Guillermo Del Toro’s passion for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark runs deep.
He discovered the book series as a teenager and said he never quite recovered from the frightening tales. He collected the books. He told the stories to his kids. And he even made what he calls a bad financial decision because of his devotion to the series, which debuted in 1981 from writer Alvin Schwartz and artist Stephen Gammell
Around 1997, Del Toro was overcoming the traumatic kidnapping of his father Federico, who was taken off the streets in Guadalajara, Mexico and held for $1 million ransom. The filmmaker’s friend James Cameron paid the sum, and the aftermath left Del Toro in poor financial shape.
Still, he couldn’t resist picking up a piece of Scary Stories history when after having a meeting at New Line he discovered an art gallery selling original art from the series. Del Toro, who is known for his huge collection of movie art and memorabilia, explained it all to about 100 people who gathered for a trailer launch luncheon Thursday at Neuehouse in Hollywood.
“I was really, really broke. But I was extravagant and I bought the key illustrations from the book that I love, which led to a lot of financial trouble after that,” Del Toro said to laughs from the crowd. “And marital trouble after that. You cannot justify a buy like that. But I needed to have the key images that affected my youth.”
To bring the film to life, Del Toro assembled a team and handpicked Trollhunter filmmaker André Øvredal to direct Scary Stories. There are dozens of stories in the series, but Del Toro and his fellow screenwriters did what he described as an American Idol-style showdown, in which they chose the best five or six to be presented in the film, which has a story by Del Toro and Patrick Melton & Marcus Dunstan, with a screenplay by Dan Hageman & Kevin Hageman.
“This is not an anthology movie,” said Øvredal. “It is a cohesive, two-hour feature with one story, where everything is weaved together to be part of that story.”
The film is set in 1968 America, a time when unrest was sweeping the nation. Far away from the strife sits the small town of Mill Valley, where the Bellows family has been a major fixture for years. A young girl named Sarah turns her tortured life into scary stories from within the Bellows’ mansion on the edge of town, creating a book of stories that will become real for a group of teens who discover her home.
In addition to the trailer (available to see in the top of this post) Del Toro and Øvredal unveiled a lengthy clip from the film only for those in attendance at the lunch. It showed a teenager finding a pot of stew in his refrigerator and deciding to scarf it down for dinner. As he does, two of his pals warn him via a walk-y-talkie that the book they discovered in the mansion is currently writing a story about a corpse who hunts down a teenager who has eaten a stew with its big toe in it. Unfortunately for the teen, the story ends up coming true.
After the clip, Del Toro brought out his young cast, including Natalie Ganzhorn, Gabriel Rush, Austin Abrams, Austin Zajur, Michael Garza and Zoe Colletti to open a Q&A portion, in which he joked nothing was off limits except for “the Mueller report.” The black-hoody wearing Del Toro suggested perhaps the crowd should ask him about fashion instead.
In terms of the future, he noted that there are a lot of stories in the book series, so perhaps there could be more to tell on the screen as well. Del Toro also confirmed the film would be PG-13, not R, as he wanted it to be scary but also to reflect the book series’ legacy of being favorites of young readers.
“It has a throwback, wholesome feeling but it’s also scary. It’s a ride, but there is a safety bar in it,” said Del Toro.
CBS Films, Lionsgate and eOne open Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark on Aug. 9.