Austin Zajur in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (Photo: CBS Films)

★★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY André Øvredal
STARS Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza

In the spirit of those Amicus anthology productions of yore — portmanteau pictures like Tales from the Crypt, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, and From Beyond the Grave — comes Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Based on the children’s book series by Alvin Schwartz (with no less than Guillermo del Toro having a hand in the screenplay), this cobbles together various spooky tales by having them appear in a haunted book found by a group of teenagers residing in a small Pennsylvania town in the late 1960s.

The citizens of Mill Valley have long heard the legend of the crazed Sarah Bellows, who once lived in a nearby mansion with the rest of her family. On Halloween night, Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) and her friends opt to check out the now-deserted house, in the process coming across a book with stories written by Sarah. Stella removes the book from the premises, and soon new stories are appearing before her eyes, being written in blood by a seemingly invisible hand and all involving her friends (and one foe) meeting with grisly ends.

The individual stories-within-the-story, while relatively shallow, are engaging enough, brought to life by innovative special effects and director André Øvredal’s flair for the dramatic. It’s just a shame the main storyline is so feeble. Stella and her friends set about investigating the mystery of Sarah Bellows — they take trips to the library and a hospital — but it plays like warmed-over Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys fodder. We’re here for the horror, and the movie might have functioned better had it shucked the middling mystery and centered solely on the creature features.

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