Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

The short stories that this film is based on were apparently popular for several years and encouraged an interactive view of reading, with deliberate shouting at jump scare moments or a cleverly timed flashlight or hand touch. This is just the thing for adolescent ghost stories, told at a camp, retreat or sleepover. The film repeats the concept if not the exact stories. It is directed at a maturing tween audience, thus it is rated PG-13, with a good amount of creepiness but a very short supply of gore. It is a family friendly horror film that can be appreciated by mild core fans rather than just the hard cores gore crowd.

Back in the 1980s, this might have been an anthology film, like “Creepshow”, “Cat’s Eye”, “Twilight Zone:The Movie” or “Tales From the Dark Side”. Someone, probably co-screenwriter and producer Guillermo del Toro, decided to string the stories together in a single narrative that feels very episodic anyway. The concept does have the advantage of giving the audience a little more time to care about the main characters and what is going to happen to them. The thread of the book written by a spirit as a story plays out is just enough to make the plot work at moving forward coherently.

“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” plays like a demented version of “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”. As each victim gets singled out by a specialized need they have and it gets woven into the story, characters start to disappear. Unlike the Chocolate Factory however, there are no Ommpa Lumpas to make things right afterward. While it starts out as a haunted house movie, it really follows the curse plotline much more of the time. The doomed protagonists try to figure out what fate will befall them, and then the group reacts. There are some pretty good sight gags and more than a few jump scares to keep us interested. There are a couple of things however that don’t make a lot of sense.

Setting the story in the week between Halloween and the Election of 1968 does not seem necessary. Everytime we get some background on the Vietnam War or the campaign, it takes us out of the main idea of the story and redirects our attention. There is one minor plot point that might require this time period, but it seems so obscure and last minute when it gets dropped in, that most of the audience, especially the kids that this is directed at, will shrug their shoulders and wonder why this is being presented as a history lesson instead of a contemporary story.

This is a movie that will have a long future at Halloween film events focusing on kids. Maybe we can stop pretending that “Hocus Pocus” is a good Halloween movie, and instead get kids to watch something like this. It sure does feel like it is being set up for a series of sequel type films, but the producers may have painted themselves into a nostalgia corner with the time setting. I guess we will see in a couple of years.

47 Meters Down: Uncaged

As is readily apparent on this site,we have a soft spot for shark movies. We even see the bad ones, although I have to admit, I’ve missed a few of the “Sharknado” sequels. Two years ago there was a fun surprise when a movie which was saved from straight to video got a theatrical release and “47 Meters Down” turned out to be a modest hit. It was also a solid summer shark feature with an interesting premise, the perspectives of the shark attacks will be underwater rather than on the surface. Here we are two years later and it is time for a sequel of sorts.

Director Johannes Roberts returns to the subject of sharks underwater with a different cast and modified premise. So the only thing that you need to know from the original film is that there are sharks, otherwise the two stories are completely unrelated to each other. This one starts off with a pretty standard high school girls story. A awkward outcast is tortured at her new school by a Queen Bee and her minions. Her step sister refuses to step in and a tension filled family dynamic is set up. The father in the blended family, played by John Corbett, is an archaeologist, working on a sunken Mayan set of ruins. He attempts to have the two reluctant sisters bond over an expedition to a Great White Diving experience, but the more popular sister’s friends have a different plan in store and in an attempt to try to bond, the reluctant sister accompanies the group of friends. It turns out that one of the girls is dating the Dad’s assistant and he has shown her the access point to the underwater caverns. You can pretty much guess what happens from there.

The four girls all seem interesting and are stereo-typically cute, and they engage in the sort of group think behavior that would be likely in those circumstances. The underwater sequences are filmed in a supposed maze of ruins with a Mayan alter in the center. The girls believe their father is operating on the far end of the site so they think they can get away with this expedition. Cue the sharks. Oh and by the way, they are not just sharks. Since they have evolved in an enclosed area, their are sightless. That’s right, the threat will come from blind shark, Great Whites in particular. The second threat, which is a repeat of the premise in the original film, comes from the dwindling air supply of the four girls. Modern radio systems seem to allow the girls to speak to one another or anyone else in range while underwater, so that eliminates the need for a lot of pantomime or hand signals. They can scream in fear and offer narrative exposition as necessary.

So a combination of disoriented divers, cave ins, strong currents and of course blind sharks, are used to create the suspense of this film for the rest of the run time. The logic of what is happening is not exactly credible, but it is way ahead of “Sharknados” and as a result, real tension does build up. There are plenty of jump scares and a few moments of release, but like all films that involve jeopardy in nature, there is always one more thing that can go wrong. Let me assure you that plenty of people die from shark attack and that the visualization is effective if not as horrifying as the deaths we saw earlier in the summer in “Crawl”.


The alligator movie is a lot better than this film is, but I am not asking too much of this, just that it entertain me with shark related peril for a while, it does that. The director is competent in making the underwater action thrilling is not always entirely plausible. The four actresses have some TV credits and a couple of movies but they are largely fresh faces. Two of those fresh faces however belong to families that you are likely to know. Sistine Stallone, who plays the bratty friend makes her film debut in this movie, following a path blazed by her father, who you all know as Rocky. Corinne Foxx, the slightly older step-sister is the progeny of actor Jamie Foxx. After they are all underwater, it is hard to evaluate any of the actresses on their thespian skills, but no one makes the kind of misstep that would otherwise ruin this slightly preposterous nature thriller.