Saturday, February 11, 2017

But I Digress... Tell Me A Scary Story

By Cat

As we all know, there’s a long process for films to undergo between that spark of inspiration and instigation on part of a director, writer, or producer and the finished product that graces big and small screens alike. Some projects never quite get out of “development hell” for one reason or another. 

My spotlight, today, is one project that I’m going to cheer on from the far sidelines and cross everything I can in hopes of lending luck that it makes it to a theater or streaming service near me. 

The Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book trilogy by Alvin Schwartz and hauntingly illustrated by Stephen Gammell were a treasured staple of my youth. The controversial children’s books, published between 1981 and 1991 were a few of my favorite Scholastic purchases, ever, when I was in school. They’re still available, today. I picked up a set for my daughter a few years ago.

This collection of stories became a cultural touchstone of a generation; read at countless sleepovers and inspiring many a harrowing dare. I still get the creeps when facing a bathroom mirror in the dark. Just saying.

Illustration preceding the story Oh Susannah! in Book 2

The books graced the top of blacklists and bans for many years – and now Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy, Pacific Rim, The Strain) wants to turn them into a movie. The announcement of his intention to helm a Scary Stories movie came in January 2016. If anyone’s going to be able to pull this off successfully, I believe Del Toro can do it. 

Image collage from article on

He has proved himself to be the master of the dark and macabre, yet at the same time capable of shades of levity and light. He was at the directing helm for movies such as Mimic (1997), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), and Crimson Peak (2015) after all. Wearing his Executive Producer hat, he’s given us projects such as Splice (2009), the nightmare inducing Mama (2013), and even Rise of the Guardians (2012). 

I think my favorite source of nostalgic nightmare fuel is in good hands here.

Many details are yet unclear regarding this project. There haven’t been any announcements as to whether or not this will focus solely on the first book, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1981); or if the scope will include concepts from More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1984) and the endcap of the trilogy, Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones (1991). 

What we do know, is that CBS Films is involved and that the screenplay writing job has passed hands at least once. Currently, Dan and Kevin Hageman (Hotel Transylvania, The Lego Movie, Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu) are the writers tapped to tackle this daunting task. 

The trilogy is an anthology, of sorts, compiling many tales, poems, and even songs from folklore and the old tradition of passing worldly advice to younger generations through cautionary stories via spoken word. There are many unsettling tales, a few absurd ones, and the books are peppered with instructions for the reader on how best to scare the pants off their audience. The titles were literal – these stories were meant to be told aloud. I’m interested on how that aspect is going to translate into the movie and what arching plot will tie the tales together. 

From the first book, alone, I can think of at least five stories that would make excellent choices. Tales such as The Thing, The Haunted House, Cold as Clay, The Girl Who Stood on a Grave, and The Wendigo would all be interesting as cinematic treatments. Though, some of my very favorites grace the pages of the other two books. 

Illustration for story Wonderful Sausage in Book 2

Of course, some of the stories in these books have already been represented on the big screen before. This is largely because Schwartz pulling from folklore crosses into the territory of urban legend that we all love to scare ourselves with. Tales such as The Hook and High Beams have been covered in such movies, while Wonderful Sausage is shades of the tale of Sweeny Todd, most recently adapted via the movie Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007). I’ve also seen both versions from 1979 and 2006 of When A Stranger Calls; which pretty much verbatim use the story The Babysitter

Collage from

I’m hoping that Del Toro and the Hageman brothers steer clear of the stories that have been “done before” and aim for others within this rich and creepy nightmare landscape. My other fervent wish for this project is that they stay true to the surreal and terrifying imagery that Gammell’s artwork added to these tales. The illustrations in these books have haunted me more deeply and far longer than any of the stories contained between those pages. 

This project is one to definitely keep your eyes peeled for in the future and we wish it all the best through its process moving forward towards realization.

Just for fun, here's a video of Del Toro giving a bit of a tour of his "Bleak House" which he also calls his "man cave." A single room or a few items on the walls here and there wasn't enough to fuel his creativity and inspiration in his personal space, so he bought a house to stash all of his collectible goodies in.

But I Digress... is a weekly column for that can't be pinned down to just one thing. It's Cat's celebration of tangents, random references, and general fan geekdom that both intertwines with, revolves around, and diverges from our movie-review core. In homage to the beloved Brit comedians, we want to bring you something completely different!

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