Children of the 80s and 90s run in fear because the most infamous "kids" horror books return in Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark! Producer Guillermo del Torro and director André Øvredal pull from three of the creepiest of Alvin Schwartz's seminal stories and give them a narrative through-line that hit some high notes but doesn't quite elicit true terror. A fun film for sure, but not the next big event in horror. Lionsgate delivers Scary Stories to 4K UHD Blu-ray with Dolby Vision HDR in an often beautiful upscaled transfer and a solid audio mix to match. Bonus features are a tad slim. The show is pretty good for PG-13 friendly horror, Scary Stories is certainly a worthwhile show. Recommended.
If there is a spooky abandoned mansion in your home town - don't go in there! That's a lesson every kid should know, but apparently, Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) and her palls Auggie (Gabriel Rush), Chuck (Gil Bellows), and her newfound possible love interest Ramón (Michael Garza) didn't get that message. After being stalked by the town tough Tommy (Austin Abrams), the gaggle of friends enters the old Bellows mansion for a little Halloween fun. Stumbling into a hidden chamber, they discover the terrible stories of Sarah Bellows - the poor girl kept imprisoned in her family home. An old urban legend hits close to home when Stella and her friends learn the stories are all too real - and terrifying!
I grew up reading the Alvin Schwartz collections of Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. They messed me up. I don't know how these could be marketed to kids but they were. Every month when the Scholastic book order came around, sure enough, at least one of those books was on there. I grew up watching horror movies every Saturday morning. Granted, they were edited for television but they were still pretty creepy for a little kid - but they never gave me nightmares. The Scary Stories books gave me nightmares. And for some f-d up reason, my parents bought me all three and read them to me! It wasn't just the stories that rattled me but the artwork too. Some of those images you just couldn't get out of your head no matter how hard you tried. So, when it was announced that Guillermo del Toro was working on bringing these to the big screen, I was excited, but also a bit nervous. How were they going to bring R-rated level terror to a (sorta) kid-friendly series of stories and still keep things PG-13?
Scary Stories basically had two options, come up with some narrative through-line that didn't exist in the books to link each story - or go with the classic anthology setup. I wished they'd gone with the latter. While I appreciate del Toro and director André Øvredal trying to find a way to spice things up and give things a different spin, it doesn't completely work for me. A group of kids finding the book and opening the evil terror inside is good enough. Instead of keeping it simple, they tacked on the very tired "Cursed Spirit Needs Appeasement" storyline that just feels hamfisted into the movie. It doesn't belong. Had it been a kid on a stormy night being read these stories by a nefarious grandfather - that would have been more than enough to make a movie work.
Story misgivings aside, I appreciate that the creative team went for broke bringing these stories to life. Harold and Big Toe were the two that messed me up with The Red Spot coming earning high marks. The artwork was gruesome and haunted my dreams. Harold, in particular, was a beast. So seeing these three stories recreated here wasn't exactly easy to stomach all over again. I'm just glad they didn't run Sam's New Pet. More than any other story in those books - that was the one that messed me up the most.
While not the home run horror hit I was hoping for, I have to admit that I enjoyed Scary Stories quite a bit. It had a great pace, took its time to introduce characters and set up the show, and when it came time to adapt the stories it delivered. The need for a "plot" might be a bit hammy but it does move things forward. Safer than actually reading the stories, watching Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark proved to be a great way to spend a cold dark night with the lights off.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Scary Stories opens up on 4K UHD Blu-ray in a two-disc 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital set from Lionsgate. Housed in a standard black two-disc 4K case with identical slipcover artwork, the disc loads to trailers for upcoming Lionsgate releases before arriving at an animated main menu with traditional navigation options.
Scary Stories has a lot to tell In The Dark thanks to a pleasing 2160p 4K UHD Blu-ray with Dolby Vision HDR transfer. Apparently upsampled from a 2K digital intermediate, I'm a bit bummed to report that there isn't an overwhelming improvement in fine details. Unless the shot is in close up - and there are many - the differences between the SDR Blu-ray and this 4K disc rest on colors, black levels, and contrast. And it's in this realm where I give the 4K disc and its Dolby Vision HDR the leg up. The teal/orange presentation is even more teal/orange saturated - but somehow now looks more natural here in the context of the story it's aiming to tell. Those extra sharp primaries - that red hallway sequence is a lovely crimson - gain some yardage against the inky blacks and ominous shadows.
Dark nighttime sequences that probably run a full half of the movie are much better resolved here allowing for a lot more shadow separation when there's only minimal lighting. Depth for scenes in the Bellows house is more pronounced giving the image an extra three-dimensional kick. This is true for some daylight sequences as well - the Red Spot sequence was particularly uncomfortable and grotesque. While not a full lightyear leap in overall quality, those 4K enabled should be pleased with this presentation as it does offer some notable improvements over its SDR counterpart
Sporting a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, Scary Stories offers up some effective scares. The biggest and best effect I loved about this mix was its smart and subdued surround presence. The audio mix actually works to not draw too much attention to itself until the moments that count most are on screen. Throughout most of the film, the surround activity is pretty simplistic. Engaging yes, but not much more than gusts of wind or rustling leaves until some creepy creature pops out of the screen. When Harold comes to life, those sides and surrounds pop nicely giving some extra action along with some very welcome LFE. The film progresses like that when a new story is coming to life and a monster is about to enter the scene you get some crazy good audio effects to heighten the tension so it isn't all just loud music. It's also nice that the film isn't entirely reliant on jump scares letting the monsters and their own movements kick things up a notch. All in all a perfectly good mix for a solid horror jaunt.
While there are some decent bonus features to be found here, they're mostly tried and true EPK materials. The Creatures from the Shadows feature is a nice chunk of content so check that one out. All bonus features are found on the 4K disc as well as the SDR Blu-ray.
Dark Tales (HD 5:08)
Retro Horror (HD 5:06)
Creatures from the Shadows (HD 11:35)
Mood Reels (HD 24:27)
Behind the Scenes: Set Visits (HD 4:50)
Reading Scary Stories was a terrifying experience as a child. Seeing Scary Stories as an adult isn't quite as effective - but still a hell of a good time! While the need for a through-line plot may hamper the fear factor, the movie as a whole succeeds at providing some notable PG-13 friendly frights.
Lionsgate brings Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark to 4K UHD Blu-ray with a solid upsampled 2160p with Dolby Vision HDR transfer. There may not be vast improvements in details but for a dark film, you get a lot more in those precious shadows and deep inky blacks. The Dolby TrueHD mix is also solid material punching up the terrifying elements when and where necessary. Bonus features may not be a huge collection, but they're worth picking through. All in all, as a fan of the books, I still love the individual stories better - but this movie was a gas. If you need some safe but still icky frights on a cold night, you'll be in good company with Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. Recommended.