Depending on who you ask, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is a book series that either scared the shit out of you when you were a kid, scared the shit out of you when you were an adult, or continues to scare the shit out of you to this day. It holds a firm legacy in the pantheon of horror fiction, due to its excellently written series of short stories by Alvin Schwartz and the absolutely horrifying illustrations made by artist Stephen Gammell. The combination of Schwartz and Gammell produced a series of three books that have since gone on to inspire and terrify generations of kids around the world.
Imagine the thought of this nightmare fuel making its first theatrical debut? You can already see the potential for a film that will get under your skin. And, coincidentally, so did acclaimed filmmaker Guillermo del Toro.
This past March 28th, I was lucky enough to be a captive audience-goer to a recent LA panel discussion with Guillermo del Toro, who wrote the screenplay for the upcoming film version of Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, along with the film’s director André Øvredal and the entire main cast of the movie. At the panel, del Toro was very forthcoming with some pertinent information about the film, which I myself hadn’t known before. (Luckily, no spoilers!) He also shared many great personal anecdotes of why he was so excited to be working on this project.
This Summer will be SCARY. From the dark imaginations of Academy Award®-winner Guillermo del Toro and acclaimed director André Øvredal, based on the iconic book series, comes Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark — in theaters this summer. #ScaryStoriesMovie
Posted by PopHorror.com on Thursday, March 28, 2019
Del Toro first told us a story about how he was first introduced to the books: from a bookstore that he had happened upon in Texas in the mid-90s. Upon seeing the title and the illustrations, his curiosity was piqued enough that he bought the entire series on the spot and took them home, reading them and immediately becoming “entranced” by them. In fact, when some of the original key illustrations were shown in a gallery a few years later – and some of them were up for sale – del Toro went and bought nearly all of the ones available, even in the wake of his father’s kidnapping, where he was forced to pay ransom for his father’s safe release!
“It was a heavy financial burden, and a heavy marital burden – my wife did not think it was a good investment! But I had to have these works so I could share them with those close to me!”
Since then, he had always wanted to be a part of a film adaptation to the series. When the rights to the books were acquired by CBS in 2013, that possibility became a reality; del Toro was in the right place at the right time, “passing by the hall of the meeting” where the studio execs were talking about the film, and he mentioned that he’d like to be involved.
Once a few different writers were attached, del Toro helped develop what is now the final version of the screenplay of the film. Through another chance encounter – a tweet – del Toro caught the attention of Norwegian director André Øvredal, who had directed Troll Hunter (2010) and The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016), both of which were beloved by del Toro and many in the indie horror community. Øvredal was also excited by the chance to direct, and he was eventually chosen. Thus, production on the film officially began.
The film’s synopsis:
It’s l968 in America. Change is blowing in the wind…but seemingly far removed from the unrest in the cities is the small town of Mill Valley where for generations, the shadow of the Bellows family has loomed large. It is in their mansion on the edge of town that Sarah, a young girl with horrible secrets, turned her tortured life into a series of scary stories, written in a book that has transcended time—stories that have a way of becoming all too real for a group of teenagers who discover Sarah’s terrifying home.
Three years after first being pitched, the film adaptation of Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark released its first trailer on March 28th, which was shown to us lucky few, along with a short clip from the film depicting one of the titular “scary stories” coming to life.
There were a few major takeaways from the Q&A:
- This adaptation, contrary to popular belief, is not an anthology film; rather, it is a single narrative tied together by the stories themselves. The plot will revolve around a group of teens who find a mysterious book (Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, natch), which then causes the stories within its pages to come alive and wreak havoc among our main cast. Said Øvredal and del Toro, “the stories will be personal for each character… each of the stories we see will be directly connected to their arcs and who they are as people.” The one that was featured in the short clip was one that will be particularly recognizable for hardcore fans of the series.
- The method of choosing which of the short stories to include was an intensive process, according to del Toro. “We had to basically play American Idol with the stories, see which ones would make the cut… it was difficult because we all had our favorites, but the best ones rose to the top!”
- The story takes place in the 1960s, which was reflected in the short clip and the trailer by the setting, the wardrobe of the main characters, and the overall vibe of the movie. This was a smart choice, in this author’s opinion, as it gives the short stories themselves more of a campfire-type feeling – simultaneously cozy and creepy. Perfect for a movie-going experience!
Admittedly, I was a bit worried about the film when I heard that it would be a continual plot line as opposed to an anthology. I personally wasn’t blown away by the Goosebumps film a few years ago, and all of the best versions of horror movies with multiple plot threads that I knew were all anthologies: namely, VHS (2012) and Trick R Treat (2007). However, after witnessing such passion behind the making of the film and seeing who was involved with making it, I came out of the screening much more confident in this movie. Personally, I can’t wait until August to see the final product. In the meantime, maybe it’s time to revisit those stories again – if I can get past their terrifying covers! (For the record, del Toro’s favorite is The Red Spot, “because it still terrifies me! Even now I can hardly look at it!”)