Guillermo del Toro and André Øvredal reveal a gross new scene, explain how they chose which stories to adapt, and discuss the input of artist Stephen Gammell.
Your worst nightmares are coming to theaters: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, the iconic horror books that haunted multiple generations of kids, is headed to US theaters this August, courtesy of producer Guillermo del Toro and director André Øvredal. The teaser just debuted online earlier today, while IGN was at an exclusive event in Los Angeles to preview new footage and speak to the filmmakers.
For those who may have missed the zeitgeist: for nearly 40 years, kids across the world have been terrified by Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, a series of anthology horror books by author Alvin Schwartz. But as frightening as Schwartz’s stories were, it’s the illustrations that really pop out of the page. Stephen Gammell’s monstrously detailed images are as iconic as any horror pop art of the 20th Century, and now they’re coming to life.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, the movie, takes place in 1968, where a group of teenagers find a book belonging to Sarah Bellows, a tortured young girl whose writing is so powerful it reads the reader, not the other way around. The book begins writing itself, telling terrifying tales specific to each of the teens who found the book… tales which play on their specific phobias, and tales which will be familiar to fans of the original series.
The trailer introduces that premise, but footage screened today showed off how the movie really works. The sequence features Gabriel Rush, in his kitchen, eating a pot of leftover stew. His friends call him on their walkie-talkies (remember: it’s 1968!) to warn him that Bellows’ book is writing a story about him, and it’s about the ghost of a woman who’s missing her big toe.
Pay close attention to that stew, because there’s a big toe in it, and that’s a real problem for Rush, who takes a big, gross bite before he realizes what’s in his spoon. He’s then stalked by a ghost, which creaks down the hall and pulls him under the bed, into the darkness. From what we’ve seen it appears that Scary Stories may play a lot like a Final Destination movie, where each character seems destined to encounter supernatural terror, while the others wait, horrifyingly, for their turn.
“The Big Toe” is one of the most notorious tales from the first volume of Scary Stories. It features a grisly specter who haunts a boy who puts a big toe in some stew, which was pretty ghoulish to begin with. The ghost from the original story was never visualized by Gammell, but it appears that Øvredal has taken Gammell’s grim illustration of the ghost from “The Haunted House” (also from the first volume), and used that instead.
Fans of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark can expect more references and fusions in the finished film, since there was more material than could possibly fit in one movie, forcing the filmmakers to get creative.
“We did American Idol with the stories in the writer’s room,” Guillermo del Toro explained. “We were saying, ‘Which are your favorite?’ 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 normal, 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.”
“But we basically 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. But we said let’s do greatest hits.”
Guillermo del Toro introduced the new footage and declared his lifelong affection for the series, but the books were brand new to Øvredal, who says they were not readily available in Norway, where he grew up.
“I never even heard of it before I received the screenplay,” Øvredal told IGN. “So it was so totally new to me, so I had to buy the books and research and read, and read all these amazing short little stories and all the drawings and all the artwork.”
Once he did, of course, he understood the appeal of the series and, of course, Gammell’s illustrations. “I mean, they’re unnerving. There is something so artistic and so personal about it. But still it’s a vision that’s so unnerving, of how – I dunno – how to see things and how to design things.”
Those designs are being brought to life by practical effects, which should come as no surprise to fans of Guillermo del Toro’s monster-centric filmography. But the film will have to straddle a thin line between scary and horrifying if it wants to tap reach the kids who are still reading the books.
“I believe we struck the right cord with it,” Øvredal said. “We’re not making a gory movie. We’re not making a horror movie. We’re making a scary movie.”
When asked what the difference between a “horror movie” and a “scary movie” was, André Øvredal explained: “A horror movie can sometimes be a little bit more nasty. This is really a friendly scary movie. It’s going to be a PG-13 movie, that’s the aim, but it’s going to be terrifying.”
Of course, some of the Scary Stories are already pushing the limits of a PG-13. “There are moments and things, and details that you go ‘Okay we can’t do that, that’s going to put us into an R [-rating] immediately,” Øvredal added.
When asked about the short story “Harold,” which is about a scarecrow that skins one of its makers, Øvredal laughs. ““There is some stuff like that, yeah. But I mean, there are stuff like that. We had to. But we have some things in the movie and we have some things we’ve had to dial back on.”
One person who didn’t have any direct input into Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is Stephen Gammell, who approved of the adaptation but according to the filmmakers has remained hands-off.
“I really would love to meet him and say how much I love his work but I haven’t had a chance to,” André Øvredal explained to IGN.
Elizabeth Grave, who produced Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, added “I can’t speak to the particulars on that. It’s just that he licensed us his artwork, so he did [give us] his blessing. As far as I know he just prefers to stay in the background.”
That may be, but his creations with Alvin Schwartz are headed to the front lines of horror cinema later this year, when Scary Stories to Tell the Dark hits North American theaters on August 9, 2019!