If you grew up with this book series, you might remember that the stories themselves were actually not that memorable at all, but Stephen Gammell’s beautiful illustrations bored into your very soul and remain tucked deep in the recesses of your memory banks.
Scary Stories takes place during a time of turmoil in small-town America: Nixon is on the verge of winning the presidential race while barely-adults are getting shipped off to ‘Nam to die. This particular town is known for a haunted house, home to a restless spirit who was known for telling scary stories to the townschildren who were later killed.
When our plucky horror-fiend Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) steals the ghost’s infamous storybook, the stories come to life and prey on her and her friends’ worst fears.
Adapting this campfire tale anthology has proven to be a tricky task, even with horror master Guillermo del Toro behind the helm(ish). Though trying its best to weave a narrative, the story itself is what happened if Goosebumps, Paranorman and It had some sort of a three-way lovechild with a bad case of the jump scares.
Considering the artwork’s iconicism, one would think they’d go all out, right? Though an excellent attempt was made, the monsters were unfortunately buried under a CG sheen rather than opting for practical effects. The camera also refuses to linger much, reaction-cutting like crazy, resulting in that overproduced style of young adult horror.
Despite this lack of definition, I think there are some merits to be found if you squint hard enough. For instance, I appreciated that the setting was in the late 1960’s, rather than cashing in on the 1980’s/1990’s nostalgia grab. However attempts to reel in on that childhood trauma and small-town-wartime-angst/paranoia comes off as heavy-handed and rather clunky.
In short, this is a decent 13+ scary movie, but sadly lacks the needed grit and tonal atmosphere to make something beautifully original. Personally, I think an anthology film would have been more fun and effective – like a gritty Trick or Treat. But I guess we’ll find out in the inevitable sequel.
A small synopsis for anyone who somehow missed the 1990 miniseries or had never read the book: After the disappearance of his little brother Georgie, teenage Bill Denbrough and his group of misfit buddies (“The Loser Club”) unravel the evil lurking within the small town of Derry, Maine. This evil literally feeds on fear, thusly preying upon children at their most vulnerable, all while personified as a friendly clown named Pennywise.
Having been raised with the original, and have taken a retrospective look at it plenty of times, I can confidently say that I prefer this remake despite the iconicity of Tim Curry’s performance. (Or is it a reboot? I feel like I used to know the difference, but now I think they’re one and the same.)
Additionally I read the book years and years ago, so though I couldn’t make an accurate comparison, I am thrilled to bits that this film did NOT include one of the most pointlessly disturbing scenes in Stephen King lore.
A key difference is this story is based in the 1980s – the time in American history when every high school/college was rampant with homicidal bullies. This is a welcomed change, as modernizing provides different options for altering the fears just enough, making them more general to any audience. For instance, not every kid grew up fearing the Mummy, but I’m pretty sure every kid has seen a picture that genuinely shook them to the point of averting their eyes in the event of reoccurring glances.
Generalizing like this creates a sense of timelessness, altering how the Losers face their fears: The original relies on superstition and denial, i.e. silver and “battery acid” (aptly childish), whereas the remake has more bravery and determination, i.e. standing up and beating the ever-loving crap out of him (violent, but ultimately satisfying).
And as the Losers conquer their fears, the heaviness and permanence of the world topples with it, creating a coming-of-age/innocence lost experience with a startling degree of depth and humor, not unlike Stand By Me.
As far as scares go, It ultimately creates an atmosphere that amplifies the children’s’ fears without pandering to an adult audience. Each trauma is genuinely scary, and I appreciate that. I found Bill Skarsgård’s portrayal of Pennywise to be absolutely enthralling: his movements and demeanor flip from playful to utterly disturbing without missing a beat.
The physical design of the character has a more literal sense of mentioned timelessness, implying that this creature has been around for centuries, but knows to lure children all you need is a goofy outfit and a big smile. Or clowns have always been creepy no matter what the era. Especially if they drool on you.
It is a great start for this Halloween season. With any luck, I’ll be seeing mother! next.
Roughly two years ago, I discovered a new series as soon as it’s cover met my eye:
Much to my pleasure, I found that not only are there dozens of ooky-spooky vintage photographs within this book, but the story’s narrative is woven by mentioned photographs – how cool is that? I’m still on the third book, and the series isn’t all that bad. It’s dark and whimsical, just as I like it – lots of cool characters too. The love angle’s a little weird, but that can be discussed another day.
Naturally, like most hit young adult novels, a film adaptation was inevitable; between the eerie imagery and semi-period setting, Burton was an apt choice. As for the remainder of the adaptation, considering all of the deviations… it got kinda weird.
Miss Peregrine follows Jacob Portman (Asa Butterfield), a teenager who discovers that the amazing stories his late grandfather raised him with may had lead to his mysterious, gruesome death. Jacob uncovers a hidden world lost in time and space, occupied by people known as “peculiars,” (not unlike X-Men‘s mutants) protected by the enigmatic Miss Alma Peregrine (Eva Green).
Jake soon finds that he unknowingly lead danger right to his new friends’ door, for though this world is wondrous, it’s is also wrought with horrors.
Sometimes it’s easy to put the source material out of mind, but in the case of Miss Peregrine, something really bothered me about Emma (Ella Purnell). For those unfamiliar with the book, Olive and Emma originally have the opposite abilities (Olive is also a much younger, so that was weird).
As someone who can manipulate fire, Emma is an incredibly strong presence for Jacob, and thusly they have a more complex, interesting relationship. She’s also much braver and more fierce, and downright pretty cool.
By giving Emma the air ability (a tweaked one at that), she seems so much more fragile (if not useless) than necessary, which lends this movie’s greater issue: there are so many characters here, there’s hardly any development. By the end of it, sure Jacob’s got some more guts and gumption. Awesome. And I guess the rest of the kids do too, but can we really say?
Basically what I mean to say is that this film, as fun as it was to see these characters, was terribly shallow. Granted, I figured the studio was shooting more for a one-off rather than a trilogy, but this adaptation felt awfully muddled. Even if I wasn’t familiar with the source material, I feel as if this story would have felt lackluster in the end – not terrible, just really okay.