As far back as the days of the sirens in Homer’s The Odyssey, horror fans have come to love and hate monsters. We gawk in awe at their brutish ways but love when their stories fill our imaginations. With seemingly wicked nature, grotesque physical features, and violent demeanor harboring death and destruction to those who cross them, Thehouseofmonsters.com states that “The word monster is derived from the Latin word “monstrum”, which in [literal] terms means omen.” While most of us would be fighting with flight or fright, legendary director and creative mind Guillermo del Toro runs towards them — beckoning with open arms.
Born in Guadalajara Jalisco, México, del Toro discovered his love for monsters at a young age. His fascination with creatures and fantasy were more than worrisome to his strict Catholic grandmother, the woman who raised him. His grandmother not once, but twice, attempted to exorcise del Toro to rid him of his dark imaginings. Luckily for us, this did not sway the young artist. At only eight years old, he began experimenting with his father’s camera, creating short films all of which featured various monsters, of course. He himself has claimed to have a “lifelong fascination with monsters,” but it is not without some fear on his behalf that he continues to forge his unique relationship with monsters and his own creativity. “When I was a kid, it’s not a metaphor, but I actually soiled myself when I was a child watching Night Gallery (1969). There was an episode called The Doll. I remember when the doll smiles, I literally lost control of my sphincter,” del Toro stated during an interview when asked what was the scariest thing he’s ever seen on a television show.
The excitement that often comes with fear turned into a blossoming career. During his early teens, he grew more interested in film-making and would soon enter the industry by becoming a makeup artist, learning the ropes from renowned artist Dick Smith (The Exorcist (1973)) while still working on his own short films in his spare time. He would continue as a makeup artist for 10 years until his big break in 1993 with Cronos, a Mexican vampire horror flick which he directed. The film would win the International Critics Week prize at Cannes and stir talks of an academy award. This led to his move to Hollywood and his first Hollywood film, Mimic in 1997.
The 2000s skyrocketed del Toro further into the horror sphere with Hellboy in 2004 and his hugely successful international film, Pan’s Labyrinth in 2006. Set between the fine lines of the historical and fantastical, moviegoers witnessed a new dark realm with monsters luring the vulnerable. This masterpiece of horror cinema perfectly showcased the director’s ability to bridge his vision with a real world view. He once stated, “History is ultimately an inventory of ghosts.”
Pan’s Labyrinth epitomized his leniency towards romantic cinematography, filling each frame with rich colors and mood (an example is Crimson Peak). He became one of a few directors in horror who can dramatize without shock and gore, unafraid of inviting the emotions so often ignored in horror films. “That’s what I love about fairy tales; they tell the truth, not organized politics, religion or economics. Those things destroy the soul. That is the idea from Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and it surfaces in Hellboy (2004) and, to some degree, in all my films.”
Not only has del Toro spent years working behind the scenes in the industry to ultimately become a prolific director, he has written a novel series, screenplays, and has produced numerous projects. On top of contributing to the film and literary world, he has also shown interest in creating video games, claiming the medium to be the modern-day comic books of this generation. Due to his creative nature, we can’t help but hope for a game with his credit in the near future. What we do have to look forward to is a plethora of horror and fantasy coming in 2017 and beyond. Films including a new adaptation of Slaughterhouse-Five, Drood (based on the Dan Simmons novel), At the Mountains of Madness, The Shape of Water, a sequel to Pacific Rim and, most recently, his television series Trollhunters (available on Netflix) keeps del Toro more than busy, and his fans couldn’t be happier.
To top off this already impressive list is the possibility of a Frankenstein remake. Though talks are currently in limbo, fans hope that this project gets to see the light of production. For del Toro, we can only imagine that Frankenstein would be the trophy of the director’s career. He once stated that he has a “Frankenstein fetish to a degree that is unhealthy,” and that it is “the most important book of my life, so you know if I get to it, whenever I get to it, it will be the right way.”
The horror genre is not just a means to an end for Guillermo del Toro. As witnessed throughout his life and career, and as seen and felt through his books and movies, he is a true lover of monsters. “As a kid, I dreamed of having a house with secret passages and a room where it rained 24 hours a day. The point of being over 40 is to fulfill the desires you’ve been harboring since you were 7,” del Toro said in regards to his second home, a kind of museum filled to the brim with horror and fantasy memorabilia. He has done an amazing job in capturing the monsters of our nightmares, whether by writing them onto paper or solidifying them onto film. Luckily for us, del Toro shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Visit the Guillermo del Toro exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). To learn more, visit their website.
-By Christina Persaud