This coming August, Stephen Gammell’s chilling illustrations for writer Alvin Schwartz’s three Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books come to life on the big screen in CBS Films’ Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, directed by André Øvredal (The Autopsy of Jane Doe) and produced by Guillermo del Toro (a massive list of cool, amazing things).
Specifically, the film adaptation of the books will release on August 9th, and we got our first real taste of the movie at the Super Bowl this past Sunday night. On Super Bowl Sunday, in the wake of the poster dropping a couple days prior, we were treated to four very short teaser clips, introducing four of the threats the teen characters will have to deal with.
In case you missed it, here’s the official plot rundown for the film:
“It’s l968 in America. Change is blowing in the wind…but seemingly far removed from the unrest in the cities is the small town of Mill Valley where for generations, the shadow of the Bellows family has loomed large. It is in their mansion on the edge of town that Sarah, a young girl with horrible secrets, turned her tortured life into a series of scary stories, written in a book that has transcended time—stories that have a way of becoming all too real for a group of teenagers who discover Sarah’s terrifying tome.”
It would seem that the film is taking an approach similar to the Goosebumps movie, unleashing a handful of the iconic illustrations from the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books upon the big screen. And those aforementioned Super Bowl spots teased four of those illustrations/stories that’ll be coming to life, beginning with “The Big Toe.“
“The Big Toe” was the very first short story in the very first Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book, centered on a young boy who digs a human toe up from his backyard. That night (after the family weirdly eats the toe, presumably because they didn’t realize it was… a human toe), the undead owner of the toe enters the boy’s house looking for his stolen appendage, repeatedly calling out into the darkness: “Where is my to-o-o-o-o-e?”
The illustration for the story doesn’t actually depict the toe-less creature, but it’s described (in the story’s “alternate ending”) as having “big eyes,” “big claws” and “sharp teeth.” As you probably gathered from the Super Bowl spot, “Big Toe” is played by creature performer Javier Botet in the film, who has terrified in movies like [REC], Mama and IT (2017).
With Botet in the role, “Big Toe” promises to be a chilling big screen villain.
The second Super Bowl spot introduced “The Jangly Man,” a character name not actually present in any of the Scary Stories books. So who is this Jangly Man, you ask? Reading through the stories from the three books, the best answer I can come up with is that he’s inspired by “What Do You Come For?,” a short story in the original book.
In the story, a lonely old woman wishes for some company; suddenly, out of nowhere, “two feet from which the flesh had rotted” tumble down the chimney. The feet are soon followed by legs, a body, two arms and a head; “As the old woman watched,” Schwartz writes, “the parts came together into a great, gangling man. The man danced around the room.”
Again, this creature isn’t represented in the book with an illustration, but I can only assume that “The Jangly Man” and the “great, gangling man” are the very same monster.
One of the single most memorable drawings from the Scary Stories books was attached to the story “The Dream,“ featured in Scary Stories 3. This nightmarish figure appears to a woman named Lexi Morgan in a dream, described as “a woman with a pale face, long black eyes and black hair.” This “Pale Lady” (as she’s called in the movie) first appears to Lexi in the nightmare and then shows up in real life at the end of the story; as with most of the Scary Stories tales, it’s Gammell’s drawing of the “Pale Lady” that has worked its way into countless nightmares.
The “Pale Lady” is the only direct adaptation of a Scary Stories illustration that was on full display in the Super Bowl spots, and it gives us a good idea of how the drawings are going to translate to the screen later this year. If she’s any indication, del Toro and Øvredal have damn sure ensured that the movie’s monsters are as Gammell-faithful as they could possibly be.
All we’ve seen is a glimpse, and we’re already having nightmares about her.
The final Super Bowl spot for Scary Stories was “The Red Spot,“ a mini-tease of what is perhaps the single most iconic image from the books. The story, found in Scary Stories 3, is simple but as unsettling as can be: a young girl wakes up with what appears to be a spider bite on her cheek. It develops into a big red boil, and subsequently explodes while she’s taking a bath. “Out poured a swarm of tiny spiders from the eggs their mother had laid in her cheek,” Schwartz ends the story, which is accompanied by a Gammell illustration of that horrifying moment.
It looks like that moment will indeed be adapted proper in the film, but we’ll surely have to wait until the weekend of August 9 to see it in all of its skin-crawling glory. Are you ready?
The last Scary Stories monster that the marketing has thus far given us a glimpse of is the first one we were shown, on the official poster art for the movie. Up above is of course “Harold” from Scary Stories 3, a scarecrow made by two farmers named Thomas and Alfred in the short story. Harold (with his “twisted frown”) was named after a rival farmer that they both hated, and they often mistreated the scarecrow as a result; “Whenever something went wrong, they took it out on Harold. They would curse at him, even kick or punch him.”
Eventually they realize that Harold seems to be growing, and he soon comes to life (naturally) and gets up on the roof of their hut and trots back and forth all day and night, “like a horse on its hind legs.” At the very end of the story, Harold claims the life of Thomas by skinning his corpse; “Harold kneeled and stretched out a bloody skin to dry in the sun.”
“Harold” is one of the best (and most gruesome) of all the Scary Stories, and Harold’s appearance on the film’s poster suggests he’ll be playing a prominent role in the movie.
Which other Scary Stories monsters do you hope to see in the film?