scary stories to tell in the dark footage

Yesterday in New York City, director André Øvredal and producer Guillermo del Toro brought two clips and a new trailer for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, the big screen adaptation of the iconic, and terrifying, children’s book series. Those books are sacred to me – I grew up with them. As a result, I’ve been a little wary of this film adaptation, even with talented folks like Øvredal and del Toro involved. But after attending the event in NYC, and watching the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark footage, I think I’m finally sold on what del Toro and Øvredal have in store.

Guillermo del Toro wants Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark to be a family horror film. “Family is a horror all in itself,” the filmmaker quipped, garnering big laughs from the audience. The goal here is to make a movie that’s aimed at young audiences – but doesn’t water down the horror. Director André Øvredal went so far as to call it “Amblin-esque”, and there’s definitely a Gremlins-like vibe from the footage. The town the movie is set in is also called Mill Valley, which I can’t help but think is a play on Back to the Future‘s Hill Valley.

There was something magical about growing up with movies that weren’t afraid to scar young audiences for life. Even movies that weren’t classified as horror could still manage to pull off a disturbing scene or two – think of that nightmarish boat ride from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. All of these thoughts came to mind as I watched the Scary Stories footage. Yes, the dialogue is a little childish. But the scares are genuine. I can imagine this movie scarring an entire generation of young viewers – and that’s kind of exciting.

The Scary Stories book series was penned by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell, and remain cherished to this day. Schwartz repurposed folklore from around the world, and Gammell used weird, disturbing, drippy illustrations to bring the stories to life. The end result was extremely unsettling – so much so that many school libraries attempted to outright ban the books.

I’m still not entirely sold on the film’s storyline, which finds a group of youngsters dealing with a cursed book that brings scary stories to life. I personally would’ve preferred an anthology approach, a la Creepshow or Trick ‘r Treat. But del Toro told us he was against that idea from the get go. Although he professed his love for anthology horror movies, he also added that anthology films are always as bad as their worst story. Rather than run the risk of having one lackluster segment, del Toro and company sought to craft one main narrative.

The end result resembles something akin to the Final Destination series: a group of youths scrambling to head-off an unstoppable force that’s killing them in creative, ghastly ways. The two clips shown recreated two of the more iconic tales from the books: The Big Toe and The Red Spot. In the Big Toe segment, Auggie Hilderbrandt (Gabriel Rush) is chowing down on a big ole pot of stew – that just happens to have a giant toe in it. Gross-out humor abounds as the dismembered toe ends up in Auggie’s mouth, which in turns invites a zombified woman into the house, seeking out her toe. The tone of the scene starts off rather playful before descending into abject terror, with the make-up work on the so-called Toe Monster (played by horror standby Javier Botet) effective and genuinely creepy.

In The Red Spot, Natalie Ganzhorn‘s character Ruth obsesses over a huge pimple on her cheek – a pimple that starts to pulse and grow. Once again, grossness is the introductory factor. Based on these two clips, the Scary Stories frights follow a formula: a gross-out introduction followed by a terrifying conclusion. Anyone familiar with the books will know where this is going: the pimple isn’t a pimple at all, but rather a spot where a spider laid its eggs in Ruth’s face. The eggs hatch, and thousands upon thousands of spiders come exploding from the poor girl’s face. It’s nightmarish to the extreme, and Øvredal doesn’t shy away from any of it. So much so that I’m genuinely amazed the film is ending up with a PG-13 rating. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark seems destined to horrify and thrill a whole new audience, and how truly exciting that will be.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark opens August 9, 2019.

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