Credit: CBS Films

Guillermo del Toro still remembers where he was when he first discovered Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Spotting it in a San Antonio bookshop in the early ’80s, the eventual Oscar-winning director was immediately attracted to the evocative title, but soon found himself pulled in by Alvin Schwartz’s creepy short stories and Stephen Gammell’s eerie illustrations.

“They had the simplicity of campfire stories,” he says. “They had that flavor of folklore and oral narrative, with a great sense of setup and punchline.”

Decades later, del Toro was approached about adapting the books (Schwartz and Gammell made three in total) into a film. As producer and co-writer, del Toro immediately conceived it not as an anthology (since he believes such movies are always defined by their worst segment) but rather as a unified story with a frame narrative. So the new film, directed by André Øvredal, is set in 1968 and follows a group of kids as they each encounter a different Scary Stories monster based on their greatest fear. The Pale Lady, from the Schwartz/Gammell story “The Dream,” ended up being the favorite monster of both Øvredal and del Toro.

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK Pale Lady original illustration CR: CBS Films
Credit: CBS Films

“She embodies what’s so fun about the stories, a cheeky innocence where underneath there’s something so grave and scary,” Øvredal says of the Pale Lady.

Del Toro admits she was “the most challenging character to translate from page to screen,” but also his favorite.

“Gammell draws these very ephemeral images, and we tried to translate them into 3D,” del Toro says. “I actually recruited the best sculptors I know, who are Mike Hill and Norman Cabrera, and went to one of the best physical-effects makeup companies, Spectral Motion, and from there we went and really honored the Gammell drawings. We did several of the characters in the book. In each instance we would say, ‘Does it look and feel like the character on the page?’ Once you see them in movement in the film, they come across exactly as close as you can get to a Gammell drawing come alive.”

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