If there ever was a case of a film adaptation improving on the original source material, this is it. Working from a screenplay cowritten by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, and Guillermo del Toro based on the children’s books series by Alvin Schwartz, this strikingly handsome supernatural chiller coalesces several of the books’ very brief stories into a single fluid and compelling narrative while remaining faithful to the disturbing Grand Guignol-esque drawings of Schwartz’s first illustrator, Stephen Gammell. The filmmakers have set the movie on Halloween in 1968, a pivotal year in American politics and pop culture, whose reach extends even into the small Pennsylvania backwater of Mill Valley, where the high school is staging Bye Bye Birdie—a musical about a rock idol drafted into the army—even as the town’s own young men are shipping off to Vietnam. Three teen misfits and best friends (Zoe Margaret Colletti, Gabriel Rush, and Austin Zajur) trash the car of a preening local bully (Austin Abrams), sending him into a rage, but not anywhere near that of the vengeful specter in a deserted mansion where the kids stumble upon and pilfer a volume of literally ghostwritten prophetic tales. Norwegian director André Øvredal and German cinematographer Roman Osin aim high: in terms of production design, tone and editing, and creature design, they at times recall Kubrick and Hitchcock rather than the gaggle of splatter-fest hacks who’ve long held horror hostage. Adding moments of poignancy are Michael Garza as a draft dodger on the run and Dean Norris as Colletti’s overworked dad, each reflecting on mortality in very real ways.