Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
While I can’t wait to see the It sequel, Scary Stories is a fabulous horror film.
Scary Stories, directed by André Øvredal and co-written by Guillermo del Toro, is a film with depth that defies most movies of this nature. Let me start with the fact that it takes place in 1968, and Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign appears repeatedly in the background as kids try to survive. To be quite frank, I had to laugh thinking that Nixon’s election was the real scary story of that year.
In addition, one of the opening scenes finds our teenagers at a drive-in where Night of the Living Dead was playing. I also saw it in a drive-in that year while in college, and I remember my roommate quoting a reviewer who warned parents that this movie would leave many young people crying in agony.
The historical significance of this movie grabbed my interest from the opening scene. The film begins on Halloween in a small town called Mill Valley. Five teenagers end up forcing their way into a haunted house where Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) finds an old book which she takes home, something that she soon profoundly regrets. It seems that the haunted house is the old abandoned home of the Bellows family, whose daughter Sarah wrote the book after being held in a basement asylum setting by her parents.
Stella was soon shocked to observe stories being written on empty pages in the book which described teenagers by name and the method of their death, which would soon follow. The first tragedy centered on one of their high school antagonists whose fondness for carrying a baseball bat resulted in him striking a hideous scarecrow as he walked through a cornfield. The scarecrow got even, and what happened to this boy is too ghastly to describe. Let me simply say that he transformed into a scarecrow replacement that would not qualify him in any remake of The Wizard of Oz.
However, things proceed to get worse as the names of Stella’s close friends Tommy (Austin Abrams), Auggie (Gabriel Rush), Chuck (Austin Zajur) and Ramón (Michael Garza) start to appear in the book with ominous predictions. As all but Ramón are confronted and literally consumed by various monsters of the dark, Stella frantically tries to figure out a way to make contact with the deceased Sarah and stop her obvious need to seek vengeance for her horrific treatment by her family.
In the process, secrets are revealed about Sarah and her family that I won’t give away. Let me simply say that her creation of various vicious ghosts is her attempt to get even with the community for their failure to help her in a time of need. In the process, Stella’s reentry into the haunted house with Ramón reaches a fever pitch when Ramón’s name appeared in Sarah’s book.
All of these young actors give wonderful performances, and you will never forget the performance of Natalie Ganzhorn as Ruth. She was a friend of the young man who met his fate with the scarecrow, and wait until you see her trying to participate in a school play as a boil starts to form on her cheek with what appears to be a dark hair emerging from it. It gets exceedingly worse, and at that moment you will regret not having an amblyopic left eye like myself where I can cover my good eye to minimize the extraordinary horror that I was witnessing.
In closing, the film also captured one other of the scary stories taking place in 1968, namely the Vietnam War. It seems that Ramón, whose dead brother had just been returned from that tragic war, had failed to report for his induction after being drafted. Let me just say that I knew how Ramón felt given that my college deferment was coming to an end and I had a very low draft number.
Most young men like myself were experiencing our own sense of horror at that moment, and it was as if Sarah had written my name in her book. While I was eventually rejected for service given my profound visual problem as noted above, to this very day I am haunted by the feeling that had I been forced to serve in that dishonorable conflict that my name would now be engraved in the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.
Sarah was kind to me.