It's probably no shock that Oscar-winning film-maker Guillermo del Toro is a fan of scary stories.
But the new film from the Mexican, whose works include Pan's Labyrinth, Crimson Peak and 2018 Best Picture-winner The Shape of Water, betrays a long-held affection for a particular type.
First published in 1981, Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a collection of short horror stories inspired by urban myths and campfire tales. The kind that often involves the narrator claiming the events happened to their cousin's best friend.
Although aimed at a young adult audience, Schwartz's book (and its two follow-ups,
1984's More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones, published in 1991) traumatised readers of all ages, with help from disturbing accompanying illustrations by Stephen Gammell.
"I read the first book a long time ago when it came out and I loved it," Del Toro tells TimeOut during an interview in Hollywood. "I bought some of the original art, and the three books were something I kept buying every Christmas for gifts. I kept giving them away to terrified nieces and nephews."
The books were controversial to the point some parents tried to have them removed from some schools in the US. They nevertheless endured, and their popularity helped pave the way for the young adult horror literary sub-genre typified by the likes of the Goosebumps phenomenon.
"They were equally forbidden by parents and equally sought out by kids," says Del Toro with devilish glee.
When the prospect of a Scary Stories film adaptation arose a few years back, Del Toro was initially hesitant to get involved but was eventually overcome by his own passion for the material.
"I said, 'I don't want to produce it, but I'll give them my idea for it.' And then I found myself pitching, and as I was pitching, I was like, 'Dammit, I've got to do it!'"
A cinematic adaptation would seemingly point to an anthology film (i.e. multiple, separate shorts), but the new Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark movie instead tells a single linear story in which several teenagers in 1968 find themselves encountering characters and situations from the Scary Stories books.
"Anthology films are very difficult," explains Del Toro. "Because they're not as good as their best story, but they are as bad as their worst story. The idea was: let's make it a single story. I was very inspired by the idea."
It was difficult deciding which of the many Scary Stories to feature in the adaptation.
"We did an American Idol," Del Toro says. "With everybody in the room we would say, 'Nominate your favourite' and we would get 15. Then we went down to 10 and everybody lost a favourite.
"Then I thought [about it] from a story point of view, which of these [stories] fits each character? If the character is worried about appearances, let's join that character with The Red Spot."
The Red Spot is a riff on the oft-told tale about that seemingly innocuous itch on your cheek turning out to be an egg sac filled with baby spiders. Arachnophobes should prepare themselves.
Del Toro produced Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and shares a story credit for the adaptation, but he handed over the directorial reigns to Norwegian film-maker Andre Ovredal (Trollhunter). The film is rated R16 in New Zealand, and while Del Toro wants it to scare the audience, this is far from an all-out horror-fest.
"It's like an 'elbow' type of horror," he says. "It's not life-altering, traumatising, existential dread. I don't walk out of a theatre in shambles [thinking], 'My life is worthless, the world is a hostile dark place.' It's fun. That's the type of horror I thought this could be."
Del Toro's love for the genre is relatively rare among Oscar-winners.
"I think everything you see in movies are things that you don't explore or experience as fully in real life. You can have a violent outlet for your mammalian territorial instincts. There are things movies do that allow that. And horror is very much a genre that goes hand in hand with the times."
He contends the film's 1968 setting infuses the story with a modern resonance.
"I knew the '60s were going to illuminate today. I knew that in The Shape of Water, and I knew it in this one. They are two times that instinctively, I think, are parallel in many ways. I also thought it was important for the kids not to be able to Instagram themselves. Or Google. I needed a certain circumstance in which the oral tales we tell become gossip, become history."
• Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is released in New Zealand cinemas on September 26.