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André Øvredal Blends His Sense of Reality with GDT's Adaptation of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

August 22, 2019
3 min read time

Before Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, André Øvredal was relatively unknown. With just a handful of low-budget films—mostly in the horror-mystery realm—to his name, like The Autopsy of Jane Doe and Tunnelen, the Norwegian writer-director caught the eye of one of American pop culture’s profound visionaries, Guillermo del Toro.

Guillermo tweeted about my previous movie, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, in January of 2017 and I was like, ‘Oh my god, Guillermo del Toro said he enjoyed my movie!’” Øvredal recalls. “Then, we had a Twitter exchange and about six months later, I got a script sent my way from another producer on the project who said, ‘Guillermo likes you and we’d love for you to read the script for Scary Stories.’” 

Øvredal says he immediately fell in love with the script that played like a horror fairytale and is based on the 1980s short story collection of the same name by Alvin Schwartz. Originally illustrated by Stephen Gammell, Scary Stories was the first in a series of three collections aimed at young adults.

“Guillermo del Toro has been in love with these books and drawings most of his young and adult life,” Øvredal says. “The film evolved out of his love for them.” Something a whole generation who grew up on the horror short stories can relate to. 

The film, written by del Toro, Dan and Kevin Hageman, with additional story credits going to Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, plays differently than the books. Instead of a short story anthology, the creators wrote and produced one long narrative that included select stories and monsters from the original series.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is about a group of kids in the small town of Mill Valley who fight back against a terrifying and evil destiny, written for them after they stumble upon a haunted mansion and uncover dark secrets from the past.

“I can’t attempt to do what Guillermo does,” Øvredal explains. “I had to bring my Scandinavian realism to it. Together, it created an interesting blend between his sense of wonder and fairy tales and my sense of reality.”

Directing the horror feature wasn’t an easy feat for Øvredal, due to the complexity of the script, numerous actors, and varying scenes.

I went from intimate films to a sprawling story about a time period with tons of locations, as opposed to one,” Øvredal says. “That was my challenge as a director; to keep it all unified.”

Some of the villains brought to life in the film included The Jangly Man, Harold, The Pale Woman, The Spiders, and The Toe Ghoul.

“I love the pale lady and the sequence,” Øvredal says. “She’s so benign and scary and you don’t know what the hell she really is.” Øvredal designed her scene to play out like a nightmare, something he says was difficult to do.

I wanted to honor the original story, but not tell it exactly like in the book,” Øvredal says. “The original stories themselves are short. Some are only half a page, some are one page, and I think the longest is 10 pages. Weaving all of those little pieces together into this big story while trying to stay truthful to the source material and augmenting them to fit the movie,” he says. That was the fine art of the balancing act.

According to The New York Times, the horror film earned $20.8 million domestically its opening weekend. If the movie continues to do well, we sense a sequel in the future just like the original short story series, and thus art imitates art.

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