SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – JULY 20: (L-R) Scott Mantz, André Øvredal, Guillermo del Toro, Mike Elizalde, Norman Cabrera, and Mike Hill of “Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark” speak on stage at Horton Grand Theater on July 20, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Daniel Knighton/Getty Images for CBS Films)

During San Diego Comic-Con, I had the opportunity to attend my most anticipated panel at the convention: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: A Master Class with Guillermo del Toro, “The Making of a Monster.” Located in the historic Horton Grand Theatre, which only allowed about 250 people inside, Guillermo del Toro, along with director André Øvredal and SFX artists Mike Elizalde, Norman Cabrera and Mike Hill talked about the upcoming Scary Stories film adaptation. During the hour long panel, Guillermo and his team talked in length about bringing these monsters to life and staying true to the spirit of the original illustrations created by Stephen Gammell.

In Øvredal’s upcoming adaptation, the synopsis is as follows: “It’s 1968 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 home.” 

Stephen Gammell’s illustration of “The Pale Lady” from the book series “Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark,” written by Alvin Schwartz and published by Harper Collins | Image Courtesy of CBS Films

For those who may not be familiar with SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK, which I’ve come to learn is quite a few people, the film is based off a series of “kids” books written by Alvin Schwartz which featured numerous horror short stories. I put kids in parentheses because, to be honest, these stories were terrifying to read as a kid. But even more so, the illustrations created by Stephen Gammell were what many would consider to be nightmare fuel.  Early on during the panel, Guillermo del Toro talked about how he first learned about these books, coming across them at a bookstore and returning each day to read them until he was finished. He eventually bought the books and his love for the stories and illustrations stayed with him; so much so, that he ended up buying some of the original illustrations (something to which he laughingly relayed was not the best financial decision at the time of the purchase). 

Though it would have been easy to have a whole panel dedicated to the impact that the SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK books have had on horror fans, the main focus of the panel was to discuss the process of creating the creatures. Fans of the book will recognize three of the stories and their accompanying creatures: “The Big Toe”, “The Dream” (which features The Pale Lady), “Harold” and “The Red Spot.” Speaking heavily on how the creatures were created with the use of practical effects were Elizalde, Cabrera and Hill. While they discussed the intricacies of bringing these monsters to life, audience members got to see exclusive images from the set of SCARY STORIES as well as clips from the upcoming film. Furthermore, those in attendance during this panel were the first to see the brand new trailer which only excited us die-hard fans of the books even more. Without a doubt, though, the most impressive feature of the panel were those that focused on bringing Stephen Gammell’s illustrations to life.

Harold | Image Courtesy of CBS Films

As a massive fan of The Pale Lady (which I just got an amazing tattoo of), I was blown away by how much the creatures looked like the illustration. The effects team showed in detail, through photographs and videos, the process of bringing The Pale Lady, and the other characters, to fruition and it’s nothing short of impressive. Even though the artwork is wispy and illustrated in black and white, the clips we saw were able to capture that same essence even in color. As for “The Big Toe”, Spanish actor and monster performer Javier Botet was transformed into the terrifying creature which looked like a cross between Slenderman and the creature from REC. As for Harold himself, one of the most beloved and unsettling characters in all of the stories, the SFX team went above and beyond to make him stand out while putting the fear of Harold’s actions into the heart of fans far and wide. We also learned about a new character named Jangly Man that is not a part of the books but an amalgamation of characters. Performed by contortionist Troy James, some might recognize his work through his performance as Pretzel Jack from Channel Zero: The Dream Door. Watching him move and contort in unnatural ways via behind-the-scenes clip left many of us with our jaws on the floor. As someone who is frightened by anything that moves in an unnatural way, I could only imagine how horrified I was going to be of this character when the time came to watch the film.

Though Guillermo del Toro can easily command a room when he talks, he made sure that the audience didn’t forget who the real stars were. He was quick to talk about the masterful work that André Øvredal has done with both Trollhunter and The Autopsy of Jane Doe, the latter being the film that convinced del Toro to work with Øvredal. Del Toro also showed a lot of love to Elizalde, Cabrera and Hill who he had worked with on Hellboy, Hellboy 2 and The Shape of Water, among other films. If the footage we saw was any indication of what we can expect from SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK, than fans of the books are without a doubt going to be in for a real treat. In the end, this was a panel that was not only insanely educational, since it gave fans a peek into the hard work that so many special effect make-up artists go through, but also one that showed the love and passion that these creatures have for monster films. Regardless of the film, these men have a genuine appreciation for monster and creature effects and it shows through every fiber of their being and I feel beyond lucky to have been able to attend such an intimate experience. SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK arrives in theaters this Friday, August 9th, 2019. 

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