Taking into consideration the nature of the material, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark and its sequels weren’t the easiest books to turn into a feature film. After all, they aren’t novels, but instead collections of shorts, and even beyond that they aren’t shorts that are tied to any kind of central narrative or over-arching theme. Coalescing all of it into one “thing” was not a pre-existing concept, and thus a serious creative challenge in the making of the movie.
Fortunately, though, writer/producer Guillermo del Toro stumbled on to some fantastic inspiration in the development of the film from his own past work. Knowing that he didn’t want to make Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark as a Creepshow-esque anthology feature, he instead thought back on his time making the Oscar-winning fantasy drama Pan’s Labyrinth, and decided to borrow a particular idea that fit perfectly with his new project.
I had the chance to ask about the origins of Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark during an interview with Guillermo del Toro and director Andre Ovredal this past week, and it was during that conversation that I learned about the Pan’s Labyrinth inspiration, the filmmaker telling me,
From the moment I got involved I refused [making it an anthology], and what I said is in Pan's Labyrinth I created a book called The Book Of Crossroads - it wrote itself for anyone that opened it. And I thought, 'Let's use that idea in a scary way - that the book reads you, and writes the scariest story, and then you live it. And that way we can have a full story with characters.
In Pan’s Labyrinth, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is given The Book Of Crossroads by the mystical Faun (Doug Jones) and told that her future will be written in it if she opens it when she is alone. It’s really a beautiful concept for book lovers – the idea of a tome writing itself for you – so one can fully understand why Guillermo del Toro would want to bring it back for Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, albeit with an entirely new context and plot attached to it.
Taking inspiration from the amazing source material by Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell, the new film transforms their terrifying shorts and artwork into stories written by a girl named Sarah Bellows, who is at the heart of a legend that provides the plot for the Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark film. The protagonists (Zoe Colletti, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Michael Garza) wind up with Sarah’s book following some Halloween shenanigans, and they are horrified to discover not only that new tales keep getting written, but that the events depicted wind up coming to life.
Of course, figuring out the structure of Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark was only part of the battle in writing the script, as the filmmakers also still had to pick and choose what specific shorts they wanted to adapt into the movie. I asked Guillermo del Toro and Andre Ovredal about that part of development, and del Toro explained that it started with them looking at nearly two dozen options and then whittling the list down based on what narratives would be most appropriate for the featured characters:
That was a long process. We had an elimination process. We started with like 20 that everybody remembered, and then 10 that everybody remembered, and then it was a matter of matching the material with the character. What would the prom queen be afraid of? The Red Spot. What would the picky eater be afraid of? The Big Toe. And so on and so on.
You can watch Guillermo del Toro discuss the special inspiration from Pan’s Labyrinth, as well as the writing process for Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark by clicking play on the video below:
Co-written by Dan and Kevin Hageman, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is now playing in theaters everywhere, and be sure to stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for more from my interview with Guillermo del Toro and Andre Ovredal!