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SYFY WIRE Scary Stories to tell in the dark

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark had its final cut pruned by Guillermo del Toro himself

By Jacob Oller
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

On the same day that he earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, genre legend Guillermo del Toro had plenty of insight to share with fans about his plethora of irons in various fires. The director/writer/producer of horror and fantasy most recently won Oscar gold for his Black Lagoon-esque The Shape of Water, but as Nightmare Alley and Pinocchio approach, there are plenty of stories left for del Toro to tell — and help others tell, as he has with projects like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

Speaking to Variety, del Toro spilled all sorts of details about his upcoming projects. First about the behind-the-scenes on Scary Stories, which del Toro turned over to director André Øvredal but on which he still retained a producer role. As del Toro produced, Øvredal said he was mostly given plenty of suggestions but they remained just that: suggestions. These pieces of advice were offered but not forced, making sure it was an Øvredal project and not a del Toro project. However, it was in the editing room that del Toro's heaviest influence on the film came.

“He was a master at focusing a movie in the editing,” Øvredal said of del Toro stepping in on the final cut. “I did my director’s cut and I showed it to him, and he said, ‘That’s great, now let’s sit down and I’ll show you how to cut 20 minutes off.’ And he did! He sat down with the editor and myself for two days and I just let him snip off stuff. He took out a couple scenes that I was actually in love with, but when I saw it at the end, every choice was correct.” With a runtime that's almost at two hours already, and additional half hour seems like it really would've slowed down the spooky tale — and del Toro said that this editing strategy is par for the course within his tight circle of friends/peers.

“When Alejandro [Iñárritu] and Alfonso [Cuarón] and I go to each other’s editing rooms, that’s basically the tenor of it," del Toro explained. "We have discussions and say, ‘This shot, this shot, and that shot have to go.’ And somebody always says, ‘But that’s a hundred-thousand-dollar shot, plus all the VFX and the set construction, and …’ It doesn’t matter. No one [watching the movie] knows what went on behind the scenes, artistically or economically.”

After touching briefly on Nightmare Alley — which del Toro calls "very sexually charged, and really poignant about America, with a brilliant intuitive connection between carnival mentalism and the birth of psychology in America” — the director moved on to his live-action rendition of Pinocchio. Setting his version away from the Disney antics and in the much more serious world of Italian fascism, del Toro is making Pinocchio in the same allegorical vein as Pan's Labyrinth -- but with a far different message than the original story.

“To me, Pinocchio, very much like Frankenstein, is a blank canvas in which learning the curve of what the world is and what being human is are very attractive to do as a story," del Toro said. "I’m very attracted to it because, thematically — and I don’t want to spoil what the movie’s about — it’s about something that is in all of my movies, which is choice. That’s a theme that is very dear to my heart. I think [earlier versions of] the story, and Collodi’s in particular, are very repressive. It’s essentially a very brutalist fable about what a sin disobedience is. And I think disobedience is the beginning of the will, and the beginning of choice. … I think there’s something that’s very attractive about seeing disobedience as a virtue, or as the beginning of a virtue.”

Sorry, Jiminy Cricket, but a rebellious wooden boy who's rewarded rather than punished for his free thinking sounds like the exact kind of story that del Toro could knock out of the park.

Until then, fans can watch Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark when it hits theaters on Aug. 9.