The original Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book — anthology horror collection whose haunting art terrified generations of elementary schoolers — spawned two book sequels. There’s no official confirmation that there’s going to be a movie sequel to the just-released Scary Stories film, but the ending certainly invites the possibility. Here’s how the Guillermo del Toro-produced film ends, and what it could mean for a sequel (which, again, hasn’t been announced yet).
This post about the ending of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark contains spoilers for the ending of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
Unlike the books, which were written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell, the Scary Stories film is not an anthology, though acts like one at times. The movie is set in the fall of 1968, beginning on Halloween and ending on the night of Richard Nixon’s election. The protagonist, high schooler and horror-fan Stella Nicholls (Zoe Colletti), heads to the site of her small town’s most infamous urban legend. Stella, along with her friends Auggie (Gabriel Rush), Chuck (Austin Zajur), and newcomer Ramón (Michael Garza), find a secret room in the old Bellows house, the place where Sarah Bellows supposedly murdered a bunch of children. The foursome finds Sarah’s book of scary stories, but things get deadly when the book starts filling itself up with horrifying tales that come true, hunting them down one by one.
Sarah’s stories are, of course, Iconic tales from the Scary Stories books (most of which themselves originated as common urban legends). The deranged bully Tommy Milner (Austin Abrams) gets killed/transformed into a grotesque strawman when Harold the Scarecrow comes to life and stalks him through the cornfields. Auggie is pulled into a neatherregion underneath his bed after he accidentally eats a toe, and Chuck is consumed by the Pale Lady as he tries to escape the red room. Chuck’s sister, Ruth (Natalie Ganzhorn) has her sanity and beauty tarnished when hundreds of spiders burst from a blemish on her cheek.
Stella and Ramón manage to escape the deadly fates of their scary stories, fending off a haunted house and the Jangly Man long enough for Stella to confront Sarah Bellows in a ghostly visit to the past.
It turns out that Sarah both is and isn’t the monster she was made out to be. In life, she was an abused woman. Her family hid her from the outside world due to her albinism, and they tortured her when she attempted to get the word out that the family-owned mill was poisoning local children with mercury. However, Sarah’s rage at her treatment turned malignant and supernatural, as she used her scary stories to enact revenge on her family and anyone else she encountered — including Stella and her friends.
Stella convinces Sarah to spare her and Ramon by promising to tell the truth about Sarah’s mistreatment and clearing her name of the child murders. Well, the child murders from the urban legends. As a supernatural storyteller, Sarah certainly did kill Stella’s friends — or at least disappear them.
In the closing moments of the movie, Stella and her dad (an under-utilized Dean Norris) hit the road with Ruth looking for a way to bring Chuck and Auggie back. Stella is sure there is a way, and it’s clear that she’s not going to stop looking for a way to revise their Scary Stories to save them — perhaps in a sequel?
It’s all a little complicated — if the Scary Stories were Sarah’s doing, but she couldn’t or wouldn’t undo the damage she’d caused, what’s Stella’s plan to bring her friends back? But, even if there is no More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (if the film sequel adopts the same titling conventions as the books did), the ending does manage to leave the film on a somewhat optimistic note without fully rendering the scares moot. It’s perhaps the film’s most clumsy handling of its PG-13 rating, as most of the movie does a pretty good job of being both reasonably kid-friendly and also a legitimate horror romp.
Many reviews of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark are praising the stories themselves — the Pale Lady scene, in particular, is genuinely creepy — while also knocking the frame story with Stella and Sarah Bellow’s haunted book. The sequel hook seems to lean heavily on the latter aspect of the movie, but should there be a sequel, Stella’s Scary Stories investigation would certainly offer ample opportunity for more eerie vignettes.