The tales in the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book series were scary – but the images were what kept you up at night. Close your eyes, and you probably can conjure up Stephen Gammell’s unbelievably eerie illustrations of zombie scarecrows and ghosts coming out of clouds.
The movie Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, out August 9, weaves all your favorite monsters into one unified narrative: In 1968, teenager Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) sneaks into a haunted house and takes an old book of horror stories. Soon, the stories' creatures appear in real life.
For the squeamish out there, we're sorry to report that Gammell's illustrations have never been more vivid — or more terrifying. Some monsters, like the Pale Lady or Harold the Scarecrow, will be familiar. But the movie’s scariest monster is a completely new creation. Introducing: the Jangly Man.
According to executive producer Guillermo del Toro, the Jangly Man is a "composite" of Gammell's illustrations. Technically, the Jangly Man is a decomposing corpse who, quite resourcefully, stitches himself back together using other people's flesh. He has bluish skin, terribly exposed teeth, and surprising agility.
Given the obsession with skin, the Jangly Man certainly shares some DNA with Harold the Scarecrow. You know, Harold — that evil scarecrow who skins a farmer.
Most haunting of all, perhaps, is that the Jangly Man is played by a real person — as are the rest of the movie's monsters. “In all the creatures, 90% of everything is physical,” del Toro said during a panel at San Diego Comic Con, as Polygon reports. “And then we have the 10% digital that makes you believe it’s alive.”
The Jangly Man is played by contortionist Troy James, who's making name for himself in the horror genre. James appeared in the Guillermo del Toro projects The Strain and Hellboy, and will return to haunt us in the upcoming movies It Chapter Two and The Windigo. But James is most famous for his shocking 2018 American's Got Talent audition, which appears to have permanently scarred host Tyra Banks.
Since the Jangly Man is a new creation, we don't know much about his backstory. As in, how did he get to be so blue and bendy?
By now, though, the rest of the movie's monsters are practically old buddies. Here's what to expect. Of course, there's Harold. The Pale Lady of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is pulled from the story "The Dream," in which a girl keeps seeing a woman with white skin and long, stringy black hair in her dreams. "The Big Toe," one of Scary Stories' weirdest stories (and that's saying something!), is about a corpse who goes looking for his severed toe.
Unfortunately for arachnophobes, the story "The Red Spot" will get the big-screen treatment, too: A red boil, filled with hundreds of tiny spiders, pops.