Australian Council on Children and the Media

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

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Not suitable under 15, parental guidance to 17 (Violence, scary scenes, language)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
  • a review of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 30 September 2019.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 15 Not suitable due to violence, scary scenes and language.
Children aged 15–17 Parental guidance recommended due to violence and scary scenes.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Classification: M
Consumer advice lines: Horror themes and violence
Length 108 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) convince their nerdy friend Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) to come out for Halloween but when the boys’ Halloween prank, on town bully Tommy (Austin Abrams), goes wrong they end up hiding in the car of a stranger named Ramon (Michael Garza) who is supposedly passing through town. Once the imminent threat has passed the trio decide to take Ramon to see something really spooky. The old Bellows’ house, an old mansion on the edge of town, has long been chained and boarded up in the hopes that no one will set foot inside and unleash the darkness responsible for the disappearance of numerous children. Ramon easily unlocks the door and they all explore inside. Ramon and Stella uncover the entrance to a secret room where the legendary Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard) was confined, weaving her web of horror stories that brought about terror and death. It is here that Stella comes across Sarah’s own book containing numerous handwritten tales which Stella decides to take home and read. Unfortunately, Sarah is angry and, once again, the horror is unleashed through her stories. Now it is up to Stella and her friends to solve the mystery of Sarah Bellows and stop the darkness before they all disappear.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Family breakdown, adolescents separated from family, teenagers as victims, familial abuse, racism.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • A boy smashes a scarecrow in the face with bottles and a baseball bat.
  • A boy lights a bag of poo on fire and throws it in the car of a local bully.
  • Tommy smashes, dents and graffities Ramon’s car.
  • A creepy scarecrow stabs Tommy through the chest with a pitch fork.
  • A huge monster breaks the Sheriff’s neck.
  • Ramon tells how his brother was shipped back from Vietnam in pieces.
  • Ramon smashes a monster into a truck and pins it there. It then disassembles itself, body parts falling off, and pieces itself back together again to continue to pursue Ramon.
  • There is a recording of what sounds like Sarah being tortured by her family.
  • Stella is dragged by the hair and thrown into a room.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • There is a very creepy scarecrow whose face is repeatedly zoomed in on. Bugs and insects crawl out of his eye sockets before the scarecrow comes to life in a darkened cornfield where he keeps appearing before a terrified adolescent who tries to escape from him. Ultimately the scarecrow stabs the boy through the chest with a pitchfork and the boy slowly and painfully transforms into a terrifying looking scarecrow. The scene is dark and sinister and likely to terrify many young children.
  • Chuck’s sister has a red dot on her cheek that turns out to be much more than a spider bite. A colony of spiders has nested in her face and they hatch out through a hole in her cheek. She is screaming as spiders cover her body and a dark shadowy mist hovers in the air. Stella and her friends help save her but she is terrified and deeply disturbed by the incident.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • Chuck hides in a closet in the Bellows’ house. When he opens the door he sees an old woman and a dog looking right at him. It is creepy and disturbing and he closes the door only to hear advancing footsteps. Chuck is petrified and the scene is very intense. Auggie opens the door and they flee downstairs.
  • Chuck is trying to find his way out of hospital without being discovered when a pale creature keeps advancing towards him. It has a scary, sinister, looking face and a fat body and everywhere Chuck turns it is there, always getting closer no matter which hallway he dashes down or which way he turns. The music intensifies and there are flashing red lights and alarms. It appears that there are numerous creatures but two eventually catch up to him and engulf him, absorbing him into their bodies.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, including the following:

  • A corpse in tattered clothes is looking for her missing toe. Auggie eats from a pot of soup and discovers the missing body part. When he accidentally spills the soup he sees additional human remains mixed throughout. He soon hears the raspy voice of the corpse repeating the question: “Who took my toe?”. Auggie goes to hide in his room as he can hear the corpse in his house. He hides under the bed in terror waiting for the zombie like creature to enter the room. When all appears quiet, he slowly ventures out only to be suddenly yanked back in a jump scare when he discovers that the corpse is under the bed behind him. He digs his nails into the floor but he is pulled into the wall as the corpse emits a terrifying scream. The scary imagery and suspenseful lead up to the jump scare is likely to frighten many children.
  • A severed head falls out of a fireplace and soon numerous other body parts begin to land on the floor as well. The monster they belong to assembles itself from the pieces and towers over the Sheriff before killing him and making its way into the jail to try and attack Stella and Ramon. Stella frees them from the jail while the monster pursues Ramon. The monster chases him all the way back to the Bellows’ house and Ramon understands that the monster will not stop until he is dead.
  • Stella finds herself taken back in time. It appears that the Bellows family think that she is Sarah and they are treating her as harshly as they treated their own flesh and blood. Stella tries to hide from them but is eventually caught and thrown into the dark room where Sarah was kept. Pretty soon she realises that she is not alone. The enraged ghost of Sarah Bellows is with her and the only way for Stella to save herself and Ramon is to write the truth in her own blood. Stella writes Sarah’s story and as she starts Sarah emits a terrifying howl of rage that echoes through the house. The imagery is intense and the sound bone chilling. This too could scare many viewers.

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Some children over the age of thirteen may also be scared by the above-mentioned scenes.

Product placement

The following products are displayed or used in this movie:

  • A coca cola cup is briefly shown in one scene.

Sexual references

There are some sexual references in this movie, including:

  • Chuck tells Auggie to not be perving on his sister.
  • Chuck says that he can’t die as he hasn’t even had sex yet.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some nudity and sexual activity in this movie, including:

  • One of the boys has a pen with the image of a woman on it. If you turn the pen her clothes disappear.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • A group of adolescent bullies gets drunk on Halloween night and Tommy’s mother yells: “Are you drunk again?” at him.

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie, including:

  • “Shit”
  • “Damn it”
  • “God damn it”
  • “Asshole”
  • “Hell”
  • “Perv”
  • There is infrequent name calling such as “You butt pimple!”

In a nutshell

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a horror movie based on the series of books by Alvin Schwartz. The movie itself is well-made but this is not a film for young viewers and is better suited for older teens.

The main messages from this movie are to never give up and to always remember that there is power in stories. Stories can set us free, they can teach us to care, they can make us brave enough to face our deepest fears and they can help us find our way home.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • Persistence
  • Friendship
  • Loyalty
  • Courage
  • Empathy

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as.

  • Judging people based on ethnicity
  • Bullying others
  • Acts of vandalism and violence to get revenge
  • Hiding the truth and punishing innocent people.

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