At this point it is not necessary to introduce Guillermo del Toro. The Mexican filmmaker, winner of the Oscar by “The Shape of Water” (The Shape of Water, 2017) is still planning his next project as a director but, in the meantime, he does not miss the opportunity to get his hands on other big bets like the animated series “3Below: Tales of Arcadia” O Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”(Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, 2019), adaptation of the homonymous collection of children’s stories written by Alvin Schwartz.
Del Toro produces and collaborates on the script, along with And and Kevin Hageman -Accustomed to family movies and stories for little ones-, but leave the direction of this mystery thriller in the hands of André Øvredal, the Norwegian filmmaker who dazzled with “The morgue” (The Autopsy of Jane Doe, 2016), another terrifying story, this time, not suitable for all audiences. We can say that it is the perfect combination for this translation that plays with scares and monsters (Guillermo’s favorites) without having to overdo it with blood and gore.
We are on the eve of Halloween, back in 1968 in the little town of Mill Valley, Pennsylvania, a place loaded with its own myths and haunted houses. Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) -a young aspiring horror-loving writer-, Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) are three inseparable friends who, after playing a prank on Tommy Milner (Austin Abrams) -the abusive town- take refuge in a drive-in theater where they cross paths with Ramon Morales (Michael Garza), a young man who is not looking for trouble. After evading the Milner gang, the trio invite Morales to the old abandoned mansion of the Bellows, a wealthy family who helped found Mill Valley, but also hiding a couple of dark secrets. Among them, those of the young Sarah Bellows who, according to legend, was responsible for the disappearance of several children, far and long ago.
Inside the house, the group finds a secret room where Sarah was supposedly being held. Also the girl’s diaries and a tome where she wrote her own horror stories, those she told the youngsters through the walls of her ‘cell’. Tommy and his cronies manage to follow in their footsteps and lock them up along with Ruth (Natalie Ganzhorn) -Chuck’s sister-, in the gloomy room. But something or someone frees them, before fear is finished taking over.
After the turmoil of the evening, and with Ramón’s car wrecked by the gang, Stella resolves to shelter him at home, while browsing through the stories written by Bellows in the book she borrowed. To his surprise and in front of his very eyes, a new tale begins to take shape: a story titled “Harold” starring Tommy himself. This will be the first of many narratives that will come to life and mark the destiny of the characters, as they try to discover the truth about Sarah and her family.
A) Yes, “Fear Stories to Tell in the Dark” becomes a teenage detective story where its protagonists must escape their own fears that come to life, the weapon that Sarah uses? to spread their revenge. Øvredal strives to create a terrifying atmosphere full of tension and very different scenarios (also visually) for each of the attacks that follow, but he cannot avoid falling into various conventions of the genre and some worn jumpscraes.
The most interesting thing about the film are the creatures that come directly from the original designs of Stephen Gammell, illustrator of the first edition of the series, back in 1981. The director, del Toro and his technical team made sure that the fear is palpable and real, for that they did not use computer effects, but the services of contortionists, makeup artists and physical FX experts.
Point in favor for the nice youthful cast, not so recognized. The boys, especially Colletti, excel at giving truth to the story, beyond its fantastic background. The time also plays an important role, especially if we take into account the racial conflicts in the southern states and the worst stage of the Vietnam War. The filmmakers echo these topics with a contemporary look, but let Schwartz’s creation stand out above all else.
Yes, the premise of “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” may sound something like “Shaking chills” (Goosebumps), that other literary horror series for children written by R. L. Stine In 1992, it hit the screens several times. Here, the big difference is the darker and more mature tone that permeates it. Øvredal and del Toro, who leave their personal marks, regardless of whether they are dealing with stories more suitable for a small audience.
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Analysis | Del Toro and His Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark