If you were like us, you spend your youth being alternately terrified and fascinated by Alvin Schwartz’s book series Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Whether you were telling the stories at a slumber party, or rereading them under the covers with a flashlight way past your bedtime, the macabre collection made an indelible imprint on a generation of kids, thanks in no small part to the creepy illustrations by Stephen Gammell.
Frankly, it’s surprising that it took this long for the popular book series to be adapted for the big screen, but given the pedigree of the film, it seems like it will be worth the wait. Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro is producing the film and wrote the script alongside screenwriters Dan and Kevin Hageman (Trolls Hunters: Tales of Arcadia). André Øvredal (Troll Hunter) directed the film.
The official synopsis for the film reads:
“It’s 1968 in America. Change is blowing in the wind…but seemingly far removed from the unrest in the cities is the small town of Mill Valley where for generations, the shadow of the Bellows family has loomed large. It is in their mansion on the edge of town that Sarah, a young girl with horrible secrets, turned her tortured life into a series of scary stories, written in a book that has transcended time—stories that have a way of becoming all too real for a group of teenagers who discover Sarah’s terrifying tome.”
Since the stories are based in folklore and urban legend, the idea of making the film a period piece fits nicely within the theme. So does the meta-plot of a book being the source of the evil. According to the trailer, a group of teens come across a collection of scary stories written by the mysterious Sarah Bellows. Once the teens read the stories, the gruesome events come to life.
It’s a smart way to pay homage to the book and to adapt several different stories without resorting to an anthology structure. The film will directly reference 5 or 6 classic stories while alluding to others. Those that made the cut include “The Red Spot”, “Harold”, “The Big Toe”, and “The Dream”.
In a press conference, del Toro discussed why he chose the time period he did, saying “I had to come up with a concept that encompassed that theme … We tried to find a period of time in which stories affected everyone. Who we were as humans. What the U.S. was a nation at that moment. And we started to very carefully lay down the pieces to make it thematically relevant to the stories we were telling.”
Another del Toro signature will be an emphasis on practical effects for the film instead of CGI. The director is famous for his practical effects work, which bring a tactile realism to films like Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy. The effects team based their work heavily on Gamell’s iconic illustrations. “For me, sculptors are like actors. You cast it,” del Toro said. “So I wanted [sculptors] who could embody the exact feeling on the sculpture [of] the painting…So we used several of the best creature guys in the business to render each of the drawings and bring them to life.”
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark will be released on August 9th.
(via io9, image: CBS Films)
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