At a screening in Los Angeles on March 28, Guillermo del Toro and André Øvredal introduced a scene of their upcoming horror film Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark before debuting the first trailer.
del Toro, who’s producing the film, says the Norwegian director of Trollhunter and The Autopsy of Jane Doe was his first and only choice to helm the film.
Based on the beloved books by Alvin Schwartz, the film merges several stories into one interwoven narrative instead of using an anthology format. The stories are now spun from a book written by the late Sarah Bellows, who turned her tortured life into a series of terrifying tales. When a group of teenagers discovers her books in 1968, the stories start coming true in the most horrifying ways.
As Zoe Colletti (who plays main character Stella) says in the trailer: “You don’t read the book. The book reads you!”
del Toro described the process of narrowing down which tales to include as “’American Idol’ with the stories in the writer’s room…. We distilled it to the five or six that we liked the most, and some of them are told in their entirety. Some others are referenced. Folks that know the books will see more than people who haven’t read the book, because some of them are there in name, or we’ve fused one with another, or with a song or a rhyme.”
He says he came across Scary Stories by chance many years ago: “I was roaming through a bookstore in San Antonio, Texas. 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 cover illustration was so creepy, and I started browsing it, and the illustrations got me first, but Alvin Schwartz’s retelling of the tales was incredibly efficient and lean and mean. It really was like having a campfire between those two covers.”
He was so enamored of the disturbing illustrations by Stephen Gammell that he bought some of the original artwork at a point in his life when he really couldn’t afford it. He laughed that his splurge caused no end of problems, both financial and marital.
As he told Forces of Geek, he took great pains to make the sculpted characters in the film as faithful to Gammell’s drawings as possible.”When they bought the book and the illustrations with it, I asked them very specifically, ‘Do you have the right to the illustrations?’ The [characters] are as faithful as we can be. We were trying to be as punctilious as we can be.”
He’d actually spoken to Gammell about 20 years ago, he revealed to FOG!: “I was in contact with him briefly because I offered him the ghost to design in Devil’s Backbone.” That collaboration didn’t happen, but he’s hoping that Gammell is pleased with the results.
Øvredal told FOG! that del Toro’s expertise with crafting creatures of all kinds was invaluable. “He’s very hands-on in helping develop the team. And especially all the stuff that is creature design, he’s so helpful in figuring out practically how to do it and who to get to do the best. He’s worked with the best in the world and it’s amazing to see these creatures come alive.”
Will we see more Scary Stories down the road? “Hopefully if the film is a success, somebody will make a sequel,” said Øvredal.
del Toro also teased the idea of a sequel: “We distilled it to the ones that everybody seems to remember the most,” del Toro said. “I think the books obviously have many, many more stories, so that this could go on or not.”
One of the stories that made it into the film was “The Big Toe.” We were treated to an exclusive scene from this sequence in which Gabriel Rush (who plays a character named Auggie) ignores his friends’ warnings and begins chowing down on some stew that mysteriously appears in his refrigerator.
“After filming that sequence, I couldn’t eat soup or stew for many months. And I love soup,” he told FOG!. “Now I eat clear broth, so I know what’s happening.”
He also revealed that the movie that traumatized him as a child was Øvredal’s Trollhunter. “I’ve haven’t seen lot of horror films, because I scare easy in general. So I remember very distinctly that was the first film of Andre’s I saw and the first film in that subgenre [of faux documentaries]. I remember seeing it at my friend’s house at a sleepover at 1 a.m. And thinking ‘This is a real thing.’ I was absolutely mortified. It’s the first thing I told Andre when I met him.”
The film will be rated PG-13.
Øvredal told FOG! his stepdaughter, who’s 13, has already seen the film. “My son is 7 and he’s too young for it now.” He added that, although he never read books in Norway, “I’m hoping that adults my age who grew up with these books will bring their teenagers to see it. Because it should be a family community kind of experience to see the movie. A generational kind of thing.”
del Toro said he might put the ideal viewing age at a little lower: “If it was up to me, I would say, 11, 12, 13. I think anything younger than that is not a good idea.”
He continued, “It’s a fun, entertaining movie. There’s two types of horror movies: There are the disturbing ones and the entertaining ones and, most decidedly, we fall into the latter camp. I wanted it to be very entertaining. The kind of thing that you giggle and elbow each other in the theater. The others stay with you in a way that I think is really almost traumatic. You can find examples of all kinds of filmmakers and the reason that I chose Andre is that ultimately, his movies have, I think, a very, very fun spirit.”
Fun spirits indeed, if you like ooky, gooky stories about ghouls!
The film also stars Michael Garza, Austin Abrams, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Lorraine Toussaint, Austin Zajur, and Natalie Ganzhorn.
Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark arrives in theaters on August 9th.