Don’t Read Dusty Books – Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Review
I know that I’m a little late to the party with this film, but misreading the movie times lead us to this film. The film is based off of a children’s book of the same name. Its a compilation of different horror short stories. These play a fairly big role in the film, and its nice to see the source material behind it. Most stories in the book draw inspiration from folklore and urban legends. The trilogy that it is part of has been referenced as a “cultural touchstone for a generation” and also has been criticized by parents claiming that its inappropriate for kids.
Reflecting back on the film, it is a great watch. While keeping the scares to a minimum, the film is definitely geared towards children. I was excited to see that Guillermo del Toro was working on this project. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. His creatures in all of his work always intrigue me and this film is no exception. All creatures looked good with the exception of the Jangly Man.
The movie begins in the small Pennsylvania town of Mill Valley in 1968. Stella (Zoe Colletti) is a young girl who takes care of her father, and after covering him in a blanket, goes into her room. There is where we find out that she is an avid horror fan and fictional writer. Her friends Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) call her over a walkie to convnce her to go out with them for Halloween. As the three are getting ready we see Auggie as a clown, Chuck as a Spider-man, a man sized spider, and Stella as a witch.
As the three are walking down a road, a bully comes beside them and takes their candy. Little does Tommy (Austin Abrams), the bully, know that its filled with dirty underwear. Chuck then lights a bag and throws it into the car causing Tommy to wreck his car. Getting out and threatening the group, the kids run away and hide inside a drive-in. Hiding behind a car, Stella gets in and introduces herself to the driver. The driver is Ramón (Michael Garza), who was seen earlier being harassed by an officer for being Hispanic. As they are all introducing themselves, Tommy comes up to the driver door and threatens the group. The people around the car begin to yell and Tommy gets thrown out of the drive-in.
Into the House
Stella overs to show Ramón a scary place and he agrees. They group then goes to the Bellows mansion, where Sarah Bellows apparently committed suicide and her family’s disappearance. Chuck, trying the scary Auggie, runs off through the house while Auggie chases after him. Stella and Ramón search the house and Stella begins to tell the legend of Sarah. She was an outcast from the family and punished by staying in a secret room in the mansion. As soon as Stella finishes the legend, Ramón finds a secret hatch that leads to the secret room of Sarah.
At this time Chuck is hiding in a closet from Auggie and as he cracks a door open to see through the room is changed. He sees a red room, with a woman in all black staring at him from her bed. Freaked out, Chuck finds Auggie and the two go to the room with Stella and Ramón. Stella then finds Sarah’s book that she wrote and begins to read it.
From there all the candles get blown out, and they are locked in by Tommy. Ruth (Natalie Ganzhorn), Chucks sister, tell Tommy to open the door and Tommy throws her in with the kids before locking the door again and leaving. As Stella talks to the walls and asks Sarah to let them go, the door magically unlocks itself and the group leaves the house, with Stella taking the book. Walking back to Ramón’s car, he discovers that its destroyed and Stella overs him to stay at her house.
The First Story
Once they are at Stella’s house, the she begins to read the book. She notices that theres a new story called ‘Harold,’ with the bully Tommy as the main character. A drunk Tommy comes home and is yelled at by his mother for not delivering eggs. She forces him to go and get the eggs even though he’s drunk. He punches the scarecrow that is in the family’s cornfield, ironically named Harold.As he continues to walk on, the cornfield becomes a maze and he gets lost. Harold comes to life and beginss to stalk Tommy. Tommy attempts to fight it, but the Scarecrow stabs him with a pitchfork, causing Tommy to call for his mother. As he crawls out of the cornfield, he begins to puke up hay and transform. In the morning there is a new scarecrow in the field that has a striking resemblance to Tommy.
The following day, Tommy is reported missing. Stella and Ramón go to the cornfield and find a scarecrow wearing Tommy’s clothes. Though Stella is convinced that Tommy has been turned into a scarecrow, the others are skeptical. Ramón refuses to go to the police as he fears they will suspect him due to his race and his history with Tommy.
The Second Story
Coming home that night, Stella and Ramón witness a new story, “The Big Toe,” being written in the book. This time with Auggie as the main character. The scene then shifts to Auggie talking to his mother on the phone and pulling a pot out of the fridge. Stella calls him over their radio to warn him about the monster in the narrative: a zombie searching for its missing toe, which is inside a stew that Auggie unwittingly eats.
Auggie thinks its a joke before he hears a voice in the dark ask where is my toe. He begins to freak out when he sees the zombie in a hallway and hides under his bed in his room. Auggie is then attacked by the zombie and disappears after it drags him under his bed. As Stella and Ramón race over to his house, they find nothing but claw marks under his bed. Realizing they are next in line, Stella, Ramón, and Chuck attempt to destroy the book. Chuck picks on his sister about having acne, and she claims that its only a spider bite. When the book doesn’t burn, they decide to research Sarah Bellows’ life in hopes of finding a solution.
The Third Story
As the three are researching, Chuck drops some ketchup onto his shirt. Meanwhile, a spider bite on Ruth’s cheek begins to swell as a new story, “The Red Spot,” is written. Stella reads the title and immediately thinks its Chuck, and the group begin to freak out. As Ruth is getting ready for a school play her bite becomes unbearable and she goes to the bathroom. The group then realize that the story is about Ruth and rush to the school to try to save her.
As Ruth continues to play with the bite, a spiders leg comes out of it. When Ruth squeezes the affected area, the spot explodes and releases hundreds of tiny spiders. Ruth is saved by Stella, Ramón and Chuck, but is traumatized by her experience and placed in a mental institution.
The Fourth Story
The group then decides to go to the local hospital to try to get Sarah’s medical records. Sneaking in the group goes to the ‘Red Room’ which makes Chuck freak out and the group separates. As Stella and Ramón further investigation, they find out that Sarah’s brother Ephraim performed electroshock therapy on her as a part of a cover-up operation. As the family’s mill had been poisoning the town’s water with mercury killing several children, Sarah was seemingly used as a scapegoat for the deaths.
Chuck running into orderlies at the hospital then runs throughout the hallways and hides in a room to avoid them. As Chuck is stuck at a four-way of hallways, the lights then suddenly turn red. The Pale Lady, a phantom from his recurring nightmares, begins walking down one of the hallways, and as he runs down a different one he realizes he’s trapped. As he’s cornered in a hallway, the Pale Lady hugs him and absorbs him into her body. Stella and Ramón find Chuck’s signature pen before they are arrested by Police Chief Turner for trespassing, who reveals that Ramón is a Vietnam draft dodger.
The Fifth Story
While Ramón and Stella are imprisoned, Turner reads Stella’s book and discovers a new story, “Me Tie Dough-ty Walker”. While Stella and Ramón attempt to warn him of the oncoming danger, Turner’s dog begins to act strangely and Ramón realizes that he is next, and that the next creature will be the “Jangly Man”, a monster from a campfire story that frightened him as a child.
The Jangly Man, able to reconstruct itself from separate body parts, falls out of the chimney in the police station. As he reconstructs himself he snaps Turner’s neck before turning his attention to Ramón. Stella gets the keys from Turner’s body and the two escape their cells. Ramón lures the creature away while Stella goes to the Bellows house to try to reason with Sarah.
The Sixth Story
Stella is taken back in time, leaving the book in the present, and lives out part of Sarah’s experience as Ephraim terrorizes her.
Ephraim drags Stella into a dark room, where she encounters Sarah’s ghost. In the present, Ramón arrives at the house and finds the book with another story being written: “The Haunted House”. Realizing that he and Stella are almost out of time, and with the Jangly Man pursuing him through the Bellows house, Ramón calls Stella’s name and tells her to confront Sarah.
In the past, Stella begins tearfully reciting the true story of Sarah Bellows: she was victimized by her family for trying to reveal the truth, which turned her into a rage-filled monster; prompting Sarah to use the power of the book to kill her family. Stella promises to tell the real story of Sarah’s life if she stops killing, assuring Sarah that she can still make a good choice. Sarah tells Stella to write the truth in the book, in blood, before she and the Jangly Man vanish. Stella is returned to the present day, and reconciles with a shaken Ramón.
Ramón, now in the U.S. army, shares an emotional goodbye with Stella before he leaves town. Stella, together with her father and a recovered Ruth, states her belief that she can still find a way to rescue Chuck and Auggie by using the book.