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SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. Country, Canada, US. Director, Andre Ovredal. Screenwriters, Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Guillermo del Toro, Marcus Dunstan, Patrick Melton. Based on a story by Alvin Schwartz. Cast: Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Dean Norris, Natalie Ganzjhorn, Lorraine Toussaint, Gil Bellows, Javier Botet. Language, English. Runtime, 102 minutes. Release Date: August 9, 2019. Venue: Regal Battery Park. Mostly Indies rating: C+

Beware of any promo that offers one too many jump scares and informs you it’s “from the mind of ___” because it’s a sign the movie is probably not going to deliver the premise it is trying to sell. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, a movie directed by Andre Ovredal (Trollhunter), arrives in August and is being advertised as from the pen of Guillermo del Toro. Its trailer comes with one shock after shock and ends with a big reveal, and that already is a problem, and I’ll tell you why.

When Hereditary came out last year no one could anticipate what it was exactly about. Everything pointed at a girl acting disjointedly, disturbing her mother, and haunted by her dead grandmother. Now, that kind of is what the movie presents… but of course once you go in and experience the movie proper, you realize how wrong you were, and then, the horror truly reveals itself, right down to the very blissful end, as Judy Collins starts to sing.

That isn’t the case here. And I’m a fan of Guillermo del Toro; his first two movies, The Devil’s Backbone (El espinazo del diablo) and Cronos established a striking new view on horror by the way of Victor Erice that reached its apex in Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauna). Even his Hellboy series have garnered critical acclaim.

However, when becoming prolific there’s the risk of having to deliver and place the stamp of your name to secure the product’s success. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is del Toro’s adaptation of the Alvin Schwartz book of the same name. I personally never read it so I cannot guarantee how faithful the movie is in spirit to the book,

It focuses primarily on a group of friends, mostly on the geekier side of normal, who play a prank on one of the school’s notorious bullies while trick or treating on Halloween night. When the bully and his friends give chase to the kids they wind up first in a drive-in theater showing Night of the Living Dead, where they hide in drifter’s car whom they befriend. Later on, the gang arrives at every small town’s version of the blasted house, a place that seems cursed. The house belonged to the affluent Bellows family that somehow was besieged with incredible tragedy. While there they experience a series of unexplained situations, and Stella (Zoe Margaret Coletti) finds a mysterious book written in dark red ink.

Inside the book, which seems to be a journal of sorts, are horror stories written by Sarah Bellows, Stella realizes later that the book seems to be writing itself as a new story titled “Harold” in which the main character is the bully who has been after them, Tommy. Here is where the movie finally begins, and the scares start to happen. The “Harold” section of the movie is the most effective, using well-timed jump scares and dread to describe the dark fate of the Tommy character, and the images are truly rightening to say the least.

Of course, the following stories amp up the stakes against our group of friends who come to realize that the book itself is the problem, and it’s up to them to find a stop to it. One stand out sequence involves one character’s sister who starts to grow a pimple on the night she is to perform… the result is truly grotesque and I will leave it to you to see for yourself.

So, it is indeed safe to say that for the most I did enjoy the movie. The issue is, Scary Movies to Tell in the Dark is more geared for a younger crowd who either have never seen a horror movie (is that even possible nowadays?) or like their horror, “lite.” In that care, this is the perfect movie for them and it comes a full month before the release of It: Chapter Two, another movie also featuring kids that is decidedly more gruesome than superficially scary.


Director: A. D. Calvo
Runtime: 76 minutes
Language: English

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

What is it about fragile young women and old Victorian mansions with windows so menacing they almost look as though they have an evil intelligence that goes so well together in the makings of Gothic horror? I’ll only guess that it has to be the fact that someone less impressionable might not be as ripe for a gradual possession as someone more withdrawn and in-tune with their inner lives and what only they themselves can see, but what do I know? Ultimately, however, what haunts Adele (Erin Wilhelmi) is not the supernatural, but her own aching loneliness — she’s been sent to care for her aging aunt Dora (Sally Kellerman), a woman who’s become a complete and utter recluse, who’s left Adele a series of notes with instructions as to the management of the house and groceries written in handwriting so ornate as to seem from another time completely. Adele, none too happy with her situation, complies, not without a faint sense of “why me”.

And then she bumps into Beth (Quinn Shephard). The two girls could not be more dissimilar. While Adele is as waifish as they come, with long, golden hair parted severely in the middle and landing in exact geometric length halfway down her back, Beth is darker, more assertive, and worldly. The two take a liking to each other that seems almost too perfect to be true . . . fated, if you will. And  yet, the story moves along at its own pace, letting these two women breathe, share stories, experiences, and information that is vital to the bond that seems to be getting stronger between them. In the meantime, any attempt to reconnect with Aunt Dora goes unfulfilled–it seems as though something terrible has transpired in a time and a place before Adele was even born, yet has trickled down upon her head like an inherited crown of thorns.

But, back to the relationship between Beth and Adele. Because this is a horror movie — slow burn, creepy as all get out and with a palette completely drained of life, making even its bright 70s colors seem dusty and remote — it’s inevitable that whatever the two get into will not end well, and I really don’t want to give too much away because . . . well, you have to see it for yourself. If you get references as wide and varied as Robert Wise’s The Haunting of Hill House, Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, and made-for-television fare such as Burnt Offerings in which a house seems to turn its people into something darker, you will enjoy Sweet Sweet Lonely Girl. The three actresses are perfect in their roles — with both Shephard and Wilhelmi complementing each other to near perfection, and Kellerman making the most of her barely-there scenes. I won’t call it a masterpiece — it’s certainly not — but it’s a work that pays homage to a kind of horror that was more rising dread and what-the-fuck endings that were quite common for a time in the 60s and 70s and have since been making a slow but steady comeback with films like The Witch, The Duke of Burgundy, Darling, and The Eyes of My Mother.

Sweet Sweet Lonely Girl is currently playing at Shudder.


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2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)


I’m a little surprised at how many critics have been raving about Lynne Ramsay’s 2011 film We Need to Talk About Kevin. I was one who for a while was intrigued by it (and the fact that I missed it when it first came out) because of its grim topic of lone killers and the aftermath they leave. When I finally sat down to watch it, however, something about this movie, which in my opinion shouldn’t be on a bad movie article, didn’t resonate. Something was tonally, visually off from the get-go, and too much time was spent in framing Tilda Swinton (whom I normally love in anything she does, although she has appeared in a couple of clunkers like this year’s A Bigger Splash) in bold reds over and over and over again, and then having her act so arrogantly through the entire affair it was next to impossible to feel anything for her character.

For those who haven’t seen We Need to Talk About Kevin, this is the 2011 movie based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Lionel Shriver. The story depicts a mother, played by Swinton, coming to terms with the devastation that her son (played by Ezra Miller) has left behind following a school massacre. For the initial portion I was hooked, wanting to know more about what could have made this privileged child turn into such a murderous, soulless monster, but the problem lay basically in casting. Swinton, for all her visual presence, is  completely wrong for the character of a mother unable to control her preternaturally psychopathic son. When you see her, you think, “Oh, please. One cold stare and she’s got this by the horns.” Nope. It doesn’t happen. It never happens. We see the son manifest symptoms of early rebellion that will manifest itself much later as an outcry of sheer violence. We see Swinton react . . . but not much. She alternates between looking caught between two emotions, deer in the headlights and deer wondering the make of the vehicle that just struck her. So out of touch if her character that we wonder if there will ever be a conversation that spells out the title of the movie. A caveat, and it’s not a spoiler: don’t wait for it. instead, watch for Gus van Sant’s excellent, devastating Elephant.

I can say that many affluent families that I was associated with in my childhood had this thing where no problems of any kind were discussed or mentioned or even referenced. It just didn’t happen. If there were any issues, those involved suffered in silence. In time they could let the bile out of the bag and make those affected go to therapy. Who cares? So in a way, the fact that this family, uber chic, living in a fabulous home filled with contemporary sterility, has no soul. The father? He’s nowhere to be found. John C Reilly seems to have checked out and left it all to chance. That leave the story nowhere to go but into the red. Now, my other contention is, and yes, this is a spoiler, arrows? Really?


Look, I get it. Sometimes you want to lessen the bloody impact of a reality all schools must face in the light of Columbine and all that follow, but to make a bow and arrow a part of a tragedy and not have anyone on board — not guards, security, anyone — tackle this crazy down and somehow subdue him? That’s the most egregious example of a plot hole if I’ve ever seen one. There is no way — nope, not a single one — that Kevin would have been able to inflict as much harm the way he did before a couple of school jocks would have taken his shit down, all the way down. We live in a reality of guns, and guns do inflict almost unbearable harm.

But . . . .this is an artistic  movie, I guess, based on an actual novel, and where there is an audience, there will be sales, so those who bought it and read it believed it and stand by it. And that’s okay. I personally loved a couple of artistic aspects of We Need to Talk About Kevin but it was probably a fraction of a whole. That doesn’t save it from me giving it the axe.



2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

Oh, boy. Shirley Jackson must be thrashing in her grave right now. Here we have a movie that shamelessly rips off her narrative style down to details — the dry humor with a wink, the stoic omniscience of the lead — and makes no attempt to create something new with it. Osgood Parkins, its director, has taken the well-worn story of the governess and the old, dark house and given it a modernist, minimalist spin. You can start going down your checklist as I type this: old house? Check. Things that go creak in the dark? Of course. Things that move on their own? Yes. Something invisible that seems to want more than one is willing to give? Bingo.

If you can, check a little horror movie called Darling  by Mickey Keating. That’s all I’ll say here, because I won’t spend more than I have to wondering what was it that made this little experiment of a horror movie suck so badly. When you have atmosphere and nothing else there is only so much you can do before one wonders when one can change the channel or switch to a better, more dramatic film. Mind you, I’m not above slow burns with a pay-off. Those are the best. Even something more commercial as Don’t Breathe by Fede Alvarez and produced by Sam Raimi has only two jumpscares that make total sense to the plot instead of being there to make you jump . . .  but nothing else. This one, with its long, elaborate title, looks more like a movie filmed for video only — you can see right through its seams when the horror appears, and all you are left are with ominous external shots of the house the events purportedly take place in. That doesn’t make this even remotely good.

I do hope that Perkins will come up with something better. This is a first film and mistakes happen. Maybe I saw it wrong, but I’ve seen a lot of horror since I was a child and this one made me irritable. Even names like Paula Prentiss and Bob Balaban, stalwarts from the 70s, helped not an iota. What a total waste of time.