Producer Guillermo del Toro and Trollhunter director André Øvredal unleash a whole cabinet of ghoulish delights in this entertaining YA style horror movie. A hideous limb-detaching beast stalks one poor kid; a murderous scarecrow mauls another; and, worst of all, hundreds of spiders give a high school beauty queen a lot more than a bad case of zits.
Set in a small US mill town in 1968, Nixon is on TV every night as he whips up support for this presidential bid and kids are returning home from Vietnam in body bags. However, the town is haunted by an even older horror. An abandoned mansion on the outskirts holds the century-old secret of Sarah Bellows and a book of ghost stories that will call down the years to wreak havoc in the lives of a group of local teens.
With a portmanteau framing device (think Dr. Terror's House of Horrors), the terror begins when proto goth girl Stella (a very impressive Zoe Colletti), goes trick or treating one fateful Halloween night with her dweebish friends, Augie and Chuck. Chased by local bullies, they seek refuge in the mansion and stumble across Sarah's leather-bound tome.
Written in the style of Poe, this is no ordinary book - it writes itself in lurid red script before your very eyes with stories about the demise of whoever reads it. "You don’t read the book; the book reads you," Stella realises with mounting horror.
There’s a touch of Stephen King and more than a touch of evil lurking in the surrounding cornfields. Any lingering fears that it’s all gone a bit Scooby Doo are banished in the sheer malevolence of the manner of the dispatches - a chase scene in the bowels of a mental institution crackles with pure dread.
Genuinely spooky and shiver inducing, this is far more than just a welcome respite from the formulaic Blumhouse horror hegemony. Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of this lot.
Alan Corr @CorrAlan2