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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: a beginner's guide


Released this week in Cineworld, horror movie Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark unleashes a host of hideous ghouls upon a small American town.

It's produced by The Shape of Water film-maker Guillermo del Toro, and is in fact based on a bestselling book series. Don't know your Scary Stories from a hole in the ground? We're here to help with our beginner's guide...

What is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark?

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark began life as a series of three short-story collections, designed to introduce children to classic urban myths and folk tales.

Written by Alvin Schwartz, a renowned American journalist and author, the stories generated controversy for their unashamedly creepy and often grisly content. (Imagine R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series but more explicit.) In fact, the series was America's most frequently challenged book (or book series) for library inclusion between 1990 and 1999. 

The collections were originally published in 1981, 1984 and 1991, titled 'Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark', 'More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark' and 'Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones'.

The stories have subsequently been compiled as both a box set and a single volume, and have sold more than seven million copies worldwide to date.

Who illustrated Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark?

Quite apart from Schwartz's writing, it was Stephen Gammell's evocatively terrifying illustrations that really sent chills up the spine.

Gammell's charcoal and ink depictions of the multi-faceted horrors famously gave many American children sleepless nights. One of the most notorious was 'The Red Spot' – given that this features in the movie adaptation, we won't spoil the outcome, suffice to say it defines the phrase skin-crawling.

In 2011, the stories were re-issued with new designs from Brett Helquist, but such was Gammell's legacy of illustrated trauma, the publishers quickly reverted back to the originals.

What are some of the monsters in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark?

From Harold the Scarecrow (an important character in the movie adaptation) to the dreaded 'Wendigo', a spirit that is said to haunt the border between the northernmost American states and Canada, the series is packed with horrors.

Other classic tales of terror (not included in the movie) include 'High Beams', in which a woman is alerted to a terrifying presence in the back seat of her car, and 'The Hook', an oft-recounted story of an escaped lunatic.

Additional gems include the toothy menace of 'Alligators', the demonic threat of 'The Little Black Dog' and 'The Babysitter', a classic tale of peril in which a teenager receives chilling phone calls relating to an upstairs bedroom.

What do we need to know about the movie?

The film adaptation is directed by Andre Ovredal, who made cult 2011 found-footage movie Trollhunter. As mentioned, it's produced by Guillermo del Toro, a self-avowed fan of the original stories and purveyor of the weird and the mystical, whose critically acclaimed fantasias include the likes of Pan's Labyrinth.

The movie is set in 1968, in a sleepy American town that has no conception of the horror that's about to be unleashed. It all begins when three unsuspecting teens break into a deserted house on Halloween and discover the book of Sarah Bellows, a deceased young woman whose persecution in life has translated into supernatural rage.

It turns out when one reads from the book, the text in fact reads them. This unleashes all manner of foul fiends, including the aforementioned Harold, a woman looking for her missing toe and the unyielding horror of the Pale Lady.

When is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark released in the UK?

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is released in Cineworld cinemas on 23rd August. Don't forget about our Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Unlimited Screening on 20th August.

Can't wait to see the movie? Let us know @Cineworld.