Guillermo del Toro delved deep into his past Thursday to explain the profound hold that “Scary Stories in the Dark” has on him.
“I basically was roaming through a bookstore, in San Antonio, Texas,” he said at a Hollywood event to launch the movie’s teaser trailer. “I was in my early teens, and I came upon this volume that had an irresistible title: ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.’ The cover illustration was so creepy, and I started browsing it, and the illustrations got me first, but Alvin Schwartz’s retelling of the tales was incredibly efficient and lean and mean.”
Del Toro, who’s now 54, is a producer on “Scary Stories in the Dark.” He recalled that “Scary Stories” came back into his life in the aftermath of the 1997 kidnapping of his father in Mexico. James Cameron paid the $1 million ransom and the event left del Toro in tough financial shape. But he discovered an art gallery selling original art from the series and bought some.
“I was really, really broke but I was extravagant and bought the key illustrations from the book that I love, which led to a lot of financial trouble after that and marital trouble after that,” Del Toro said. “You cannot justify a buy like that. But I needed to have the key images that affected my youth.”
Del Toro joined the project in April, 2018, a month after winning Oscars for best picture and best director for “The Shape of Water.” He compared that the writers’ room process of crafting the project to “American Idol.”
“We distilled it to the five or six that we liked the most,” he said. “But we basically distilled it to the ones that everybody seems to remember the most. The books obviously have many many more stories, so this could go on and on. But we said, ‘Let’s do greatest hits.’”
Del Toro selected “Trollhunter” director André Øvredal to direct the adaptation, and shares story credit with Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, with a screenplay by Dan Hageman and 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 in small town of Mill Valley, where a troubled young girl has turned her life into a book of stories that eventually becomes real for a group of teens. In addition to the trailer, Del Toro and Øvredal unveiled a creepy clip with a teenage boy finding a pot of stew in his refrigerator and deciding to eat it — while two of his friends warn him on a walkie-talkie that the book is writing a story about a corpse who hunts down a teenager who has eaten a stew with its toe in it.
Del Toro also presented the cast including Natalie Ganzhorn, Gabriel Rush, Austin Abrams, Austin Zajur, Michael Garza and Zoe Colletti for questions and said the only thing that was off limits was Mueller report. He also said the film will carry a PG-13 rating rather than an R.
“It has a throwback, wholesome feeling but it’s also scary. It’s a ride, but there is a safety bar in it,” he said.
Del Toro is producing the teen thriller with his “Shape of Water” producer J. Miles Dale. Sean Daniel and Jason Brown of Hivemind and Elizabeth Grave are also producing. CBS Films and Entertainment One are co-financing. Lionsgate and CBS Films have set Guillermo del Toro’s “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” for an Aug. 9 release.