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Austin Zajur and the Pale Lady in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

If you’re a lover of spooks and haunts, a touch of the spirit of Halloween has arrived early with the release of Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark. It joins a ton of new weekend releases including Dora the Explorer, The Kitchen and The Art of Racing in the Rain. Horror-fantasy auteur Guillermo del Toro has teamed up with Norwegian director André Øvredal to adapt the classic book series by Alvin Schwartz.

The year 2019 has been a huge one for the genre, with solid original films including Jordan Peele’s Us, the James Gunn-produced Brightburn and Ari Aster’s Midsommar. There’s also been remakes like Pet Sematary and Child’s Play. But where does Scary Stories land? CinemaBlend’s own Eric Eisenberg starts it off with a glowing 4 out of 5 review. In his words:

Making excellent use of its classic and brilliant source material, it’s a movie that has an excellent youthful energy while also being legitimately terrifying and horrifying – featuring some moments and iconography that will deeply imprint on horror-loving youngsters.

Eisenberg also found Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark showcases “kid-friendly horror” better than much of the subgenre’s recent entries including Goosebumps or The House With a Clock In Its Walls. He loved how the filmmakers weren’t afraid to make it both genuinely scary and age-appropriate.

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However, Bloody Disgusting’s William Bibbiani did not share the same fondness for the new release. He gave the film a 2.5 out of 5 and had this to say about Scary Stories:

It’s an overlong, unconvincingly nostalgic framing device for several adaptations of the books’ most iconic tales. Schwartz’s stories are intact, and the influence of Gammell’s signature imagery is everywhere. There’s no shortage of excellent scary moments in this movie, but you’ll have to trudge through some tedium to get there.

The movie is just under two hours long and Bibbiani felt it. As he describes in his review, there are some great moments that bring out the chills and thrills, but overall it sits in the middle of a whole lot of “filler." He also found the character development and storytelling to be weak.

Variety’s Owen Glieberman had similar feelings about Scary Stories as well. He said the movie interweaves the famed short stories “Scotch-taping” them in a way he found to be unimpressive. Here’s what else he had to say:

If you watch Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark simply as the movie it is, what you’ll experience is a period teenage horror film at once wide-eyed and scattershot, one that never begins to sustain a mood, and that projects, a bit too callowly, its eagerness to cash in on the demo of It and Stranger Things.

It makes sense the movie might want to take a bit of Netflix’s Strangers Things, considering its viral success and homage to ‘80s novels such as that of Alvin Schwartz. Still, Glieberman just didn’t think it worked in Scary Stories’ case.

Emma Stefansky’s review for Thrillist takes more of a mixed approach to the horror film. While she echoes some of the cons of the above critics, she also praises the director for his use of the many spine-chilling moments in the movie. In her words:

By the time the movie gets to classic zit-horror "The Red Spot," you're cringing at the thought of what could possibly hatch its way out of there. Scary Stories doesn't pull punches with its more horrifying scenes either, a fine line to toe in a PG-13 movie marketed to children. (Since seeing it, I've caught myself staring off into space, thinking about clumps of crackling straw erupting out of a character's mouth and ears.)

Sometimes the best scary stories are the ones you remember. The ones that scar you in a sense and, according to Stefansky, this movie does this effectively. Scott Wampler of Birth. Movies. Death. agrees with that latter component of the previous review, giving his own high praise for the film:

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark goes way harder than I expected it to, and the result is not only one of the best horror movies of the year, but also one of the all-time best horror movies for kids, period. Consider me deeply impressed… Nevermind the masterfully-deployed jump scares and the ominous lighting: just looking at The Pale Lady was enough to make my skin crawl. I really cannot overstate how satisfying and freakish these designs are. Put simply, they will fuck your kids up.

Between critics, the film has garnered a mixed response about the horror novel adaptation overall, but it looks like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark really pushes the envelope with its horror components in the genre for kids!

Check out the flick yourself, as it's now playing in theaters. If you saw it already, what did you think of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark? Sound off in the comments below!

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