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Super Bowl ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ Footage Explained

The classic books are becoming a movie. Here's what to know.

If you grew up in the ’90s, then you remember being utterly terrified by the series of short story anthologies, collectively titled Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Now, those stories are becoming film directed by Shape of Water maestro Guillermo del Toro. During the Super Bowl on Sunday, a bunch of footage was revealed, but what does it all mean? Is del Toro adapting the books directly or no? Here’s what it all (probably) means.

First of all, though all the old Scary Stories books were written by Alvin Schwartz, that author by no means invented these tales. Instead, the origins of the Scary Stories themselves come from a variety of folklore, urban legends, and other tales that had not really been written down. (This is doubly true of his other famous book for kids, In a Dark, Dark Room.) Anyway, the point is, if del Toro deviates from the books, it’s actually 100 percent smart, since these stories aren’t really one author’s vision anyway. This fact more than anything is what makes the Scary Stories series markedly different from R.L. Stine’s Fear Street or Goosebumps books; the stories come from the zeitgeist originally. (This makes these stories the precursor, in a sense, to what we now call a “Creepypasta.”)

Anyway, does the new footage directly reference the books? Seems like it. Here’s how it breaks down.

“The Red Spot”

Because the young girl in the “Red Spot” footage is wearing a dress that seems very not-2019, some pundits are theorizing this could mean there’s a flashback in the movie version that’s not in the story. In the story, a girl gets a spider-bite that gets pretty nasty. But, her mother had one, too. So, is this footage her mother? Or the girl from the story? You can read a version of the story online here. For those who had the books, “The Red Spot” was in Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones.

The Pale Lady = “The Dream”

The footage connected to “The Pale Lady” reference a story from the books called “The Dream.” Like “The Red Spot,” this story was also in the third book, Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your BonesThe Pale Lady in the dream is a really subtle story but in the book, the dream is had by a girl, not a boy. Because all these stories will be knitted together into some kind of overarching narrative, it’s possible The Pale Lady will haunt the dreams of all the main characters, leading them all to their doom, or, into other stories from the books.

“The Big Toe”

This was referenced on the cover of the original book, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.  This story involves a family eating a toe that a young boy finds out in the yard. The owner of the big toe is recreated faithfully in the new TV spot. The story was in the first book, which you can grab here.

“The Jangly Man”

Of all the creatures, this is the one that doesn’t appear to have a basis in the Alvin Schwartz books, at least not right now. Still, the name “The Jangly Man,” feels like a vague reference to Slenderman, a well-known contemporary creepypasta that resulted in a few real-life tragedies. This isn’t to say this footage is referencing that at all, it’s just that the Jangly Man stands out because he doesn’t look like he’s pulled from those Stephen Gammell illustrations. Famous the Gammell cover and interior illustrations were part of the reason why the books were catnip for all of us ’80s and ’90s kids, a fact which was diminished when the books were reissued with new cover illustrations by Brett Helquist. Now, to be clear, Helquist is a brilliant artist responsible for illustrations in the original run of A Series of Unfortunate Events. But, because our brains are hard-wired to associate the Scary Stories with the Gammell illustrations, it seems like the movie will stay true to that inky, gooey aesthetic, even when it deviates from the stories.

Scary Stories is in theaters on August 9, 2019.