GORE IN THE STORE

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SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK ****

Directed by Andre Ovredal. Starring Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur. Horror, 108mins, cert 15.

In UK cinemas August 23rd from Entertainment One.

First released in 1980, author Alvin Schwartz’s collections of short stories detailing various tales inspired by myths, of both the urban and folklore variety, have remained a cultural touchstone in the United States. Helped along in no small part by the illustrations of Stephen Gammell’s inky renderings of various ghosts, monsters and unwitting victims of supernatural curses, these nightmarish tales continue to hold sway over the imaginations of young readers to this very day. Now, Swedish director Andre Ovredal helps bring these tales to the screen in a cleverly assembled piece that may also serve as a gateway for younger viewers into the genre as well as satisfying other fans of all ages.

 

Instead of presenting a straight-ahead portmanteau of stories from the books, screenwriting duo Dan and Kevin Hageman frame several Schwartz’s tales within an original narrative. While the horrors of the Vietnam War grind into its thirteenth year in 1968, teenage friends Stella, Augie and Chuck are more interested in getting even with a group of bullies for Halloween. Events soon take a turn that leads them to show their new friend, Ramon, drifting through their small town for an as yet unknown reason, to an abandoned and possibly haunted house. While there Stella discovers a volume of stories written by the long-deceased Sarah Bellows, an infamous local figure locked and hidden away for infanticide. It is when stories start appearing within the pages and simultaneously in real life that Stella and her friends realise that some things should remain forever in the dark.

 

There are a number of genre staples present here; period setting, gang of teenage friends, spooky house, vicious small-town bully among them that viewers may be reminded of recent hits IT CHAPTER ONE and STRANGER THINGS but Ovredal manages to win the viewer over with his impressive skills, including but not limited to a real sense of time and place and, very important here, a real knack for scary set pieces that effortlessly manage to ratchet up the tension. Surprisingly the film managed to gain a PG-13 rating in the United States, a decision that may lull unsuspecting viewers into thinking that they may be settling down for a series of mild scares and light peril.

 

Thankfully, that is most definitely not the case here. There is a dark and often cruel streak that raises its head early on and only increases in malevolence as the story unfolds. Stories such as The Big Toe and The Red Spot are setpieces not only for the stories but for the director’s myriad skills in different fields of horror. The latter comes across as a squirm-inducing piece of body horror, and a later red-tinted sequence is a claustrophobic exercise in nightmare logic. The appealing and sympathetic performances of the young cast help sell these spooky predicaments with real enthusiasm.

 

Producer Guillermo Del Toro’s influence can be felt, particularly in the design for some of the spooks but this is Ovredal’s film through and through. After his impressive debut with TROLL HUNTER and his underseen AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE, he makes a grand mark with this big studio release that has made remarkable box office numbers in the U.S. and delighted the Frightfest audience in its late-night slot on the opening night of the festival. As he stated in his introduction to the film, there are close to a hundred stories in the books. Another visit to these ever-popular stories may be on the cards, and that is an exciting prospect indeed, mainly if Ovredal is in charge once again.

 

Iain MacLeod

 

 

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 © 2000 - 2018