Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (film)
|Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||André Øvredal|
|Based on||Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark|
by Alvin Schwartz
|Edited by||Patrick Larsgaard|
|Box office||$95.6 million|
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a 2019 horror film directed by André Øvredal, based on the children's book series of the same name by Alvin Schwartz. The screenplay was adapted by Dan Hageman and Kevin Hageman, from a screen story by producer Guillermo del Toro, as well as Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan. The film, an international co-production of the United States and Canada, stars Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, Austin Abrams, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, and Lorraine Toussaint.
In 2013, CBS Films acquired the rights to the book series from 1212 Entertainment with the intent of producing it as a feature film. By January 2016 it was announced that del Toro would develop and potentially direct the project for CBS Films. Øvredal was later to set to direct the film, with del Toro, Daniel, Brown, and Grave being among the producers. Principal photography commenced on August 27, 2018, and ended on November 1, 2018, in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was theatrically released on August 9, 2019, by Lionsgate. The film received generally positive reviews from critics and grossed a worldwide total of $95 million against a production budget of around $28 million.
In 1968, in the small town of Mill Valley, Pennsylvania, three teenage friends — Stella, an amateur author obsessed with the horror genre, Auggie, and Chuck — play a prank on bully Tommy Milner on Halloween night. When Tommy and his gang chase them in retaliation, the trio flees to a drive-in movie theater showing Night of the Living Dead, where a drifter named Ramón hides them in his car. Later, they invite Ramón to explore a local "haunted house" which once belonged to the wealthy Bellows family, who helped found Mill Valley. Inside, they find a secret room and a book of horror stories written by Sarah Bellows. Having followed the group, Tommy locks them inside the room along with Ruth, Chuck's sister and Tommy's sometime girlfriend. They escape after being released by an unseen presence, and Stella takes Sarah’s book. When they discover that Tommy has vandalized Ramón's vehicle by cracking the windshield and scrawling a racial slur, Ramón accepts Stella's offer to shelter at her house in secret.
While eating candy in her bedroom, Stella discovers that a new story, entitled "Harold," is being written in Sarah's book; the main character is Tommy. In reality, an inebriated Tommy is stalked by a sentient scarecrow - the “Harold” of the title. After the creature stabs him with a pitchfork, Tommy vomits hay and violently transforms. The following day, Tommy is reported missing. Unsettled, Stella and Ramón investigate and find a scarecrow wearing Tommy's clothes. Though Stella is convinced that Tommy has been turned into a scarecrow, the others are skeptical. Ramón is also hesitant to go to the police, as he fears they will suspect him due to his race and his previous altercation with Tommy.
That night, Stella and Ramón witness a new story, "The Big Toe," being written in the book, with Auggie as the main character. The pair attempt to warn him about the monster in the narrative: a zombie searching for its missing toe, which is inside a stew that Auggie unwittingly eats. Auggie is attacked by the zombie and disappears after it drags him under his bed. Realizing they are next in line, Stella, Ramón, and Chuck attempt to destroy the book; when this proves impossible, they decide to research Sarah Bellows' life in hopes of finding a solution. Meanwhile, a spider bite on Ruth's cheek begins to swell as a new story, "The Red Spot," is written about her. When Ruth squeezes the affected area, the spot explodes and releases hundreds of tiny spiders. Ruth is rescued by Stella, Ramón, and Chuck, but is traumatized by her experience and placed in a mental institution.
The group's investigations take them to a local hospital, where they discover that Sarah's brother Ephraim performed electroshock therapy on her as a part of a cover-up operation. As the family's mill had been poisoning the town's water with mercury, killing several children, Sarah was used as a scapegoat for the deaths. At the hospital, Chuck is pursued by the Pale Lady, a phantom from his recurring nightmares. The Pale Lady eventually traps Chuck in a hallway and absorbs him. Stella and Ramón find Chuck's signature pen before Police Chief Turner arrests them for trespassing. Turner also reveals that Ramón is a Vietnam War draft dodger. While Ramón and Stella are imprisoned, Turner's dog begins to act strangely and Ramón realizes that the next creature will be the Jangly Man, a monster from a campfire story that frightened him as a child ("Me Tie Dough-ty Walker").
The Jangly Man, able to reconstruct itself from separate body parts, kills Turner before attempting to kill Ramón. Ramón and Stella escape their cells, and he lures the creature away while Stella goes to the Bellows house to try to reason with Sarah. Stella is taken back in time, living out part of Sarah's experience as the Bellows family terrorizes her. They drag Stella into a dark room, where she encounters Sarah's ghost. In the present, Ramón arrives at the house and calls Stella’s name as the Jangly Man hunts him. Stella begins tearfully reciting the true story of Sarah Bellows: she was victimized by her family for trying to reveal the truth, which turned her into a rage-filled monster. Stella promises to tell the real story of Sarah's life if she stops killing. Sarah forces Stella to write the true story in the book in blood before she and the Jangly Man vanish, while Stella returns to 1968.
Ramón, now in the U.S. army, shares an emotional goodbye with Stella, who gives him a love letter before he leaves town and promises to write to him. After Stella and her father retrieve a facially scarred but recovered Ruth, the film ends as Stella states her belief that, using Sarah’s book, they can still find a way to rescue Chuck and Auggie.
- Zoe Colletti as Stella Nicholls
- Michael Garza as Ramón Morales
- Gabriel Rush as August "Auggie" Hilderbrandt
- Austin Zajur as Charlie "Chuck" Steinberg
- Natalie Ganzhorn as Ruth "Ruthie" Steinberg
Mill Valley Townspeople
- Austin Abrams as Tommy Milner
- Dean Norris as Deputy Roy Nicholls
- Gil Bellows as Police Chief Turner
- Lorraine Toussaint as Louise "Lou Lou" Baptiste
- Ajanae Stephenson as Young Louise Baptiste
- Marie Ward as Mrs. Hilderbrandt
- Deborah Pollitt as Mrs. Steinberg
- Matt Smith as Mr. Steinberg
- Karen Glave as Claire Baptiste
- Kyle Labine as Deputy Hobbs
- Victoria Fodor as Mrs. Milner
- Javier Botet as Big Toe Corpse
- Troy James as Jangly Man
- Andrew Jackson as the voice of the Jangly Man
- Mark Steger as Harold the Scarecrow and the Pale Lady
The Bellows Family
- Kathleen Pollard as Sarah Bellows
- Will Carr as Dr. Ephraim Bellows
- Elias Edraki as the voice of Dr. Ephraim Bellows
- Jane Moffat as Delanie Bellows
- Amanda Smith as Gertrude Bellows
- Brandon Knox as Harold Bellows
- Hume Baugh as Deodat Bellows
In 2013, CBS Films acquired the rights to the Alvin Schwartz's children's book series Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark from 1212 Entertainment, with the intent of producing it as a potential feature film. It was announced in 2014 that writer John August had been set to pen a film version.
On January 14, 2016, it was announced that Guillermo del Toro would develop the film, as well as possibly direct, and that he would also produce along with Sean Daniel, Jason Brown, and Elizabeth Grave, with Roberto Grande and Joshua Long executive producing. In February 2016, CBS Films hired screenwriting brothers duo Dan and Kevin Hageman to polish the draft written by August. In December 2017, it was reported that André Øvredal would direct the film. The Hagemans received final screenplay credit, with del Toro, Patrick Melton, and Marcus Dunstan receiving "story by" credit. CBS Films co-financed with Entertainment One.
In August 2018, Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Austin Abrams, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, and Natalie Ganzhorn joined the cast. In September 2018, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Lorraine Toussaint, and Javier Botet were added as well. Principal photography commenced on August 27, 2018, and ended on November 1, 2018, in St. Thomas, Ontario.
"When we started talking about this about five years ago, I had to think about it ... Anthology films are always as bad as the worst story in them — they're never as good as the best story... I remembered in Pan's Labyrinth, I created a book called 'the Book of Crossroads'. I thought it could be great if we had a book that reads you, and it writes what you're most afraid of. Then the theme became stories we tell each other."
The first footage of the film premiered during Super Bowl LIII. The first trailer was released on March 28, 2019, and the second on June 3, 2019. On August 5, 2019, a third trailer was released, featuring a cover version of the Donovan song "Season of the Witch", by Lana Del Rey, performed for the film's soundtrack. All-in-all, the studio spent over $20 million promoting the film.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was released in the US on digital download by Lionsgate Home Entertainment on October 22, 2019, and will be released on Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and DVD on November 5.
As of October 30, 2019[update], Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has grossed $68.9 million in the United States and Canada, and $26.7 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $95.6 million.
In the United States and Canada, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was released alongside The Kitchen, Dora and the Lost City of Gold, The Art of Racing in the Rain, and Brian Banks, and was projected to gross $15–17 million from 3,000 theaters in its opening weekend. The film made $8.8 million on its first day, including $2.33 million from Thursday night previews. It went on to debut to $20.8 million, finishing second, behind holdover Hobbs & Shaw. It dropped 52% in its second weekend to $10.1 million, finishing fifth.
On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 79% based on 163 reviews, with an average rating of 6.57/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Like the bestselling series of books that inspired it, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark opens a creepy gateway into horror for younger genre enthusiasts." Metacritic gave the film a weighted average score of 61 out of 100, based on 30 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews." Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C" on an A+ to F scale, while those at PostTrak gave it an average 3 out of 5 stars and a 53% "definite recommend."
Owen Gleiberman of Variety wrote that "the movie faithfully re-creates the peak moments of half a dozen of Schwartz' most popular stories," but "doesn't totally embrace the Gammell vision," referring to the infamy of the illustrations in the original book series. Ben Kenisberg of The New York Times called the film "an agreeable bit of fan service."
Keith Uhlich of The Hollywood Reporter conversely termed it a "lackluster adaptation," adding that the monsters depicted in the film are "scary," though "they'd be much more so if they felt less like franchisable IP and more like fervent expressions of the ills of the eras on which the film aims to comment." William Bibbiani of Bloody Disgusting wrote that the film "often works very well for several, breathless minutes at a time. But in between those excellent scares there's a lot of filler, a lot of perfunctory plotting and a lot of mediocre character development."
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