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SYFY WIRE San Diego Comic-Con 2019

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark fuels nightmares at SDCC

By Andrea Ayres
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Spider Pimple poster

The master of horror himself, Guillermo del Toro, revealed some of his secrets to creating monsters that last a lifetime at San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday, and SYFY WIRE was in attendance. Del Toro was joined onstage by the acclaimed Norwegian-director André Øvredal (The Autopsy of Jane Doe) to discuss the process of adapting Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell's anthology series, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, for its upcoming big screen release.

Who among us doesn't remember the terrifying illustrations of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark? A mainstay on so many '90s kids' bookshelves, del Toro and Øvredal had the lofty task of turning the series into a film. In advance of its Aug. 9 release, the pair addressed an enthusiastic audience, basically giving a master class in creating iconic creatures of horror.

Del Toro talked about the moment he saw Scary Stories in the bookstore, and about how wonderful and terrifying he found Gammell's illustrations. He then talked about the challenge of creating a longer story out of an anthology, saying he had no desire to create an anthology film. Instead, he said, "I thought that could be great if there was a book that could read you and what you are most afraid of. And the theme became the stories we tell about one another." 

To adapt the beloved book series del Toro and Øvredal had to create a setting that would allow them to encompass the numerous themes featured in the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark anthology. The film is set in America during a time of social and political upheaval, 1968. It enabled the duo to tell a story which gave the children a chance to experience emotions and stories in a slower time without the presence of social media. Speaking about his desire to have Øvredal direct the film, del Toro said he wanted someone who understood "the elegant tease of the punchline." 

Scary Stories, del Toro went on to say, is a film he would have wanted to see when he was 12. To help realize the vision was a creative special effects team, who joined the director and producer on stage. Mike Hill (The Shape of Water), Mike Elizalde (Hellboy), and Norman Cabrera (Hellboy) gave us the low-down on how they made the terrifying monsters. 

Attendees were also treated to an exclusive sneak peek of the monster Harold from the film. Cabrera said it was really important for the team to pay homage to the illustrations from the book. He added, "It's always good when you are doing a monster design to explore every idea."

All of the monsters are sepia-toned in the film, and look like they could step out of a book. The hardest creature to make was the Pale Lady from the story "The Dream." What made the creature so difficult to make? She's not inherently menacing, she almost looks cute, but trust us... there's nothing cute about her. We also got to hear how the team created the new monster Jangly man, which was a composite of several of Gammell's illustrations.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark SDCC poster

For Scary Sotires, practical effects played a huge role in the film. This, Øvredal says, really helped the actors deliver wonderful performances. Del Toro called the creative team his dream team. Elizalde says part of creating a terrifying monster is to use every tool at your disposal. 

The film depicts the small fictional town of Mill Valley, where the Bellows family legacy looms larger than any political battle. Their mansion at the edge of town holds secrets too terrifying to speak, but a young girl named Sarah has decided to write down the details of her tortured life in a series of scary stories. But are they really only stories? Well, a group of teenagers is about to find out!

The group consists of Auggie Hilderbrandt (Gabriel Rush), Stella Nicholls (Zoe Colletti), Ramon Morales (Michael Garza), Austin Abrams (Tommy), Austin Zajur (Chuck Steinberg), and Natalie Ganzhorn (Ruth). The young cast signals a kind of passing of the torch to create a new generation who can't sleep at night thanks to nightmares. Not that we'd know anything about that, of course.

The first full trailer for the film was previously released on June 3. 

Fans of the book will get to see classic stories like "The Big Toe," "The Dream," and "The Red Spot" brought to life for the first time. Del Toro, along with brothers Dan and Kevin Hageman (Trollhunters), wrote the screenplay for the film. 

Years ago, del Toro was the rumored director behind the film, but work obligations precluded him from being able to devote the time needed to direct the film. So he signed on to be the film's producer instead, giving directorial duties to Øvredal. The two began speaking after the release of Øvredal's film The Autopsy of Jane Doe, which del Toro had praised on social media. 

The film is anticipating a PG-13 rating but del Toro has promised it won't be short of nightmare fuel. Audiences can look forward to sleeping with their lights on when Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark hits theaters Aug. 9.

Click here for SYFY WIRE's full coverage of San Diego Comic-Con 2019, including up-to-the-minute news, exclusive interviews, and videos.