The new Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark film is packed with memorable monsters, as any devoted reader of the original Alvin Schwartz/Stephen Gammell books might expect. The scarecrow from “Harold” seeks revenge on the boys who torment him, and the Pale Lady from “The Dream” stalks down a red hallway. But the most remarkable monster of all might just be the Jangly Man, a disjointed creature capable of disassembling and resembling its body parts at will.
Partially adapted from the Schwartz/Gammell story “Me Tie Doughty Walker,” the Jangly Man is first seen breaking into a building by throwing his limbs down the chimney one at a time. As if a screaming decapitated head wasn’t scary enough, the Jangly Man gets truly horrifying once his body is complete again — because then he’s capable of bending over backward and scrambling up and down walls in pursuit of his prey. That ability is due to actor Troy James, who first publicly demonstrated his contortionist skills on a viral clip from America’s Got Talent.
“I was incredibly nervous,” James tells EW about that original performance. “I did have a regular corporate job, and I did not have a background of performing on a stage in front of lots of people. It was taking something that was just a silly fun hobby of mine to the performance/talent level. But it turns out enough people liked it, and I always got the feedback ‘this is really creepy, you should do horror movies,’ so here I am!”
According to James, the flexibility is something he was born with. It doesn’t take rigorous physical training to maintain, but he has honed it for most of his life.
“The flexibility is something I was just born with innately. Since I was a little kid it was something I was able to do,” James says. “Then it became a cool party trick, something I would show off after work, but putting myself through undergrad was the first time I used my talent in a spooky way, so to speak. I worked at a theme park, and every October the theme park turned into a haunted theme park, ‘Halloween Haunts’ they called it. So I got to put on a costume and fake blood and run around scaring as many people as I could. I found out very quickly that moving in an unnatural way, the way I do, is really good at unsettling people.”
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is directed by André Øvredal and produced by Guillermo del Toro, who James first worked with on the final season of The Strain (“I played a vampire/dog mongrel type creature that moved on all fours, very feral, very aggressive”). James also appeared as the legendary witch Baba Yaga in the recent Hellboy reboot, but he has a much more personal connection to Scary Stories.
“It was perfect, because I grew up with the stories,” James recalls. “I loved the books, all the kids our age did. We took them out of the library, and they were the most-requested books; dog-eared and floppy with a loose spine because we all loved those books so much. I never would’ve thought, many many years later that I’d have a chance to participate. So the answer was definitely yes, I can’t wait.”
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is in theaters now.