The first Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book debuted in 1981 from writer Alvin Schwartz and artist Stephen Gammell, compiling a number of iconic urban legends and folklore into one terrifying tome for young readers. The book's success not only inspired two sequels, but also generated nightmares for an entire generation. The books have long been a favorite of filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, who collaborated with director Andre Ovredal to develop a live-action adaptation, which landed in theaters this past weekend. While some audiences have been waiting for this film for decades, not all of the film's stars were familiar with them, including Austin Zajur.
The actor plays Chuck in the film, one member of a group of friends in 1968 that discovers a book in a haunted house containing a number of scary stories that begin to manifest in their real lives. While all of the character have their own entertaining banter, Chuck offers the comedic relief for the group, which often makes him the most terrified when these otherworldly encounters begin to unfold.
ComicBook.com caught up with Zajur to discuss his connection to the source material, the frightening experience of filming, and Chuck's fate.
ComicBook.com: These books are iconic for certain audiences who grew up with them or discovered them later in life. Were the Scary Stories books something that were important to you before auditioning?
Austin Zajur: They honestly were not. I remember my dad telling me stories, specifically the Harold the Scarecrow one, when I was younger, but I thought he was just making it up. But it turned out it was actually a story from the book series. So besides my dad telling me random stories here and there, [I wasn't familiar] until I had auditions for it and whatnot.
Once you realized what you were going out for, did you dive into the books?
I did because there wasn't a script out until I booked the role. So I really had no idea besides the scenes I auditioned for what I was getting into. So, I read like all the stories.
Did then reading the books make you more excited for the part or more intimidated about how you would pull off such a beloved adaptation?
It is very intimidating, because I didn't want to let anybody down with some of the stories that we recreate in the movie. So I just wanted to tackle it in the best way possible. I was a little intimidated at first, for sure.
You might not have been familiar with these books, but were you a horror fan in general before taking the part or was this just a new, exciting opportunity for you?
Honestly, I'm terrified of horror movies personally, because every time I watch one I feel like my imagination runs so wild when I'm trying to sleep, and it's always been like that since I was a kid. So I steered clear of them. But now after doing the movie, I'm super, super into horror, the whole genre in general. And I feel like there's no other type of movie genre that [is so physically effective], just with the jump scares and the creepy feeling. It reminds me of being on a roller coaster, that feeling of like you're just on edge the whole time. So now I like it a lot.
The film has plenty of comedic moments, but a majority of those moments rest on your shoulders. Did it feel more challenging to have to sell not only the terror of the film, but also offer levity?
Me personally, as an actor, I feel much more confident in my comic abilities than I do with playing the straight man or doing more dramatic scenes in roles. So I was more excited about it. And a lot of the times we'd try to come up with different jokes for different scenes and stuff and try different things out. So I approached certain scenes as if I was doing a comedy, really. But what excited me and what made me feel a little nervous was the character arc that Chuck has later on through the film. Once things start going south and you starting to realize what's actually happening with the book and how these stories are writing some of the characters' deepest and darkest fears, and just having to deal with certain scenarios like grief and just sadness. And total just internalized fear was more of the challenge for me.
While each character gets their own version of an iconic story from the books, we've seen in trailers that your character is in a loose adaptation of "The Dream," featuring a monstrous woman with pale, dark hair. A lot of audiences are seeing that as one of the most effective sequences in the whole film.
That whole sequence was mainly what I was talking about. Just because I wanted it to be as real as possible, even though I've never been in a situation like that.
What was the experience of filming that sequence?
We actually filmed that whole sequence at an actual haunted mental institution in Ontario, Canada, that had been abandoned. And the groundskeeper of that institution was actually saying like this place is haunted and we'd be there at three in the morning, and I was the only cast member that was on set for some of those days and nights, so I would just be alone in a room just like actually being afraid that there was a ghost or something in this place. So that kind of helps me a little bit. But then, in a lot of the sequence where I'm like running back and forth and the camera's right on me, I was just having to react to a tennis ball because the guy inside the suit, the Pale Lady suits are very heavy, and when he wasn't needed in a shot, I had to react to a tennis ball. So that was a little bit challenging. But I'm glad it turned out well.
That's another thing that made the experience so effective, is knowing how many of those creatures were practical creations and not just CGI.
The Pale Lady was a prosthetic suit and Jangly Man was also. And then the Toe Lady, "Who took my toe?" that was a person in a suit, too.
Having those creatures on set must help you guys out a lot. What was your first reaction to seeing the Pale Lady on set?
It blew my mind, man. Because I was just imagining actually being alone in a hallway and seeing this thing and what that would be like. Because you'd be like, "What the hell? What?" And it blew my mind. And then, on some days, we'd be on set and the Jangly Man would be there, like getting ready to do a scene. And one day he was in the bathroom and I came out of the stall and I saw him with the suit on. I freaked out because I hadn't seen that monster before and then it was really freaky in real life.
WARNING: Spoilers below for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Avoiding specifics, some of these characters disappear, but we don't really know if they "die." If a sequel moves forward, is it possible that we could see Chuck return?
I don't know personally what "dead" means, but my only thing is, without giving too much away, I think there could be a chance that it's a parallel universe. I don't really know. So I don't really know what to say to that, to be honest.
The characters aren't "killed" exactly, like seeing one character become a scarecrow doesn't mean they're dead, they've just taken on a new form.
And I'm just getting technically absorbed, you know.
And your confrontation doesn't necessarily confirm you were "killed," technically.
Yeah, and then considering what happens near the end of the movie, there's fair arguments to say what really happened, you know?
Now that you're more of a fan of horror films, are there any other franchises you'd like to join?
Anything with demons and exorcisms and stuff, that freaks me out. I don't know how I would handle doing something like that. But something along the lines of like a Halloween or like a cool remake of something like one of those movies would be a lot of fun.0comments
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is in theaters now.