Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark parents guide

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Parent Guide

A white knuckle, truly terrifying movie without lots of gore but plenty of creepy scenes.

Overall B-

Sarah Bellows, a deeply unhappy young girl, wrote a book of horrific stories which stayed hidden for years...until Zoe, Michael, and Auggie break into her abandoned and allegedly haunted house on Halloween and read it. Now, Zoe and her friends find that the stories are coming true, with deadly consequences. The friends will have to find a way to stop Sarah Bellow's nightmares crawling from the pages before they find themselves as the victims of one of the many horrors they've unleashed.

Release date August 9, 2019

Violence C-
Sexual Content B+
Profanity C+
Substance Use C

Why is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark rated PG-13? The MPAA rated Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark PG-13 for terror/violence, disturbing images, thematic elements, language including racial epithets, and brief sexual references.

Run Time: 111 minutes

Parent Movie Review

Halloween comes to Mill Valley, Pennsylvania, and Auggie Hildebrandt (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck Steinberg (Austin Zajur) are trying to convince their friend Stella (Zoe Colletti) to join them in a nefarious prank against the high school bullies. Unfortunately, the thugs react poorly to being the targets of the prank, and proceed to chase them around with a baseball bat. The terrorized youth find shelter with Ramon (Michael Garza) in the local haunted house - formerly the mansion owned by the Bellows family, who ran the paper mill in town. Locked in by the bullies, the three friends find an ancient book, written by the Bellows’ mysterious (and allegedly murderous) shut-in daughter Sarah. The only problem? The book seems to be writing grisly deaths for everyone who came into the house…

Somewhere around the third grade, everyone I knew in elementary school found one of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books in the school library. Doing the logical thing, they read it, frightened themselves half to death, and then passed it around to share the scare with as many other kids as possible. The nostalgia factor with these books is strong: you remember at least one of the dumb campfire stories in the books for sure, but what stuck was the nightmare-fueling illustrations by Stephen Gammell. For me, “Harold” was the scariest illustration, and I am personally horrified that he made it into the film.

PG-13 is just about the perfect rating for this movie. It could have done with less profanity but the violence is mostly vague enough to be absolutely terrifying without trying to just gross you out. The gross-out comes from fantastic character design (based heavily on Gammell’s illustrations) and some superb sound effects. “The Big Toe” part specifically managed to make me physically gag, which is amazing. I have eaten spaghetti while watching The Thing without an issue, so for a film to get a solid retch out of me is really something.

Obviously, this film is wildly unsuitable for kids because it is white knuckle terrifying. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a scarier horror movie than a big franchise piece like Annabelle Comes Home, and has a better script to boot. True to its name, the stories are told very much in the dark, making it hard to tell if that’s a corpse-like monstrosity scuttling up the hallway at you or just a curtain being blown by the wind, until bam, you’ve jumped clean out of your skin and into the lap of the poor bloke sitting next to you. The movie also makes excellent use of silence, letting you build tension in a vacuum while you wait to hear the next ominous footfall/bony crunch/unsettling scream.

Don’t bring easily frightened or nightmare prone movie viewers into this one – it will have them screaming in their sleep for a week. Brave teens and young adults looking for a good scare can find one here. Just keep a good grip on your popcorn - I’m positive someone behind me managed to startle so badly they spilled theirs. That’s ten bucks you won’t see again.

Directed by André Øvredal. Starring Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, and Gabriel Rush. Running time: 111 minutes. Theatrical release August 9, 2019. Updated

Watch the trailer for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Rating & Content Info

Why is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark rated PG-13? Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for terror/violence, disturbing images, thematic elements, language including racial epithets, and brief sexual references.

Violence:   People are threatened with a baseball bat. A zombie head is shown from the film “Night of the Living Dead”. A person is stabbed through the abdomen with a pitchfork. An individual chokes to death on straw. Someone is attacked by dozens of spiders. A dismembered body (and the previously attached bits) fall down a chimney. An individual’s neck is broken. A car crash pins a monster between two vehicles. There are references to child abuse. A character writes with a pen using blood as ink.
Sexual Content: No sexual content is shown or described. There is one reference to male genitalia.
Profanity: There are 11 uses of scatological profanity, and perhaps a dozen uses each of mild profanity and terms of deity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: A number of underage bullies are shown drinking beer and then behaving dangerously and irrationally while drunk.

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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Parents' Guide

What kind of stories do you like to read or listen to? What do those stories say about other people? Have you considered how you would be depicted in a story? Why are the stories we tell so important to how we see the world?

Loved this movie? Try these books…

The movie is based on the book Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell. A box set with detailed art is also available.

The Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine is a good introduction for young viewers looking for something scary to read.

The Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud features three teens protecting London from ghosts, spirits and spectres.

Anthony Horowitz, turns his talents for suspense to a world threatened by demons in his Gatekeepers series. The first of the books is Raven’s Gate.

If you’re less interested in terror and more interested in books that come to life, you will want to read Cornelia Funke’s novel, Inkheart .

Home Video

Related home video titles:

The idea of books that can become real is endlessly fascinating. In Inkheart, a man has the rare ability to read characters out of a story and into real life. And in Jumanji, a board game comes to life, bringing jungle animals, a hunter, and a young man who’s been trapped in the game into the family home.

If you’re looking for a movie that’s scary – but not too scary – The House with a Clock in its Walls fits the bill. A gothic horror movie for kids, this film has plenty of scares but no gore.

Monster House also fits the bill as a frightening film for kids.