Updated: Jan 11
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Chuck Steinberg (Austin Zajur) comes to the aid of his sister Ruth (Natalie Ganzhorn), as they are part of the "The Red Spot" story involving hundreds of spiders. Friend Stella Nicholls (Zoe Colletti) and other students are shocked by the terror.
“SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2019, PG-13 for terror/violence, disturbing images, thematic elements, language including racial epithets and brief sexual references; Streaming via Amazon Prime Video, Apple (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “Dark Tales” ’featurette
“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” was adapted from the controversial 1981 kids’ book written by Arthur Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell. Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water,” “Pans Labyrinth”) produced and co-wrote the film, which was directed by Norwegian André Øvredal (“The Autopsy of Jane Doe,” “Troll Hunter”).
Taking several of Schwartz’s stories and weaving them together, the resulting tale is set during the troubled year of 1968, in fictional Mill Valley, Pennsylvania. The adventure follows teenager Stella Nicholls (Zoe Colletti), who we quickly learn, is an aspiring writer, obsessed with horror movies and, you know, spooky stories.
When Stella and her friends, Auggie Hilderbrandt (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck Steinberg (Austin Zajur), dress up in costumes and go out on Halloween, the scary fun begins. The three break into an abandoned house with a gruesome history: Several Mill Valley children had disappeared after having gone into it. Some believe the ghost of Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard), the youngest member of the family who lived in the house in the 19th century, is responsible for the disappearances.
(1) The town of St. Thomas in Ontario, Canada subs for fictional Mill Valley, Pennsylvania. (2) Stella is a horror-obsessed high school student and a wannabe writer. (3) School bully Tommy Milner (Austin Adams), right, will become the first scary story victim.
Urban legend — or is it? Inside the empty house, in addition to some creepy happenings, Stella discovers the hidden room where Sarah, because of her albinism and mental illness, was cruelly held prisoner by her family. It’s there Stella find’s the book. Legend has it, Sarah’s book is where she wrote a series of scary stories, using the blood of the missing children for ink! Stella swipes the volume when she and her friends, scared silly, run from the Bellows house.
Back home, when Stella has time to peruse it, horrifying stories of monsters and murder begin writing themselves on blank pages before her eyes — in what appears to be blood. What’s worse, the stories are about Stella’s friends — and as they’re written, they start to come true. Meanwhile, Stella has met a handsome young newcomer to town, named Ramón (Michael Garza), and the two of them eventually assume the roles of sleuths, determined to solve the mystery of Sarah and, hopefully, stop the carnage.
“Scary Stories” is entertaining due especially to the monstrous creatures that pop up in each “story,” thanks to top-notch make-up and effects teams. It delivers a few surprises and shocks, but generally has the feel of a gory Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys mystery — directed at an audience of teenagers.
(1&2) Stella and friends Auggie Hilderbrandt (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck Steinberg (Austin Zajur) play a Halloween prank on Tommy Milner, which leads to a chase to the local drive-in showing "Night of the Living Dead." (3&4) The three hop into the car of Ramón Morales (Michael Garza) which they discover is a drifter. Stella tells Ramón "It's the best flick of the year."
Øvredal and German cinematographer Roman Osin (“Pride & Prejudice,” “The Warrior”) captured the scary tales on 2.8K & 3.4K digital cameras in Ontario, Canada, while it was mastered in 2K. The upconverted 4K presentations (disc & digital) are toned with HDR10 and Dolby Vision for a natural and slightly darker watch. While the reds are super intense during “The Dream” story involving Chuck and the woman with a pale face, black eyes, and long black hair. The numerous nighttime and dark sequences are nicely toned with deep blacks while providing extra detail in the shadows.
The 4K disc has an uptick in clarity especially with distant objects, for example during a wide shot when Tommy crashes his Pontiac Catalina into a fence, you can read the full license plate: Pennsylvania - H2A5L9D. On the Blu-ray, you can only make out half of the plate.
The 4K disc and Blu-ray surprisingly only feature the six-channel Dolby TrueHD uncompressed soundtrack, minus any expansive Atmos track for your height speakers with effects, music cues from composers Marco Beltrami and Anna Drubich and the classic 1960s psychedelic pop tune “Season of the Witch” from British folker Donovan. The bass response is also quite good during the “Harold” story when Tommy goes into the cornfield at night.
(1) Stella and the gang end up at the old abandoned house with a gruesome history where several Mill Valley children had disappeared. (2) Chuck sees a vision of an elderly woman. (3) Behind a secret door, Stella finds the book, written with the blood from the missing children.
There’s plenty on the 4K disc, Blu-ray and digital copy, include “Retro Horror,” a featurette that looks at the rationale for setting the film in the 1960s, among other things; interesting documentaries about the production design and creature construction; several “mood reels,” in which Øvredal edited together snippets of the film in order to “capture the essence of the week’s shoot”; and two very brief behind-the-scenes promos. “Dark Tales” contains interviews with cast and crew.
Del Toro says he liked Schwartz’s books because “they had the simplicity of a campfire tale.” He recalls being scared by them as a child, and still finds them entertaining. He notes he owns some of Gammell’s original drawings, and for a long time had been “passionately interested in bringing them to the screen.”
He asked his co-writers and the producers to pick their favorite stories from the books, and “took four or five that thematically did something for the characters” in the film. Colletti calls the film “super-terrifying” and “timeless.” One of the producers credits Gammell’s illustrations as being “what’s really scary about the books.” Referring to a couple of the subplots of the film, he says its real theme is that “stories can heal, but also hurt” … such as when they involve “rumors, gossip, lies or deceit.” Whereas for Del Toro, “fairy tales and horror go hand in hand.”
— Peggy Earle
(1-3) Stella starts to read the stories from Sarah Bellow's book and she notices a new story being written titled "Harold" and involves the scarecrow and Tommy. Stella and Ramón discover the scarecrow is wearing Tommy's school jacket. (4) Ramón gets his first read of Sarah's book.
(1&2) Stella and Ramón try to tell Auggie to not eat any anything since the "The Big Toe" story is starting to write itself. (3) It's too late. (4) He runs upstairs to his bedroom to hide. (5) Chuck and Ruth read the story involving the big toe and Auggie. (6) Just before Ruth appears in the school play of "Bye Bye Birde," she runs to the girl's bathroom as her spider bite gets bigger and bigger.
(1) Stella, Ramón, and Chuck visit Lou Lou Baptiste (Lorraine Toussaint), who as a child lived in the Bellows home. (2) "The Dream" story with Chuck and the woman with the white pale face, black eyes, and long black hair. (3&4) Stella and Ramón become part of the "Haunted House" story, as she's transported back in time and witnesses Ephriam Bellows terrorizing Sarah before encountering her ghost.
“And if there’s anything I learned from Sarah...it’s never to give up.” —Stella Nicholls