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The Horror cinema of Guillermo del Toro

Writer: Casey Chong


Jessica Chastian, Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska in del Toro's "Crimson Peak".

For years, filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has been exploring different genres in his illustrious career ranging from superheroes ("Blade II", "Hellboy" and "Hellboy II: The Golden Army"), fantasy ("Pan's Labyrinth") to Kaijus ("Pacific Rim"). His upcoming movie, "Crimson Peak", which stars Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain, will be marked as his first horror directorial effort in 14 years since "The Devil's Backbone" back in 2001.

"Crimson Peak" is a gothic romance with an element of ghost story where del Toro honoured the classic haunted-house genre of the yesteryear such as "The Haunting" (1963) and "The Shining" (1980).

To coincide with the release of "Crimson Peak", here's a retrospective of Del Toro's previous efforts as a horror filmmaker.

1. Cronos (1993)


(L-R) Tamara Shanath and Federico Luppi in "Cronos".

Prior to his feature debut in "Cronos", Del Toro spent his early career involved in various professions such as a special makeup artist ("Love Lies", TV's "Hora Marcada") and a storyboard artist ("Morir En El Golfo"). He also made a couple of short films ("Dona Lupe", "Geometria"), before he finally got his big break in 1993. The result was "Cronos", an offbeat yet unique take of the vampire genre unlike any others.

The story involved an elderly antiques dealer named Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi), who was bitten by a beetle-like golden device and subsequently became a bloodthirsty creature granted with immortality.

Despite the familiar vampire theme, "Cronos" was hardly a standard-issue horror picture that relied heavily on jump scares or violence. Even the concept alone was radically different, where the transformation of Jesus Gris as a vampire of sorts possesses no super strength or long teeth whatsoever. Instead, del Toro presented a pessimistic view that being a vampire and having immortality doesn't equal superiority. Winners of multiple Ariel Awards (the Mexican equivalent of the Oscars) including Best Direction and Best Original Story, "Cronos" proved to be a great starting point for then 29-year-old del Toro as a promising young talent.

2. Mimic (1997)


Mira Sorvino in "Mimic".

Within four years after his critically-acclaimed indie debut in "Cronos", del Toro made a quantum leap to Hollywood for the first time ever with "Mimic".

A sci-fi horror movie about a genetically-modified cockroach known as the Judas breed which mutated into a dangerous giant-sized creature, "Mimic" was both creepy and atmospheric. However, the movie failed to recoup back its US$30 million budget and flopped at the North American box office. Even del Toro himself was unhappy with the 1997 cinema release of the movie. Apparently, the studio (Dimension Films/Miramax) chose to re-edit his movie without his consent, which ultimately compromised del Toro's original vision.

It wasn't until the year 2011 that del Toro finally got his wish to release his preferred "director's cut" of the movie. As expected, the new cut of "Mimic" was more aligned to del Toro's signature direction.

3. The Devil's Backbone (2001)


A scene from "The Devil's Backbone".

After a bad studio experience with the Miramax bosses in "Mimic", del Toro retracted back to his indie roots and made a Spanish-language ghost story four years later with "The Devil's Backbone".

Originally known in the Spanish title as "El Espinazo Del Diablo", this independently-produced horror movie (courtesy from acclaimed Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar) centered on a boy named (Fernando Tielve) who discovers the school-cum-orphanage is haunted during the Spanish Civil War era.

Guillermo del Toro often cited "The Devil's Backbone" as one of his favourite and most personal movies to date. Even the movie itself was almost universally praised by critics for del Toro's unique blend of slow-burn brooding horror with potent political undertones.

4. Mama (2013)


One of the dramatic moments in "Mama".

Although del Toro only served as an executive producer in "Mama", he was still involved in certain capacity such as putting his trademark stamp of supernatural elements and a moody visual palette. In fact, del Toro was also the one who helped nurture his protégé, Andres Muschietti to make his feature directorial debut.

Based on Andres and Barbara Muschietti's 2008 short film of the same name, "Mama" centers on the two little girls – Victoria (Morgan McGarry and Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Maya & Sierra Dawe and Isabelle Nelisse) – who were both left in an old forest cabin, while nurtured by an unknown female protector of sorts known as "Mama". The "Mama" eventually follows them home when their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his Goth-rocker girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) gains their custody one day.

The box-office success of "Mama" has helped launch the directing career of Andres Muschietti, which subsequently led to two upcoming projects including the big-screen adaptation of Playstation 2's "Shadow of The Colossus" and the cinematic remake of Stephen King's "It".

"Crimson Peak" opens in cinemas nationwide on 15 October 2015.

Cinema Online, 12 October 2015


Related Movies:
Crimson Peak (15 Oct 2015)
Pacific Rim (11 Jul 2013)
Mama (17 Jan 2013)

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