Home » Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark review – Del Toro’s Shiver-inducing and Melancholic Tale of Horror

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark review – Del Toro’s Shiver-inducing and Melancholic Tale of Horror

by Ben Rolph

As the film says, “tell me a story”, a good one – this film sure does. Guillermo Del Toro’s touch is felt in this terrifically horrifying horror, with Del Toro’s usual beautiful use of melancholy mixed with horror. With little stereotypical jump scares, Scary Stories succeeds in creating atmosphere and getting your spine tingling. Directed by André Øvredal, this serves a terrific example of his excellence in direction, creating a terrifying vision that mixes youthfulness and atmospheric horror.

There has always been arguments surrounding horror films and their ratings, now most horrors are rated 15 in the UK and R in America, it’s pretty hard to reach for a UK 18 rating in horror. Scary Stories was advertised as being a ‘gateway into horror’, having a PG-13 rating in America, however, in the UK it received a 15 and therefore may affect the intended audience over here. However, I’d agree with the 15 rating, it is far too scary for younger people and I’d question the PG-13 rating in America. Similar to how, The Woman in Black was rated a silly 12 in the UK.


Stella (Zoe Colletti), Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) begin by uniting against antagonistic high-school bullies on Halloween night. They take a visit to a long-haunted house, the Bellows family house. The shadow of the Bellows family has loomed large in their small town for generations. Young Sarah Bellows, the Bellows’ daughter in a state of rage turns her life and tortured secrets into a series of scary stories. Stella finds Sarah’s book and the series of scary stories begin to take place, in an all-too-real way.

There is a beautiful and poetic blend between image and words, with the ever-growing collection of scary stories, Scary Stories is able to create a haunting sense of dread as Sarah’s shadow races to end a quirky set of late 60’s teenagers’ lives. A part of the American cultural spine, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was massive in the USA, but never hit big in the UK and most of us Brits are largely unaware of the sensation that were these short scary stories. I have a sneaking feeling with me being unaware of the stories, it probably added to my delight in watching the film.


Scary Stories is terrifying. It will make you sweat and shiver, each individual story surfaces fears that becomes all-too-real and is perfectly executed. Produced by Guillermo Del Toro, it reminds of the sheer horror seen throughout Crimson Peak and the conclusion, with a pure sense of poetic beauty, you feel his loving touch in the crafting of the aspects of horror and the rich world created. The creatures are impeccably made and brought to life, truly getting under your skin and at times I was overwhelmed with frightful shivers. Unlike, how most ‘slashers’ fail due to the focus on gore and brutality, with little care for craft and character, Scary Stories doesn’t just focus on the creature killings – but rather in the creation of tension, atmosphere and interesting characters.

All the characters are well developed and well-acted, especially Zoe Colletti, Austin Abrams and Moonrise Kingdom’s Gabriel Rush. Abrams plays Tommy, whose story links to the scarecrow Harold, the very first new story written. His repetition of saying “eat shit, Harold” to the scarecrow is priceless, it builds early tension to those who know what these scary stories en-tale. Zoe Colletti is the lead, a smart and well-versed horror aficionado. Colletti’s Zoe is the centrepiece of the moving vehicle, anchoring the other stories and characters, leading to the inevitable face-to-face with Sarah Bellows.


In the end, it is a melancholic ghost story, similar to many aspects of Del Toro’s past adventures. Like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water, there is a noticeable care in the creation of the creatures, crafting all using practical effects with digital additions to the smaller movements and parts. The tragedies stick, it holds no punches and Sarah Bellows’ presence of looming danger is ultimately ended in a very Del Toro-like way.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a poetic horror filled with fruitful atmospheric tension, ripe with horrors to make you shiver in fear and touched by Del Toro’s melancholic and Gothic touch. It is far scarier than publicly advertised, it will get under your skin.

4.5/5 Stars ★★★★.5

Ben Rolph



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