Goosebumps Lite.”
Norwegian director André Øvredal is best known for “Trollhunter,” and whatever hand producer and co-writer Guillermo del Toro had in it, they’ve conjured up a movie that does neither of their heady horror reputations any favors.
It’s Halloween, 1968, in Mill Valley, Pennsylvania. Any resemblance to the Derry, Maine of Stephen King’s “IT” is purely coincidental.
Stella, Chuck and Augie (Zoe Margaret Colletti, Gabriel Rush and Austin Zajur) start the night in silly costumes pulling an epic, fecal and dangerous prank on the high school bully.
They engineer their rescue at the drive-in, slipping into the car of wandering migrant worker Ramon (Michael Garza). As a reward, they take him to the town’s haunted house, where the Bellows family ruled their paper mill empire in the last century.
That’s how they come across Sarah’s book in blood. That’s when people start dying.
The hand-written stories have titles. “Harold” is named for a local scarecrow, “The Big Toe” is about a rotting corpse searching for a missing appendage, “The Red Room” is about…you know.
The legend was, if you “ask Sarah to tell you a story, it’ll be the last story you ever hear.”
Idiotically, nobody asks her to do any such thing in the spooky house. But who cares about horror “rules” in a movie like this?
Stella (Colletti) fancies herself a story teller, and she swipes the book. Doom awaits them all.
“You don’t read the book,” Stella figures out, “the book reads you.”
The movie goes to some pains to separate the kids so that can face their fates alone.
Ghoulish scarecrows are always spooky, and it got a few hairs upright on my neck. Nothing else, though.
Gil Bellows and Dean Norris show up in underdeveloped adult bit parts. Nixon’s election plays in the background as watch warmed over horror situations (spiders spewing out of a boil, etc ) served up as if they’re the latest thing.
Whatever its pedigree — a well-known author, two established horror brand names behind the production — the most telling element of “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is the release date.
August is Hollywood’s legendary dumping ground for junk it can’t unload into theaters any other month of the year. “An August film” lowers expectations, even if there are occasional hits and exceptions to that “leftovers from the summer” rule.
“Scary Stories” is no exception, isn’t scary and isn’t worth the nearly two hours it eats up.
Wait for “IT: Chapter 2.” When it comes to horror, Maine is always scarier than Pennsylvania.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for terror/violence, disturbing images, thematic elements, language including racial epithets, and brief sexual references.
Credits: Directed by André Øvredal, script by Dan and Kevin Hageman and Guillermo del Toro, based on the Alvin Schwartz novel. A CBS Films release.
Running time: 1:51