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Guillermo del Toro Went Back to ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ to Crack ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’

The Oscar-winning producer took part in a Comic-Con panel breaking down the practical effects used in André Øvredal's upcoming film.

"Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" CBS Films

“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”

George Kraychyk / CBS Films

Adapting a book into a movie is always a tricky process, but when Guillermo del Toro was considering bringing Alvin Schwartz’s iconic horror series “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” to the big screen, he had to look outside the source material and into his own work before he knew it could be a film.

“When we started talking about [making] this about five years ago, I had to think about it,” del Toro said Saturday afternoon in San Diego during a Comic-Con panel for the movie. “Anthology films are always as bad as the worst story in them — they’re never as good as the best story. Then I remembered in ‘Pan’s Labyrinth,’ I created a book called the Book of Crossroads.”

Del Toro was inspired by how that book was used in his 2006 film, and thought of an idea that made him confident in adapting “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.”

“I thought it could be great if we had a book that reads you, and it writes what you’re most afraid of,” del Toro said. “Then the theme became stories we tell each other.”

“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” takes place in 1968 and focuses on a group of teenagers who discover a book written by a young girl with horrible secrets. Sarah’s stories were pulled from her own tortured life, and now they’re starting to infect the lives of its new readers, as well.

Del Toro said the new movie will resonate with audiences who loved telling stories around a campfire as well as a new generation who’s used to consuming stories on social media. “Basically, when you see the movie, there’s the equivalent of social media bullying to one of the characters,” del Toro said. “It’s very prudent for right now.”

The Oscar-winning director — who produced and wrote the screen story for this film — was joined on the Comic-Con panel by director André Øvredal, creature effects supervisor Mike Elizalde, as well as special makeup effects artists Norman Cabrera and Mike Hill. The team was there to put on a master class of creature design, and spent a good chunk of the panel stressing the importance of practical effects in horror movies.

“We’re trying to keep physical effects, practical effects, alive,” del Toro said. “I’ve been making monsters for 30 years. I’m not a very good sculptor, not a very good painter, but I can recognize a very good sculptor and a very good painter, and this is a dream team.”

Slides were projected on the screen behind the production team, and each member talked about creating various monsters from the books. Del Toro said he was mainly inspired by the illustrations of Stephen Gammell, and the team recreated a number of his monsters as well as one amalgamation of various creatures, too. The talk focused on Harold — an evil scarecrow seen in the film’s poster — the Pale Lady, and the Jangly Man, who’s a combination of book characters merged into one terrifying creature for the film.

“He was played by a contortionist [named] Troy James,” Hill said. “Even though [the Jangly Man] is a combination of different ages and body parts, what we did was we emaciated different parts of his body. […] We knew Troy was so good at walking backwards, we decided to do an upside down head — which is right-side up if he’s walking backwards.”

The team showed photos and videos of the creatures taking shape, and then stressed how digital effects in post-production could be added to give a slight edge to the monsters. “Your subconscious is telling you I know what I’m looking at is real, but there’s something really wrong with it,” Elizalde said.

“If physical leads, then digital follows,” del Toro stated.

“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” from CBS Films and Lionsgate, will premiere August 9 in theaters. Watch the trailer below:

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