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Memo to America’s parents: Guillermo del Toro believes your children are desperately in need of a good scare. And the Oscar-winning director of The Shape of Water is here to tingle their young spines with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, a feature-length film version of the short-story collections that reared an entire generation of horror fans in the ‘80s and ‘90s. (Watch the all-new trailer for the film above.)
Speaking at a New York press event, Del Toro revealed that he was a voracious reader of the books as well, even though he was technically outside of the target YA age demographic when the first installment hit shelves in 1981. “I found them really chilling,” he remarked of author Alvin Schwartz’s re-tellings of classic folks stories and urban legends like “High Beams” and “The Hook.” “They had the profound simplicity of a story told at a campfire.”
Even scarier than Schwartz’s prose, though, were the eerie illustrations by Stephen Gammell. The artist’s renderings of ghastly monsters, decaying bodies and big toes kept many readers (this one included) up late into the night. (Gammell’s artwork was controversially replaced for a 2011 reprinting, but has been restored in subsequent editions.) Del Toro — who owns several pieces of original Scary Stories artwork — reassured fans that he and the film’s director, André Øvredal, remained faithful to Gammell’s imagery in the creature design, which relies on practical effects rather than digital imagery.
“The one I was happiest to be part of the film was Harold,” Øvredal told journalists, referring to the story of a scarecrow who literally climbs off his pole to seek revenge against a pair of abusive farmers. The director also pointed to ‘80s classics like Poltergeist as a direct inspiration for the tone and content of Scary Stories. “It’s a very human story of a family, and has a sense of humor that is very character-based. The scares are PG-13, but they’re still really frightening! They were able to frighten me as a kid with that movie without going nasty about it.”
Del Toro and Øvredal were on the same page about mining a similar PG-13 vein with their version of Scary Stories. “I wanted this to be a family horror film,” Del Toro said, adding that they deliberately avoided going the anthology route in favor of a more classical narrative approach. “[Anthology films] are always as bad as the worst story, and never as good as the best one.” Set in 1968, the film follows small-town teenager Stella (Zoe Colletti) as she and her friends come into possession of a magical book that susses out their specific fears and then creates a story that brings those fears to life.
“We adapted the stories to fit the characters,” Del Toro explained, and he brought visual evidence to prove it. Journalists saw two full sequences from the film, one that adapts “The Big Toe” and another based on “The Red Spot.” We’re happy to report that both sequences are classically ‘80s in their form and content. Fans of Arachnophobia will be particularly tickled by the many creepy-crawlies in the latter sequence, although actual arachnophobes may need serious counseling. And Del Toro vowed that just because the cast is predominantly made up of kids doesn’t mean there won’t be a significant body count. “In my movies, kids do die.”
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark arrives in theaters on Aug. 9.
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