With Halloween just around the corner, it is time to huddle together for scary stories to tell in the dark. No, the local elections aren’t coming (yet), but that was our attempt at setting a mood for you to get creeped out.
The film does an excellent job of creating an eerie atmosphere throughout its 108-minute runtime. Set in the 1960s, we see a group of clueless teenagers in a sleepy town trying to find something fun to do on Halloween. They break into a haunted house (but of course), chance upon a haunted book (we weren’t expecting anything less), and all hell breaks loose when the ghost of a girl who committed suicide terrorises them through the stories in the book.
The plot sounds formulaic and does not hold a lot of promise. But trust us, you have to sit through this scare fest to know how scary things can get as each of the stories come to life by literally writing themselves. Each kid becomes the victims of these tales, and you soon realise most of them will not make it to the end of the movie alive.
Without saying too much, these are some of the elements in the movie that will make your hair stand: a missing toe that ends up in a pot of gravy, a zit that holds more than blood and pus, as well as body parts that gruesomely come together no matter how many times they are chopped into pieces. You will giggle timidly as the characters try to escape their ill-fated consequence, and wonder how you would deal with the situation if you were in their shoes. Laugh all you want – but where else is there to hide except under the bed when a monster tries to invade your room?
The character designs are warped pieces of art. There is a scarecrow with bugs crawling out of his eyes, a pale and strangely shaped woman who hugs people to death, a Gollum-like creature that crawls on all fours. As disturbingly beautiful they are, these are the kind of monsters you don’t want to meet in your nightmares. They are perfect for Halloween haunted houses as startled visitors are bound to scream in fear.
It is hard to believe the movie is based on a series of short horror stories for children written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell. Why would any good kid want to subject themselves to such horror? The American Library Association did list this as the most challenged series of books from the 1990s, with its disturbing subject matter and unsuitability for younger readers.
The ensemble cast of relatively unknown actors does a fine job. You wouldn’t be distracted by star power as the teenagers played by Zoe Margaret Colleti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush and Dean Norris try their best to escape death.
Instead of the usual cheap scares which we are familiar with, this frightening movie conjures up a sinister vibe that is nostalgically fun. We are giving credit to Guillermo del Toro, who gave the cinematic world quality fantasy films like Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and The Shape of Water (2017). The Mexican filmmaker wrote the devilishly sinister screen story with Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan.
With Norwegian director André Øvredal’s vision, the tale is materialised on screen as a suspenseful encounter that has enough human emotions to keep you invested in the story. This stylishly-executed piece of work is scary fun that reminds us of how a good horror movie should be.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
A zit that holds more than blood and pus isn’t the scariest thing about this highly-recommended scare-fest that is competently written and directed.
Story - 8/10
Direction - 8.5/10
Characterisation - 7.5/10
Geek Satisfaction - 8.5/10