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Great Britain

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is horrific and deliciously inventive

CONTINUING the world’s obsession with nostalgia-tinged horror comes an actually rather good ­offering from ­producer ­Guillermo Del Toro.

Based on Alvin Schwartz’s three books from the Eighties, Scary Stories is a nifty bridge for teenagers who feel a bit too grown-up for Goosebumps but still secretly have a teddy bear with them at bedtime.

It is Halloween 1986 and teens Stella, Auggie and Chuck are locked in the secret room of a haunted house after a prank goes wrong.

The trio discover a storybook written by a mysterious girl called Sarah Bellows. It begins to write grisly and gory stories on its own, putting each kid centre-frame.

The race is on for them to solve the tragic mystery of the author before their own names are written in blood.

Given that it is based on a series of short stories, it’s no surprise that we are served the film in neat chapters.

But that feels like a bit of a cop-out, as the main plot of the film is virtually identical to every other mid-level horror film you’ve ever seen (“Why is this malignant force doing this? Maybe it’s a cry for help! Jeepers, I must find out and help them before it’s too late!”).

Thankfully, though, the set-pieces go a long way to making up for that, with a couple being particularly horrific and deliciously inventive.

There is a truly grim zit- popping sequence, which will easily prey heavily on the pubescent audience mind, and a slow-shuffling grinning monster whose claustrophobic approach is still on my mind days later.

Much like Schwartz’s books, which contained illustrations that were considered a bit much at the time, this isn’t the film for 12-year-olds who’ve snuck an episode of Stranger Things while you weren’t looking.

But it’s not quite as sinister as Pennywise the clown. It will also make a lot more sense to an American audience who are familiar with the storybooks as there’s almost no folklore backstory offered to us Brits.

The links between the type of story written for each kid is tied closely to their particular struggles in life.

One child, whose brother was blown up in Vietnam, has to face a self-assembling zombie, while another has an absent parent.

It isn’t as thoroughly mapped out as it could have been — along with a largely lost allegory regarding Nixon’s inauguration.

So while the actual horror and plot devices occasionally teeter on the brink of formulaic, there are several particularly unpleasant moments — and the Del Toro magic dust has been sprinkled liberally enough to make the monsters genuinely horrible.

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (15)

★★★★☆

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