Reel Beach: It: Chapter Two, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and The Handmaid’s Tale putting the ‘horror’ into Toronto productions

Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) at Balmy Beach in The Handmaid's Tale.


What scares you?

Horror films are popular these days, but zombies and monsters and demon clowns don’t do much for me. What is really frightening is the oppressive society of a dystopian future in the TV series The Handmaid’s Tale from the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood.

Fans of the horror genre will get an early trick or treat with films shot in Toronto: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark comes from the Oscar-winning producer and director of The Shape of Water (2017), Guillermo del Toro. The Leslieville resident loves making creature features.

Del Toro produced this film adaptation of Alvin Schwartz’s classic 1981 children’s book, a creepy collection of spooky tales from old folklore.

In his introduction Schwartz wrote, “Telling scary stories is something people have done for thousands of years, for most of us like being scared in that way. Since there isn’t any danger, we think it is fun.”

A group of young teens try to solve the mystery of sudden and macabre deaths in a small town. If that premise sounds familiar, you may know the horror film with the biggest box-office of all time, It (2017), from the feverish mind of Stephen King.

Send in the Clown…Again

The most anticipated horror movie of 2019 is It: Chapter Two out in theatres on Sept. 6.

Now, 27 years have passed and the Losers Club is drawn back to Derry, Maine to fight the evil clown, Pennywise, once more. Jessica Chastain and Bill Hader are among the adult actors who braved harrowing scenes while filming in Port Hope, and in Toronto on Pharmacy Avenue and the Rouge Valley.

The Real Horror Tale

Sometimes we take for granted the natural beauty around us. The third season of The Handmaid’s Tale shows hauntingly lovely images including an aerial shot swooping down on a seemingly secluded beach. It was our very own lakefront where the Boardwalk ends just east of the Balmy Beach Club.

The production set up a large crane and bright lights at the foot of Munro Park Avenue, not far from St. Aidan’s Church which is the filming location for the Red Centre where handmaids are indoctrinated.

Fire and water are symbols throughout the series. Serena Joy, played by Yvonne Strahovski, is recuperating at her mother’s beautiful home right on the beach. In distress she wades into the lake hoping for redemption, but the water won’t wash away her sins. Scenes are even more disturbing when the cinematography is so dark and beautiful, the stark images of a terrifying reality for the women of Gilead who have all their freedoms taken away.

It’s difficult to watch, but the fear is more lasting than the screams for things that go bump in the night.

A Cautionary Tale

Margaret Atwood’s handmaids have become iconic symbols of the women’s rights movement and resistance to oppression.

The series has been renewed for a fourth season and on Sept. 10 Atwood will publish her sequel, The Testaments, already nominated for a Booker Prize.

“If you can only be tall because somebody’s on their knees, then you have a serious problem”
— Author Toni Morrison (1931-2019)

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