Was Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark Worth The Wait?
I didn’t quite know what to expect when entering the theater. I had hoped that Hollywood would do the books written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by artist Stephen Gammell justice. After all Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has been responsible for creating new horror fans since the first book was released in 1981.
But what would Hollywood do with these legendary shorts written by Alvin Schwartz? Was it possible to do the film justice on the big screen? Could moving pictures do Stephen Gammell’s artwork justice. I hoped so. I wanted the film to be great. The trailers looked great. Guillermo del Toro was producing. That was a good sign right?
To the typical movie goer, Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark was a good movie. Director Andre Ovredal did an amazing job directing the film and bringing the script that he was given to life. But the weakness of the film lies in the script not the directing, acting, or special effects.
So how did CBS Films transform the amazing iconic novels into a barely profitable film that took since 2013 to develop?
Well, let’s go back to 2013. A company called 1212 Entertainment had optioned the rights to make the books into a movie. This means the production company contacted the rights holder for the book and got the exclusive right to turn the Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark books into a movie. After obtaining the rights, the first thing the production company starts looking into doing is finding writers and attaching the right directors to the script. 1212 Entertainment teamed up with The Collector, The Collection, and Saw movie writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton to write the script for Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark.
With rights acquired and writers attached in 2013, the next step was to sell the pitch to a studio so that the studio could front the money for the project. What typically happens is the company that optioned the rights sells their option to the studio for a good profit. In this case, there was a bidding war and CBS Films purchased the option.
CBS Films agreed to have Dunstan and Melton write the script with 1212 Entertainment and Sean Daniel Company to produce along with executives that would oversee the project for CBS Films. So what all this means is that CBS Films would be controlling all aspects of the film and everybody else would have to play by CBS Films rules.
In 2013, Deadline Hollywood reported the summary of the screenplay as being “about a group of outcast kids who stand up to their fears to save their town when nightmares come to life.” Which seems like pretty much what we got.
But CBS Films must not have liked Dunstan and Melton’s vision because they hired John August (Big Fish, Corpse Bride) to do a rewrite. Than in 2016, CBS Films brought in Guillermo del Toro to develop, product, and potentially direct.
Del Toro decided not to direct the film but he did hand pick Andre Ovredal to direct. In my opinion, that was the best decision made during this whole process because Ovredal has so much potential as a director.
As far as the script is concerned, CBS Films hired Dan and Kevin Hageman to polish the script. So that means they got the writers from The Lego Movie to polish Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
So let’s recap, Marcus Dustan and Patrick Melton first worked on a script for the project which CBS Films liked enough to buy 1212 Entertainment’s option on the book rights. Than CBS Films brought in John August got rid of August and than got The Lego Movie writers to finish the script.
IMDb lists the writers as screenplay by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, and Guillermo del Toro. Story by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton based on the novels by Alvin Schwartz.
I write all that to illustrate to you how a major studio couldn’t get their shit together and had to take six years before they even filmed the thing. That means we could have had a Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark movie 5 years ago. WTF?
So how did they do? Not bad. The biggest mistake that was made with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is that the wrap around story over shadowed Alvin Schwartz’s actual scary stories. The film focused too much on the legend of Sarah Bellows who was not part of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books.
Sarah Bellows got way too much screen time when that screen time could have been devoted to bringing the actual stories to life. This stems from Guillermo del Toro not wanting to make Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark an actual horror anthology. I think this was a tragic mistake because Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark would have made an amazing horror anthology.
But instead, what they did was take way too long to develop and overthink it. They tried to make it into something more like the Goosebumps. Goosebumps was released in 2015 and 2016 is when del Toro was brought in by CBS Films.
What would I have done? I would have had the film open with a shot of some spooky woods. Than have the camera follow a trail in the woods to an old house. Go into the house and a candle is lit in a small room. We focus in on the candle. We know there are several teenagers in the room but we don’t know who or why. I would have a voice say “I have some scary stories for you. But they can only be told in the dark.” Than I would have the candle blow out. Title card “Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark.” Than right into the first scary story. No large wrap around story needed.
But CBS Films didn’t want that because studios don’t believe that horror anthology films can be profitable. I believe a horror anthology film with little or not wrap around story could have been huge especially when it is based on books that had sold over 7 million copies.
So how profitable has Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark been?
Let’s take a look at the number provided by Box Office Mojo.
The movie had a production budget of $25 million.
As of 9/13/2019, the film has brought in $89,967, 711. Sounds profitable right?
Well let’s break it down.
The production budget was $25 million. Add in another $20 million that was spent on marketing for a total of $45 million.
Let’s say the film brought in $90 million. Well the theater gets to keep roughly half of that. So the theater keeps $45 million and CBS Films than gets $45 million. Not so profitable now huh. Plus we don’t know how much money was spent on developing the film over the course of that six years.
With DVD and VOD sells, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark will turn a little bit of a profit but not as much as it should have.
I really wonder what that original screenplay by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton looked like?