Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark interviews

Guillermo del Toro has been a fan of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books since he was in his early teens, when he stumbled across them in a bookstore and was struck by the perfect title and creepy artwork. “It really was like having a campfire between those two covers,” he explained at a press event for the film in Hollywood yesterday. During a tough time in his life, del Toro even purchased Stephen Gammell’s original artwork that appeared in the books despite being “really, really broke” at the time. That decision “led to a lot of financial trouble, and marital problems,” he joked, because “you cannot justify a buy like that.” But it sounds like he needed to posses those pieces, and his passion for those images and author Alvin Schwartz’s words led him to eventually help adapt the book into a screenplay and produce this upcoming adaptation.

Read on to find out how del Toro found the right director to translate this material for the silver screen, how they largely used practical effects for the film’s unnerving-looking creatures, which stories made it into the screenplay, the film’s anticipated rating, and even a couple of updates on del Toro’s long-brewing adaptations of The Haunted Mansion and At The Mountains of Madness.

“I think the beauty about the book is that each story is self-contained, but that’s the nightmare of adapting it and making it into a film,” del Toro told a crowd of journalists. “So I had to come up with a concept that encompassed a theme…we tried to find a period of time in which stories affected everyone – who we were as humans, what was the U.S. as a nation at that moment? – and we started to very carefully lay down the pieces to be thematically relevant to the stories we were telling.” They settled on the late 1960s – 1968, to be exact – and in addition to not wanting to have to deal with cell phones and selfies, that date was chosen because of its specific time in American history: one of the characters is a draft dodger, a Latino kid who doesn’t want to fight in a war he doesn’t understand.

Del Toro had previously communicated with Norwegian filmmaker André Øvredal when the latter directed Trollhunter back in 2010, and del Toro considered him “the ideal guy” for this job. Øvredal was the one and only director who was approached for this project, but while del Toro clearly had a deep connection to the source material, Øvredal was completely unfamiliar with it. “I didn’t know about these books when I got the screenplay,” the director explained. “I’d never heard of them because in Norway they were never released. I fell in love with the screenplay…which was just this kind of Amblin-esque, scary movie set in a period that was so exciting.”

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The Story

“This is not an anthology film,” Øvredal stated emphatically. “It’s a two-hour feature with one story where everything is weaved together to be part of that story.” That story involves Sarah Bellows, a girl in the small town of Mill Valley who experienced horrors in her past, and a group of teenagers who end up biting off more than they can chew. “The kids find a book, and the book writes a story specifically for each of them that has to do with who they are and what they have the greatest fear for,” del Toro said.

In addition to the trailer that premiered yesterday afternoon, we also saw a short clip inspired by the story “The Big Toe.” One of the young characters pulls a bowl of chili from his refrigerator, and though his friends try to warn him via walkie-talkie not to eat any of it, he takes a huge bite anyway – only to find that yep, a disgusting toe was mixed into his bite. Gross. He should have listened to his pals, who were watching the book write itself right in front of their eyes. If that wasn’t bad enough, the corpse wants her toe back, and as you can see in the trailer, the boy ends up hiding under his bed to try to get away from her…but she’s really not happy about that whole “toe” thing.

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How Many Stories Are Adapted?

“We distilled it to about five or six that we like the most, and some of them are told in their entirety,” del Toro said. “Some others are referenced. Those that know the books will see more than people who haven’t read the book, because some of them are there in name or infused one with another, or a song or rhyme. But we basically distilled it to the ones that everybody seems to remember the most. The books obviously have many, many more stories, so this could go on or not, but we said, ‘Let’s do a greatest hits.’”

He said they chose which stories to use based on how they could illuminate the movie’s characters, with specific fears used as the deciding factor of which creature each character would encounter. Øvredal later told me the key set-piece stories were “The Big Toe,” “Harold,” “The Red Spot,” “The Dream,” and “Me Tie Dough-ty Walker,” and he reiterated that there are “tons” of references to others throughout the rest of the movie.

Will It Be Rated R?

“The anticipated rating is PG-13,” del Toro announced. “The idea is that the books are favorites among young readers. I think there’s two or three generations of parents that know the books, so it’s not an unknown. They know that this is like a roller coaster: it has a sense of fun – a really throwback, wholesome feeling – but it’s also scary. It’s really a ride but there’s a safety bar in it.” Anecdotally, I think a lot of people were first exposed to these books when they were in elementary school, so it makes a certain amount of sense that this movie (with its teen protagonists) would be aimed at a relatively younger crowd.

It sounds like there might be some sentimentality at play among all of the scares, too. “I want to make movies with heart,” Øvredal told me. “I receive all these screenplays that are clever, smart, scary, and real, but I have to love the movie, and to love the movie, there has to be a heart. And this one [had it].”

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