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Zoe Margaret Colletti and Michael Garza in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

George Kraychyk/Handout

  • Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
  • Directed by: Andre Ovredal
  • Written by: Dan Hageman and Kevin Hageman (based on the children’s book series of the same name by Alvin Schwartz)
  • Starring: Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush and Austin Zajur
  • Classification: 14A; 108 minutes

rating

It is what it says it is, and nothing more. Set in 1968 – why, I’m not sure – Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark gets right to it. It’s Halloween, Donovan’s Season of the Witch is playing, there’s a creepy scarecrow in the cornfield at the edge of small-town America and a few uncool high-school kids go to a haunted mansion on the year’s spookiest night. There, they tell their befriended young stranger (and the audience) about the town’s prominent turn-of-the-century family and an outcast daughter who poisoned children and told stories (written in the blood of those children!).

Zoe Colletti is excellent as Stella Nicholls, your standard teen-film heroine who beats herself up for causing her mother to abandon her family years earlier even though it’s totally not her fault.

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At times, the film seems like a horrifying Nancy Drew story or a more sophisticated Scooby-Doo episode without the dog and with a face full of spiders. Told against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the 1968 presidential campaign, the tense-enough fright fest ends with a suggestion of a sequel and the election of Richard Nixon. America’s “long dark night” wasn’t over like Nixon said it would be, but that’s a scary story for another day.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark opens Aug. 9.

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