SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK (2019) – Takes Its Horror Tropes Seriously

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scary stories to tell in the dark

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK (2019), the new horror film based on the books Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1981), More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1984), and Scary Stories 3: More Stories to Chill Your Bones (1991), all by Alvin Schwartz, hits all the right marks, especially if you’re a fan of traditional genre horror.

We’ve been fortunate in recent years to have seen a good number of highbrow artistic horror movies make their way through the cinemas, films like GET OUT (2017) and this year’s MIDSOMMAR (2019) for example, films that raise the bar and do more with horror than just revisit standard tropes.

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is not one of these movies. Instead, it hearkens back to these standard tropes and then proceeds unapologetically to deliver the goods. There are decent scares throughout SCARY STORIES, mostly because it takes its subject matter seriously, in spite of the fact that the stories deal with the supernatural, scarecrows that come to life, undead corpses back for revenge, and creepy monsters from childhood nightmares. A lot of filmmakers would have taken this material and turned it into high camp. That’s not the case here. The stories are told in deadly earnest. I liked this.

Give credit to director Andre Ovredal. Not only does he craft some spine chilling scenes here, but better yet, he builds suspense. So many horror films I see these days surprisingly struggle with building suspense. They’re a series of scary scenes that fail to build into anything cohesive, leaving endings that simply fall flat. Ovredal avoids this pitfall by making each subsequent story scarier than the previous one, and with some effective editing, saves the best stuff for last. I really liked how this one was constructed.

Likewise, I loved the script by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, and Guillermo del Toro. It tells a gripping story with real characters and situations, in spite of the heavy dose of supernatural creatures. I also loved the dialogue.

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK takes place in  the fall of 1968. While kids are gearing up for Halloween, the real world is dealing with the war in Vietnam and the election of Richard Nixon as president.  On Halloween, high school friends Stella Nicholls (Zoe Margaret Colletti), Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) decide to trick or treat one last time as the following year they’ll be off to college, but rather than candy, they’re more interested in pranking their school bully Tommy (Austin Abrams). When that doesn’t go well, they flee from Tommy and his buddies and seek refuge in a car in a drive-in theater whose lone occupant is a teen Ramon Morales (Michael Garza) who’s not from town.

They become friends with Ramon, and since it’s Halloween decide to take him to their local haunted house, the Bellows House, where legend has it children had disappeared there. The story goes that years ago the influential Bellows family had a daughter named Sarah who they kept locked in a room, and who told visiting children horror stories through the walls, stories that would come true and claim the lives of the children.

Stella and her friends break into the abandoned house, and amazingly, they not only discover Sarah’s secret room, but the book with her stories, seemingly written in blood. Stella, who loves horror stories and writes them herself, takes the book with her, but it doesn’t take long for her to realize this was a bad idea, as she watches in disbelief as a story writes itself about one of her friends, and the next thing she knows that friend disappears.

Gulp!

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is completely predictable and doesn’t really present anything horror audiences haven’t seen before, but that doesn’t stop this movie from being scary and fun. And that’s because everything in this one is expertly handled and taken seriously.

The story where the scarecrow comes to life is as creepy as they come. I especially enjoyed the look of the scarecrow.  I also enjoyed the look of the other creatures in this one. Even though Guillermo del Toro only worked on the screenplay and didn’t direct this movie, the various creatures here have del Toro written all over them.

The young cast also acquit themselves quite nicely. Zoe Margaret Colletti is excellent in the lead role as Stella, as is Michael Garza as the young stranger in town, Ramon Morales. I also enjoyed Gabriel Rush as Auggie and Austin Zajur as Chuck. Austin Abram was also memorable as bully Tommy.

A couple of veteran actors round out the cast. Dean Norris plays Stella’s father, and Gil Bellows plays the local police chief.

And don’t let the fact that SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is based on a collection of children’s horror stories fool you. This is the real deal. Sure, it’s rated PG-13, and so it’s not a heavy hitting R rated horror flick.  But it is a well-written, directed, and acted horror treat.

And yes, its supernatural elements really aren’t all that believable, but because everyone in this one both in front of and behind the camera took it seriously, that doesn’t really seem to matter. SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK really works, from beginning to end. And it even sets itself up for a sequel and does so in a way that makes perfect sense and is not based on some silly tacked on ending where the monster suddenly jumps back to life. There really isn’t anything silly about SCARY STORIES.

I went into SCARY  STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK not really expecting much, but I left the theater pleasantly surprised.

I highly recommend SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. It’s one of my favorite horror movies of the year so far.

—END—

 

 

 

PICTURE OF THE DAY: BORIS KARLOFF In THE BODY SNATCHER (1945)

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Boris Karloff as John Gray, the body snatcher, in, no surprise,  THE BODY SNATCHER (1945)

The film is THE BODY SNATCHER (1945), the character is John Gray, and the actor, of course, is Boris Karloff.

THE BODY SNATCHER is one of my favorite Boris Karloff movies.

Karloff plays John Gray, the man who robs graves for Dr. Wolfe “Toddy” MacFarlane (Henry Daniell).  This story is loosely based on the true story of Dr. Knox and grave robbers Burke and Hare.

Karloff’s John Gray is basically Burke and Hare put together.  It’s one of Karloff’s scariest roles, and it’s certainly one of his best roles in a non-Universal horror movie.  He’s got some great lines in this one.

The screenplay by Philip MacDonald is based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s an atmospheric thriller, well-directed by Robert Wise.

This one also features Bela Lugosi in a small role.

But it’s Karloff who dominates this movie, who’s as frightening here as John Gray as he ever was. The photo above captures perfectly Karloff’s interpretation of Gray’s persona. Fearlessly robbing graves, he’s only too happy to collect his money, and happier still to torment his employer, the proper Dr. MacFarlane, reminding the good doctor that he’s every bit as guilty as those robbing the graves.

If you haven’t seen Karloff in THE BODY SNATCHER, you’re missing quite a treat.

Just look at that smile.  Makes you want to visit a cemetery late at night, doesn’t it?

So, if you get the sudden urge in the middle of the night to take a nature walk through a graveyard or to venture across the countryside in search of dead bodies, you can thank Boris Karloff in THE BODY SNATCHER, featured in today’s Picture of the Day.

Thanks for reading!

—-Michael

LIFE RAGE by L.L. Soares wins Stoker Award!

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life-rage-cover-210x300News flash!

My buddy and Cinema Knife Fight partner L.L. Soares just won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel this past Saturday in New Orleans for his novel Life Rage, which I reviewed on this blog several months back.

Way to go L.L.!

So, what’s a Stoker Award?  Each year the Horror Writers Association honors horror writers around the globe with the Bram Stoker Awards, recognizing the best horror writing of the year.  Winning a Stoker is a huge accomplishment, as gaining the recognition of one’s peers is a very high honor.  It’s also not easy to do.  Not at all.

 

Life Rage is a neat horror novel, hard hitting, well-written, and satisfying from start to finish.  In honor of it winning the Stoker, here’s another look at my review below:

What I’m Reading – Life Rage By L.L. Soares

Book Review by MICHAEL ARRUDA

I recently finished the novel Life Rage by my Cinema Knife Fight partner L.L. Soares.  It’s his first novel, and I have to say here, that— and this has nothing to do with the fact that we’re friends and that we co-write a movie column together — I was really impressed.

L.L. is known for his in-your-face hardcore fiction, and with Life Rage, he doesn’t disappoint.  But what I found more impressive is how human and caring his characters are, and he achieves this effect without sacrificing the extreme horror elements.

Sure, the language is rough and raw, as are the sexual and violent situations, but there’s also an honest tenderness among the characters in this story that comes off as authentic and refreshing.  In short, his characters really do care for each other.  As good as L.L. is at writing about horrific situations, he’s just as good at writing about realistic relationships.

The plot is about a Jekyll & Hyde type character, a man who treats people with anger issues, yet he’s an uncontrollable monster at times and doesn’t know it.  He turns into a sort of demonic Incredible Hulk.  The book’s lead character, a woman named Colleen, somehow survives her first encounter with the monster, signifying right away that there’s something special about her.  She sees her best friend torn to pieces by the creature, and she vows revenge.

She is aided by another woman who also happens to have supernatural powers.  Viv is a sort of vampire who sucks the life force out of people while giving them the best sex of their lives- in short, they go out happy.  Viv is attracted to people who are overwhelmingly sad, and she in effect is mercy killing them, saving them from their pain.

Colleen and Viv team up to stop the raging monster before it infects the entire world with its life rage.

I liked Life Rage because of its compelling characters— they are fleshed out (no pun intended) and three dimensional— and because of its original plot.  The writing is also topnotch.

If you’re looking to read a refreshing horror novel, and you don’t mind a lot of sex and violence, check Life Rage by L.L. Soares.

It’s all the rage.

—Michael

 

 

 


 

Coming Soon! FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR By Michael Arruda

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For The Love Of Horror cover

Coming soon!

Here’s a sneak peak at the cover art for my new short story collection FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, due out soon by NECON EBooks.  Kelli Jones designed the cool cover featuring two wine glasses containing a little more than just wine.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR is my first short story collection, featuring stories written and published prior to 2004.  It’s a collection of short stories and a wraparound story that ties all the tales together.

It’s a love story, as the two main characters are involved with each other, but the characters in these stories constantly make bad decisions and act in ways that are contrary to developing solid, lasting relationships.  What’s the theme here?  If you want to have a successful relationship, you don’t want to act like the folks in this book.  This is a collection of tales that describe relationship failures.  It’s an anti-love story.  Yet, like the rest of the world, the people in these stories are involved in relationships.  They have no choice.  It’s what people do.  They just don’t have a clue how to do it.  Well, most of them anyway.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR describes relationships that are as ugly as your most grotesque horror story.  It’s not for everyone.

TWILIGHT, it ain’t.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR will be out shortly by NECON EBooks, available soon at www.neconebooks.com.

Stay tuned to this blog for more news on this collection.

—Michael