Nerd's Guide To Horror: Guillmero Del Toro

del Toro

“...to all the monsters in my nursery: May you never leave me alone.” 
― Guillermo del ToroThe Strain

Though it is a rare occurrence, there are instances where Jeremy and I come across a horror film that I have seen that he has not; the remake of Thirteen Ghosts (2001), Gremlins (1984), They (2002), etc. However, there is no debate on who is more well versed in the horror genre in this coven. After almost a year and a half of dating (and becoming exposed even further to the horror genre), it didn't take long for me to discover that my favorite sub-genre of horror is fantasy and supernatural. I also discovered something a bit odd while dipping my toes in the horror community pool: I came across a few people who are huge fans of horror films, but not of superhero or science fiction films. On the flip side of this, there are quite a few nerds *cough* me *cough* who shy'd away from the bulk of horror films released in the past in favor of every Marvel movie that has been produced. After discovering my own preference and taste for horror, I decided to start a multi-part blog post series spanning over a few months to help bridge that gap between horror and superhero, and that bridge, for me, is science fiction and fantasy. And who better to initiate orchestrating that bridge than my personal favorite director: Guillermo del Toro. 

What I have created is a short guide to get from one end of the spectrum to the other, via del Toro films-completely spoiler-free, and let me tell you, that was not an easy feat (though I did gush a bit). All opinions are my own. 


Hellboy (2004) & Hellboy II (2008)
Technically a fantasy/science fiction film, but also a comic since 1993. These were the very first del Toro films that I had ever seen, movies that were released among other popular superhero movies of the early aughts; Spider-man 1-3, X-men, The Incredible Hulk, Ghost Rider, Constantine, etc. Many of these films had a common theme: they were supernatural superhero films. The trend of this time period was to create dark fantasies (perhaps influenced by Tim Burton's Batman and Batman Returns) within the superhero genre.

Synopsis: At the end of WWII, the Nazis attempt to open a portal to a paranormal dimension in order to defeat the Allies, but are only able to summon a baby demon who is recused by Allied forces and dubbed "Hellboy". Sixty years later, Hellboy serves as an agent in the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, where he, aided by Abe Sapien, a merman with psychic powers, and Liz Sherman, a woman psychic pyrokinessis, protects America against dark forces.

I chose these movies to start because they are dark, comical, and a perfect introduction to the monsters del Toro loves to create. Although the first Hellboy spends some time educating the audience of its characters, the real beauty of del Toros creations show up in Hellboy II with Mr. Wink, and my personal favorite; The Angel of Death. These characters alone are enough to peak the interest of many horror fans, without straying too far from the superhero genre.


Pacific Rim (2013) & Pacific Rim Uprising (2018)
It was honestly a hard choice to pick between these films and Hellboy to recommend starting with, because I feel like both franchises are aimed at a very large audience, especially Uprising. In the most broadest description, what we have here is Godzilla meets Transformers. These films have a beautifully diverse cast, a lot of action, great scores, and are for the most part, extremely fast-paced.

Synopsis: Long ago, legions of monstrous creatures called Kaiju arouse from the sea, bringing with them all-consuming war. To fight the Kaiju, mankind developed giant robots called, Jaegers, designed to be piloted by two humans locked together in a neutral bridge. However, even Jaegers are not enough to defeat the Kaiju, and humanity is on the verge of defeat. Mankind's last hope now lies with a washed-up ex pilot, an untest trainee an old, obsolete Jaeger.

Though the story isn't as dark, and the monsters (Kaiju) are not as eloquently designed as those in Hellboy and the other films I will discuss in this post, Pacific Rim introduces the viewer to a genre that del Tor exceeds in: science fiction.  Human beings are ants compared to the Kaiju, and one would think size, and brute strength alone would be the greatest obstacle of this film. But it becomes quickly apparent that the pilots operating the Jaegers, the only plausible way to defeat the Kaiju, have to be drift compatible (that is, having a personal connection and an ability to work in sync with each other) in order to operate the Jaegers. It's this emotional toil experienced by the pilots that I found particularly riveting. It leaves the audience in awe, as well as pleasing the science fiction audience's taste for giant monsters. Which brings us to our next film, Mimic.


Mimic (1997)
Mimic is different from the rest of del Toro's films due to the many struggles he faced during production; his father was kidnapped, not to mention the script was changed several times. Nonetheless, del Toro refers to Mimic as his "Imperfect child" in the audio commentary of the director's cut. As for me, I think of it as the perfect blend of science fiction and horror.

Synopsis: When a cockroach-spread plague threatens to decimate the child population of New York City, an evolution biologist and her research associates rug up a species of "Judas" bugs and introduce them to the environment, where they will mimic the diseased roaches infiltrate their grubby habitats. So far so good...until the bugs  keep on evolving and and learn to mimic their next prey -- humans.

Many of del Toro's film leave the audience in the dark over the workings of his monsters, they are more or less a mystery. However, with this story's protagonist not only being a comple bug expert, she is also the very same biologist who created the giant cockroaches, thus giving the audeince complete knowledge of the monsters. Nevertheless, twenty years after it's release and those fuckers are still pretty damn creepy. There is a small, but decent build-up and backstory, and plenty of suspense due to a few unexpected death scenes. This would also be the first film on this list to incorporate jump scares, aka a hallmark of many a horror film.


Blade 1 (1998), Blade 2 (2002) Blade Trinity (2004)
I originally wasn't sure if I was going to include these films because del Toro actually only directed  Blade 2, however, after watching them I absolutely had to. If push-comes-to-shove and you want to follow this guide and only watch the ones he directed, Blade 2 can be watched on it's own. Being a comic about vampires, these films manage to please both comic book lovers, as well as horror fiends. Also, its pretty fucking badass, not to mention smack-dab in the middle of my favorite time period for films in general: the nineties/early 2000's. The style, and cast of this movie was pure nostalgia for me. Also, I now need to add Blade to my funko list (its stupid cute, look at the teeth!)

Synopsis: Blade forms an uneasy alliance with the vampire council in order to combat the Reapers, who are feeding on vampires.

If had to choose one movie alone to try to convince someone who might not necessarily be keen on horror, a film that might give them a push in that direction, this one would be it. The vampires are nothing special really, Blade is really the only one worth noting, and that is because he is the star of the show, being a vampire-human hybrid and all, but the Reapers? Completely terrifying for a comic book movie. They are scarier (in my opinion) than most of the vampires I have seen in that sub-genre, yet they are skillfully detailed, and very much del Toro.


The Shape of Water (2017)
Taking a bit of a side-step here, as this film is a fantasy-drama unlike the rest of del-Toro’s films, I included Shape of Water in this list for two reasons: one, to have a bit of a breather before delving into his darker films, and two: it is a great introduction to his take on romance. Not that his films before this had been lacking any, it's just that romance hasn't been a large focus till now. It isn’t the focal point in this movie, but romance is of great importance in this film and it works as a perfect companion piece to his gothic romance: Crimson Peak.

Synopsis: At a top research facility in the 1960’s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held captive.

The creature in this film isn’t as intense as the monsters in the previous films mentioned, however, he was inspired by the classic horror monster The Creature from the Black Lagoon (my personal favorite classic horror monster), and his design is beautiful. Which just rectifies the theme of this movie where love knows no bounds, and that monsters are real, but not in the way you’d assume.


Crimson Peak (2015)
Crimson Peak is a beautiful, small step into horror because of its gothic romance.  Even one of my ultimate favorite actors, Tom Hiddleston with his giant puppy eyes can’t turn the viewer away from feeling  as though there is something completely off about his character, charming as he may be, before it’s even revealed. What makes this dark, twisted movie a perfect borderline horror film isn’t the jarring ghosts that are peppered throughout the film, but that underlying sense of dread and unease that leaves the audience completely unsettled, albeit a bit shaken.

Synopsis: In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds – and remembers.

This movie begins at the end, much like a lot of del Toro's movies, which indicates that the actual plot isn’t necessarily the focus as is the case with most horror films. We know very little, at least initially, about the ghosts, or what exactly happened at Crimson Peak (where the bulk of the story takes place). Instead, we are given more knowledge than the characters, knowing that whatever happens to them will ultimately leave them in utter chaos. And for horror fans, the journey there is loaded with suspense and anxiety-not to mention a few well-placed jump scares.  

The ghosts, as well as the costume and set design are completely exquisite. Del Toro pays very close attention to detail in this film, and the results are fantastic.  A perfect transition of the mind into the next film (and my personal favorite) on this list; Pan’s Labyrinth.


Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
This dark fantasy drama is structured so beautifully, that at first it does not seem on the cusp of the horror genre at all. A courageous young girl, Ofelia, and her awe-striking fawn are magnificently placed in a plot of depression and ugliness.  And it isn’t exactly clear whether the fantasies she is seeing are an escape from reality, or real locations. But even a beautiful kingdom located in a magnificent labyrinth, a place only she experiences, has its terrors, The Pale Man being one of the most frightening monsters I have come across in the horror genre.

Synopsis: in the Falangist Spain of 1944, the bookish young stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer escapes into an eerie but captivating fantasy world.

What makes this film terrifying is we as an audience become aware that Ofelia can no longer remain in the horrors of her own reality, and although the dark world she is so desperate to be a part of has its own demons, the unknown is better than what little options she has left. Ofelia knows that her life is worth so much more than what those around her are desperately trying to make her believe, and she not only fights for herself, but her mother, and unborn brother as well so that they might all have a chance to exist in the fantasy world. 


Cronos (1993)
An ancient mechanism fueled by a living insect attaching itself to a human being, offering immortality to its user? I would like to consider this film horror, however it also can be filed under the thriller/drama genre. Either way, it has some great horror moments, as well as a bit of a throw-back to Hellboy with the inclusion of Ron Perlman being a bit of a scene-stealer. This film would also add in quite a bit more violence, gore, and even aspects of the body horror genre with the main characters physical deterioration than any film previously mentioned. 

Synopsis: A mysterious device designed to provide its owner with eternal life resurfaces after four hundred years, leaving a trail of destruction in its path.

This was Guillmero del Toro’s first feature film, as well as the first collaboration with actor Ron Perlman and it becomes obvious very quickly that they have amazing chemistry. The results of the ancient device are almost similar to traits of vampire lore, which sums up del Toro’s love of dark fantasy theme. If Pans Labyrinth can be debated on whether it's a horror film or not, it's much harder to discount Cronos as straight horror.



The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
All of the films in this post have great influences and characteristics of horror, however, The Devil’s Backbone is the only one actually categorized in the horror genre without debate. I hadn’t seen this movie until we decided to tribute March to del Toro, and I now have to re-rank my favorite films of his because this one is incredible. The film is similar to Pan’s Labyrinth in many aspects; it’s a time-piece, it begins close to the end, and it’s intricately dark and creepy, as well as heart-wrenching. Unlike Pan’s Labyrinth, there is no dark fantasy world for these children to escape to. The monsters, and ghosts in this film are very real.

Synopsis: After Carlos – a 12-year-old whose father has died in the Spanish Civil War – arrives at an ominous boy’s orphanage, he discovers the school is haunted and has many dark secrets that he must uncover.

Though many of the previous films I have listed have overlapped into horror, this one succeeds in being a true horror film with its creepy ghost and plentiful amount of jump-scares. The perfect film to finally bridge the gap from superhero movies, to horror.

These films are a beautifully horrifying in their own way, and now that I have seen them all, I really, really would like to discuss some of them in detail! So, please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments, or on Facebook, or even send us an email! 

If you made it through this list and are hungry for more, I suggest you check out some of the films that Guillmero del Toro had a hand in the script for, (as well as presented) like Darkness Falls, or The Orphanage. Also, we recommend checking out A Frame Apart, as they also celebrated all things del Toro in March, and have some really in-depth episodes on their podcasts that are simply fantastic. 

That's all for today, we will have another post with all of our upcoming events for April on Sunday. So in the meantime, keep it creepy!

-Sara

Comments

  1. Excellent retrospective, Sara! I got hooked on del Toro from his first film and made a point to see all of his movies after that. You describe them perfectly.

    And you make us laugh with your colorful language ("his giant puppy eyes").

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