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Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark ***

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This is an example of the rollercoaster type of horror film: some opening scenes to let you strap in comfortably, some exhilarating fast drops and turns, then at the end it grinds reassuringly to a halt and the bars come up to let you off. It's based on an anthology of horror stories for teens, a sort of Goosebumps++, that's much loved across the pond, so Google tells me.

Our protagonist is Stella, a younger-teenage horror fan and budding writer (her typewriter has a story in progress called The Whistling Room, a nod to oddball writer William Hope Hodgson that won me over early). On Hallowe'en, 1968, she leads a troop of friends into the local haunted house, where they find a book of creepy stories written by a reclusive former occupant reputed to have poisoned children. If you've seen Cabin In The Woods, you can virtually hear the control-room staff placing bets on how the kids will doom themselves.

Characters then find themselves starring in these grim stories, with the dwindling club of survivors in a race against time to figure out how to stop the book before their turn comes up. Things get impressively malignant in places and it earns its 15 certificate.

The anthology aspect of the film is strong overall, with just about more hits than misses. The grisly story that has been most clearly telegraphed in the opening scenes is got out of the way first, so the others can be more of a surprise. There are some decent effects and CGI, although mostly unnecessary since by far the scariest Thing has a face that looks like it was drawn by your four-year-old. The horror is mostly of the inexorable shambling approach variety, with the hospital corridors incident, in particular, giving me It Follows flashbacks. There's a chilling bit listening to a record. The Me-Tie-Dough-Ty-Walker makes quite an entrance. No, I can't help you with that.

The overarching plot is dated, almost naive for modern horror: exactly the kind of resolution that The Ring satirised and undermined. But it has old-school charm as well: the haunted house scenes are lovely, and the opening scenes of Back To The Future-style small-town high school bullies practically have a nostalgic glow.

Having suggested that the ending is tame, it's only fair to point out that the cosy restoration of normality includes Nixon winning the presidency and a busload of fresh-faced young men heading off to Vietnam. So maybe the absence of undead gibbering horrors isn't that big a win.

Read 558 times Last modified on Tuesday, 27 August 2019 18:23
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Eddie Lazell

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