Guillermo del Toro is bringing his passion for horror to Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell’s classic kids books Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, alongside director André Øvredal. At an exclusive event, we got to see two clips from the film as well as listening to del Toro and Øvredal talk about the eagerly awaited film, the beloved source material, and how they brought it to life. As we were lucky enough to be there, we’ve compiled all the things that you need to know about Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and the people crafting it.
del Toro’s love for Scary Stories got him into trouble
Del Toro’s discovered the series came a little later in life than it did for the legions who fell in love with it in childhood; he had to wait until he was a teenager to find the book that would have such a huge impact on him. “I was roaming through a bookstore in San Antonio, Texas,” del Toro said. “I was in my early teens, and I came upon this volume that had an irresistible title, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. The color illustration was so creepy and I started browsing it, and the illustrations grabbed me first. But Alvin Schwartz’s retelling of the tales was incredibly efficient, lean, and mean.”
During an early trip to New Line studios, the director discovered the original art from the books in a gallery show that happened to be on display at the time. His love for the stories led to an impulsive decision that his wife wasn’t too happy about. “I was really, really broke. But I was extravagant and I bought the key illustrations from the book that I love, which led to a lot of financial trouble after that,” del Toro laughed. “And a lot of marital trouble.”
Twitter played a big part in the hiring of director André Øvredal
Though he is best known for his directorial skills, del Toro is flexing his producer muscles for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. He compared this with being in the coach in a boxer’s corner whilst the director takes the punches. When it came to whom he wanted to helm the film, there was only one choice. Luckily, del Toro had already been tweeting at him.
“I have to go with somebody that I greatly admired, and it just so happened that André and I had been communicating through Twitter after he did Trollhunter and The Autopsy of Jane Doe, which I was praising as much as I could. We started corresponding and I said, ‘Well, he would be the ideal guy.’ So, he was the one and only filmmaker we approached. And fortunately for me, he accepted,”
Øvredal called the journey the “luckiest experience of my life.” It was also his introduction to the books that scared so many of us. “I didn’t know anything about these books when I got the screenplay,” the director said. “I had never heard of them because they were never released in Norway. But I just fell in love with the screenplay.”
The film is not an anthology movie
The entire concept of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is based around separate classical folktales retold for young readers. The film takes those stories and weaves them into a coherent story that focuses on a group of young friends who discover a book of terrifying stories that come to life and haunt those who find it.
The official synopsis offers up a little more meat on the plot of the anticipated film. “It’s 1968 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.”
Del Toro shared why this route was the most logical way to bring the popular property to screen. “I think the beauty of these books is that each story is contained,” he said. “But that is the nightmare of adapting it and making it into a film, too. So I had to come up with a concept that encompasses the theme. We tried to find a period of time in which stories affected everyone, everywhere, as humans. [That] was the U.S. as a nation at that moment, and we started to very carefully lay down the pieces to make it thematically relevant to the stories we were telling.”
The setting and screenplay were a large part of what drew Øvredal to the project, as he let the audience in on how it reminded him of the films he grew up with. “It was just this Amblin-esque scary movie set in a period that was so exciting, and it was just a unique opportunity to create both a fascinating image of America in the ’60s as well as a really wonderful story about these characters, and amazing monsters based on a book series that was so beloved in Northern America.”
It (probably) includes all your favorite scares
One of the clips that we were shown featured one of the most famous monsters from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. The first featured the horrifying legend known as “The Big Toe” which focuses on a child who accidentally eats the toe of a corpse who is most unhappy about their new situation.
Here we saw a young boy, Auggie Hilderbrandt, home alone on the phone with his mother. After telling her that he’s going to eat the stew in the fridge, she tells him that she didn’t make a stew. Alas, for our poor protagonist he decides to eat it anyway; as Auggie pops the spoon into the pot and gets ready to take a big bite, his walkie talkie crackles (it’s 1968, remember) and his friends desperately try to tell him not to eat anything, as the magical book that they found is writing a new story and that part seems to be key to it.
Poor old Auggie can’t hear them properly and ends up getting a whole mouthful of toe and learning that the story the book is writing is the one that scared him the most as a child. Suddenly, he begins to hear a disembodied voice asking, “Who took my big toe?”
The voice keeps getting closer, and soon Auggie is hiding under his bed from the terrifying ghoul who seems to be inspired by another familiar foe from the books. We can’t say much more without revealing some pretty big spoilers, but it was very, very scary. Other classic stories that are confirmed for the film are “The Pale Woman,” “The Red Spot,” and “Harold.”
It’s definitely a PG-13 movie
Despite how scary the clips that we saw were, it’s definitely a movie aimed at a wide audience. “It has a throwback, wholesome feeling, but it’s also scary,” del Toro shared. “The anticipated rating is PG-13. I wanted to have standees that said, ‘You have to be this tall to see this movie,’ but somebody beat us to it, so what can we do?”
The idea behind this was the fact that this way they could appeal to multiple eras of fans, including a whole new one who would discover the stories through the film. “Our idea is that the books are a favorite among young readers, and I think that there are two or three generations of parents that know the books, too. So, it’s really going to be a ride, but there is a safety bar in it.”
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark hits screens until August 9!
Images: CBS Films, Harper & Row