A group of teens face their fears in order to save their lives after taking a haunted book.
Oscar-winning filmmaker Guillermo delÂ Toro laughs when boasting that he’sÂ been a horror fan since â€œstill sleeping in a crib,â€ but the monster-movie maven is only half-joking.
The Mexican directorÂ has unleashed everything from a high-end fantasy (â€œPanâ€™s Labyrinth”)Â and a robots-vs.-kaiju throwdown (â€œPacific Rimâ€)Â to a Gothic thriller (â€œCrimson Peakâ€)Â and a love-story best picture winner (â€œThe Shape of Waterâ€).Â But his newest project, â€œScary Stories to Tell in the Dark,â€ (in theaters Friday) definitely leans toward a younger set (though older kids can enjoy it, too).
Based on Alvin Schwartzâ€™s popular childrenâ€™s horror-tale collections, del Toro’s â€œScary Storiesâ€Â centers on a group of small-town teens in 1968 who dig aroundÂ a haunted house and find a book belonging to Sarah Bellows, a long-dead girl with a spooky urban legend behind her. When young Stella (Zoe Colletti) opens the tome,Â she and her friends face menacing creatures while also dealing with real-life horrors, such as racism and war.
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â€œThe movie is the equivalent of a young-adult book: Not exactly for little kids, but itâ€™s almost like a family horror movie with a very good spirit, a very kind heart at the center and a very pertinent message for today,â€ del Toro says, who co-wrote and produced the project. â€œThe set pieces are intense but they are never ever gory or profane.â€
In other words, “Scary Stories” is like a roller coaster where you take the big plunge, â€œbut you know there’s a safety bar. You keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times.â€
By age 4, del Toro was already a horror fan and really into TVâ€™s â€œThe Outer Limits,â€ though the itch didnâ€™t prove hereditary with his two daughters: Mariana, whoâ€™s in her early 20s, and teenage Marisa.
â€œThe older one is a little more into it, but neither of them is a complete crazy fan of the genre like I was,â€ says del Toro, 54.
Read on for his guide to introducing your children to scary stories.
The filmmaker admits that some of the scariest stuff he saw as a kid was in Disney movies.
â€œThe donkey transformation in ‘Pinocchio’ was pretty harrowing for me, and the death of Bambi’s mother (too),â€ he says.
One series del Toro recommends for younger children is Lloyd Alexanderâ€™s â€œThe Chronicles of Prydain,â€ which offers great adventures and scary bad guys.
â€œThey were lighter somewhat for me to read than â€˜The Lord of the Ringsâ€™ and I enjoyed them when I was a kid,â€ he says.
Del Toro finds that what truly freaks out children has changed over the years.
â€œMy kids didn’t get scared with â€˜The Exorcist.â€™ â€˜The Shining’ is still a very scary movie, but a lot of younger kids don’t find it scary,â€ he says. â€œThe taste buds in horror have changed quite a bit.â€
Because of that, when del Toro works on a movie like â€œScary Stories,â€ he’s trying to create exciting visuals never seen before:Â â€œYou’re trying not to emulate something from the past.â€
When it comes to horror novels, especially for teens, thereâ€™s plenty of well-known works worth the read: â€œThe Haunting of Hill Houseâ€ by Shirley Jackson is â€œa perennial for me,â€ says del Toro, who also loves Ray Bradbury’s â€œSomething Wicked This Way Comesâ€ and Richard Mathesonâ€™s â€œI Am Legend.â€
As for movies, there are four â€œpinnaclesâ€ of the genre, he says:Â â€œJaws,â€ â€˜The Shining,” â€œAlienâ€ and 1963â€™s â€œThe Haunting.â€Â
But he’s also a fan of also the old-school â€œFrankensteinâ€ and â€œBride of Frankenstein,” â€œwhich kids find more amusing than horrifying but are nevertheless really good movies.â€
Fables and horror stories â€œcan help kids talk in absolutes,â€ del Toro says. His own “Panâ€™s Labyrinth,â€Â rated R because of violent sequences, has neverthelessÂ â€œfound its way into classrooms to teach the Spanish Civil War or to talk about world history.â€ â€œScary Storiesâ€ explores what happens when youÂ repeat stories about people blindly, reflecting the hazards of modernÂ social media.
â€œIt allows you toÂ address the point that that the things that we hear about someone are not always true,â€ he says.
And while the horrors of real life are “abysmal” and reflect the tragedy of human nature, del Toro adds, â€œfantastic horror is almost the antidote to becoming cynical, because it allows you to actually talk about moral and ethical tales and about big concepts in a way where you’re going to articulate them better.”Â
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