Throughout time immortal there have existed stories so powerful they can shoot tingles up the spine, steal the breath, darken the night, turn flesh to prickly goosebumps, and drive children (not to mention adults) safely under the blankets. Long embedded in American folklore, these shadowy tales have been told and retold around campfires, at sleepovers, in schoolyards, between friends and among families for the sheer bone-chilling fun of it all. But what if…what if the most startling legends of supernatural horror, revenge and the ghostly macabre suddenly became your actual reality?
That’s what happens in Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark. In cinemas today, it’s a horror tale drawn from the iconic but deeply eerie book series by Alvin Schwartz. As brought to life by the visionary team of producer Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water, Pacific Rim, Pan’s Labyrinth) and director André Øvredal (Trollhunter), the film is anything but an anthology. Instead it’s a tale of a group of young misfits who must confront all the fears that stand between them and the future.
It all begins in 1968. In a time of turmoil, things remain relatively sleepy in Mill Valley. That is until outcast teenagers Stella, Ramon, Chuck and Auggie dare to explore their town’s infamously creepy haunted house—the cobwebbed former home of the reportedly murderous Sarah Bellows—and discover within a book that proves to have colossal supernatural powers. Almost immediately, the book changes their fates. One by one, they find themselves living out the stories Sarah chooses to tell…Harold, The Big Toe, The Red Spot and more… as each is inexorably summoned to do battle with their own most uniquely terrifying dreads.
We wanted to recreate some of the most cherished, scary, fun and entertaining horror tales that are found in Alvin Schwartz’s books. But we do it in a way that is seamless within one story about a group of friends in the 1960s,” explains Del Toro, who has explored the power of horror to move, thrill and illuminate throughout his Oscar®-winning filmmaking career.
Often dubbed “king of the monsters,” Del Toro has long pursued the heights of invention and emotion dark tales inspire. He so adored the Scary Stories books that he bought several Gammell sketches decades ago. Now, he relished the chance to create something fresh with them. “The beauty of these stories is that they have the eternal appeal of campfire tales that invite people to shiver together in anticipation, even when you hear them again and again,” says Del Toro, “In our movie, we add to the fun of that themes of friendship, belief, compassion, and the idea that stories can damage, or they can heal.”
Del Toro continues: “There are two types of horror movies. First are the ones that sort of scar your soul. But then there is the horror movie that is like a roller coaster ride. It’s fun, entertaining and thrilling but ultimately has a humanistic spirit. And that’s the type of movie André has made—one where you have fun getting scared.”
For Øvredal, Scary Stories was not only a chance to take on his biggest film to date. I t was equally a much-desired opportunity to pay homage to those wonder-inducing, kids-on-a- mission movies that formed his own cinematic education. He was drawn to making a PG-13 horror movie that would reach a wide age-range of people fascinated by the creepy.
“I approached Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark as a mix between a horror tale and an ode to the Amblin adventures I loved growing up,” Øvredal explains. “So, you have these very grounded, funny, real characters battling evil forces from the realms of fables and monsters. I wanted to
try to balance the energy and adrenaline you get from horror with the positive vibes I found in the Hollywood adventures that made me fall in love with movies as a kid.”
While the film is bursting at the frames with bloodcurdling creatures and nightmares come to life (but no gore), Øvredal notes it is equally about the real anxieties of growing up in a challenging world. A human element drives the action from the start. This comes to the fore as Stella and friends discover the notorious Sarah Bellows may not have been the psychopathic monster that they were led to believe by town myths. Now, righting the wrongs committed against this outsider not so different from them becomes their one hope of surviving the stories she’s concocting in revenge.
“We had fun creating the monsters on screen, but the worst monsters in this movie are lies, deceit and untrue stories,” Øvredal sums up. “That’s what starts the story’s cycle of fear.”