When asked to write an article about a director and how their work has progressed through the years, it was predictable that I would go with Guillermo Del Toro. If you follow Atomic Geekdom, it’s hard not to find me freaking out over something he has done. For years, he has fascinated and captivated my love for film to the utmost.
My first really recognition of GDT was with the movie Mimic. I am a BIG fan of the short story by Wollheim and was excited on the release. At that time, I was deep in college (art school) and my childhood love for monsters was in full force. I will admit that I was not incredibly happy with the adaptation to the big screen but what I did take away was the style of those bugs. The tone of the movie, the colors and the speed was something that was “different.” I love the idea that a giant cockroach would pierce it’s way through anything. Giant bugs are awesome.
The style of that film (not so much the film itself) had me captivated but at that time it was hard to find other works. Limited both by availability (this was long before the days of Netflix and streaming services), foreign films took effort to find. With determination, I remember the day I finally found a copy of Cronos (THANK YOU SCARECROW VIDEO - SEATTLE). This was my first introduction to Mexican Horror Films as well. I have always been of fan of Swedish, Korean and Japanese but this was new. This was (again) different. It was as if a modern monster movie had a love child with an old Hollywood film. Crazy but trust me, it works. This had my beloved “insect” theme again but was more sci-fi in genre. The plot takes historical mythology and tokens of evil to a new 20th Century level.
I was hooked. The way GDT mixes the science fiction element into terrifying monster horror was something I didn’t know I was looking for but so glad I found. But it hasn’t always been just monsters. The Devil's Backbone is still one of the more beautiful horror movies I have in my collection. You can see the creative direction in that movie and the influence on his newer films like Crimson Peak. They both take the ghost from the story, keeping them horrifically terrifying but adding to them in the most intelligent plot twists.
Totally changing genre’s, Ron Perlman’s Hellboy was unlike any other comic based movies I had seen at the time. Again, although the colors were bright with contrast they appeared dark and alive within the shadows. That goes with visuals as well as character development. Hellboy was a flaming bright red hero (anti-hero?) but was portrayed to show way more levels to the character than normally applied to comics in movies. He wasn’t an all out good guy but you loved him for that. A good example of GDT style I believe can be found in the similarities to Abe Sapien to later loves like Faun in Pan’s Labyrinth.
Making a monster that has become romantically envisioned over the years and taking them back into the vulgar monsters is a trick. Yet, we saw Del Toro transform what we perceive as vampires into the Reapers in Blade 2. That style followed GDT into the newer The Strain television series.
GDT’s use of practical effects and make up is what makes these movies such eye candy. He has consistently leaned more towards the practical effects than with CGI. Take a movie like Pan's Labyrinth. Doug Jone’s make up as The Faun and Pale Man is art in of itself. Again, this movie takes the fantasy genre (as noted above with sci-fi) and mixes it perfectly with horror. Set in a war torn environment (similar theme of The Devil’s Backbone), you are lead through a beautifully depressing story. The love, fear, triumph and defeat of this plot line would not be as impactful if not for the costumes, set design and make up. This movie (IMHO) is true beauty and his greatest masterpiece.
Going back to the use of CGI though, his use of it not like the norm. Take Pacific Rim as an example. It was like nothing I had seen before. The story mastered a familiar setting (being somewhat similar to Godzilla) but in a new futuristic way. This help lead our eyes to believe what we are seeing as real. It did so by taking a Lovecraft-ian look at monsters versus robots. And…it was MONSTERS VS ROBOTS!!!!! Awesome don’t cover how cool that idea is.
His love for the horror monster genre is present in pretty much all that he does. His exhibit “At Home with Monsters” let us walk through a portion of his geek collection. The exhibit contained Frankenstein’s skull, Nosferatu’s marionette, and a full wax replica of Edgar Alan Poe. I walked through the show and could easily see resemblances of what had influenced his work, his art.
Actors have also contributed to the style that is Del Toro with repeat performances. Ron Perlman started in Cronos but can also be found in Blade 2, Hellboy, Pacific Rim and the voice of Bular in the Trollhunters animated series. The amazing Argentinean actor Federico Luppi not only is in Cronos but The Devil’s Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth. Charlie Hunnam can be found in both Pacific Rim and Crimson Peak. Doug Jones is credited for Hellboy, Pans Labyrinth, The Strain and Crimson Peak. Even Norman Reedus has made multiple appearances in his films (Blade 2 and Mimic). There is a consistency with GDT films that is intelligent and purposeful. Everything belongs. I am very excited to see his take on the upcoming Pinocchio movie and I constantly pray for Hellboy 3. Say what you want but Hellboy is not Hellboy without GDT and Ron Perlman.
But next time you are watching a Del Toro film, pay attention to the colors. How faces contrast with the background, how even in beauty there is something lurking in the shadows. It is his signature. Much like you can tell a Picasso from a Monet. Guillermo Del Toro has a style that has held up throughout his career.