There’s an entire generation of people currently in therapy trying to uncover residual trauma from reading “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” at too young an age. Alvin Schwartz’s wildly successful, three-volume horror anthology cobbled together original tales and revised urban legends and folktales. The stories were childishly chilling, usually emphasizing fun over gore. It was the illustrations by Stephen Gammell that truly terrified, simple pen and ink drawings that depicted gaping mouths and chattering teeth. There are still plenty of readers who can still see those images, those pale, eyeless masses creeping towards them in the dark.

The “Scary Stories” books were essential reading for most schoolchildren in the eighties and nineties, giving many kids an early obsession with horror storytelling they’ve never been able to shake.

Good news. The “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” film adaptation continues the tradition set by its source material. It’s fun, brisk, and hopefully will indoctrinate a whole new generation into the macabre.

It’s Halloween 1968 in tiny Mill Valley, Pennsylvania. Four teens stumble across an abandoned house. Town legend says that the dilapidated mansion belonged to the Bellows family, the mill barons who built Mill Valley and then disappeared. Could their vanishing have anything to do with their daughter Sarah, who reportedly was so hideous she was locked in the basement? From her lair, Sarah was known to read horror stories to neighborhood kids, scaring them so bad they’d die of fright.

The teens find a book with Sarah’s initials in it, filled with scary stories. You can probably see where this is going. And that’s the point. Because “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is a horror movie obsessed with and informed by horror movies. The script, from a five-person team headed by Guillermo del Toro, bounces breezily from genre to genre, giving small appetizers of body horror, creature features and ghost stories that should make young viewers hungry for an entrée.

There aren’t a lot of horror movies that can be called “delightful,” but this is one. Lovingly shot by director André Øvredal (“Trollhunter,” “The Autopsy of Jane Doe”), the film is brought to bright life by an excellent host of child actors so green they don’t even have Wikipedia pages. Tiny walk-ons from Dean Norris and Gil Bellows lend an air of authenticity, but the adults are no match for the star-making foursome of Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush and Austin Zajur, all good enough to suggest they’ll be names worth remembering.

As it goes on, the script too often diverges into long ruminations about the importance of storytelling. And the CGI monsters never look as terrifying as Gammell’s drawings. Still, the movie succeeds by never forgetting that as much as horror is designed to upset, it’s allowed to be fun, too.

The last decade or so has seen a golden era of horror filmmaking, with horror films transitioning from low-budget creepers to Oscar contenders. “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” won’t be up for any awards, but it might convince some people to dive into the thornier, more thoughtful end of prestige horror. That’s more than enough.


7.5 Haunted houses being torn down to build a mall out of 10 Haunted houses being torn down to build a mall