In Andre Ovredal “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” these loaded words are spoken by one of the film’s five central teens, tormented by a self-writing storybook they had carelessly taken away from a haunted house in their small town of Mill Valley, PA around Halloween of 1968. Now let’s count all the formulaic components (as well as our consequent blessings) in this vista, shall we? Group of misfit kids on a mission? Check period nostalgia (that’s not the overdone ’80s of Stranger Things and IT) check small town Americana that delightfully rhymes with “Hill Valley”. That’s certainly enough familiar ingredients to make a foolproof pot of genre stew. And thanks to Øvredal’s visual flair and visceral dedication to the monsters of Guillermo del Toro (among the team of writers and producers here), clearly a major influence on the “Trollhunter” director’s bittersweet approach to the field, this satisfying though far from innovative dish boasts comforting flavors throughout.
If you, like me, did not grow up with tents in backyards, overnight trips to spooky lakeside grounds or marshmallows by campfires you might be foreign to the world of the “Scary Stories” trilogy of books with creepy tales collected by Alvin Schwartz, and illustrations to match done by Stephen Gamaliel. The good news is Ovredal stylishly old-school flick doesn’t require any homework—your affection for genre-work like “The Changeling,” “Ringu” and “The Night of the Living Dead” as well as a mild nostalgic appreciation for “Goonies”-type fare will suffice. Though it’s still helpful to know that these are anthology-style books. Co-scribes Dan and Kevin Hangmen (along with story craters del Toro, Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton) have created a unifying (though choppy) narrative arc around a number of the popular yarns of the books—“Harold,” “The Big Toe” and “The Red Spot” among them—while keeping with the novels PG-13 spirit. Among the things “Scary Stories” might wake up could very well be a newfound appetite for horror in younger movie-watchers.