For the love of Guillermo del Toro

As Crimson Peak enters its second weekend, James argues that the work of Guillermo del Toro is well worth backing.

Give Guillermo del Toro all your money.

That’s what I’m saying to movie moguls and film studios and that’s one of the ultimate messages of this article (the other is ‘Guillermo del Toro is brilliant’). I’m going to say ‘Give Guillermo del Toro all your money’ over and over and over again. If you’re eyeballing this piece and thinking it’s one to mark up as ‘Too Long; Didn’t Read’ (‘TL:DR’), by all means stop reading. Just take the point with you and, please, go forth and spend a bit of money on a ticket for Crimson Peak. Not enough people have so far.

If you haven’t already left and are sticking around, you’re going to find me throwing lots of nice words and praise at the great Guillermo del Toro. Del Toro deserves lots of nice words and I hope to justify my pleas. Give Guillermo del Toro all your money.

Why should he be given a lot of money? Because if del Toro is given lots of money he will, like an enlightened alchemist, turn that base matter into magical things. Those magical things will be mostly – though probably not exclusively – films and those films will be crammed with ideas, visual delights, cracking characters that you care for and a whole lot of heart.

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“Money makes the world go round” according to the Emcee in Cabaret and the common mode of thought in this society and culture. I always thought that it was the Sun’s gravity and complex astrophysical mechanics that made the world go round but, hey, maybe I’m wrong. What I do know is that money makes the movie world go round and that a lot of what occurs in the film industry depends on commercial factors.

This is why I say ‘Give Guillermo del Toro all your money’, mainly directing it at the powers that be in the industry, with a slight nod towards mass audiences and the privileged few who are so stupendously rich that they could potentially become generous patrons.

I’m prompted to say ‘Give Guillermo del Toro all your money’ at this opportune time as Crimson Peak rolls into theatres the world over. Crimson Peak – co-written by and directed by the Mexican auteur – will, inevitably, remind the world just how special del Toro is. 

For a start, from the outside it appears as the type of romantic Gothic horror tale that we rarely see in cinemas anymore these days. I’m excited by the possibilities of vivid technicolour, modern sound design and the incredible production design and period costume involved in the enterprise. Del Toro’s lovingly constructed haunted house is also filled with such high-class acting talent as Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston.

To look at the striking features of all those people is to realise that they were born out of time and belong in the 19th century, so what del Toro has done is something so right and cast perfectly for what may be his ‘perfect project’. Of all working filmmakers, I don’t believe that anyone is as passionate and knowledgeable about horror cinema as the great geek from Guadalajara.

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It’s true that Del Toro has made plenty of horror pictures, but this is the first time he’s crafted a traditional haunted house story. Said house is the eerie 19th century English mansion of Allerdale Hall and the director and his collaborators went all out to build his palace of nightmares. Unsurprisingly for del Toro, it’s packed with imagination, filled with fantastical flourishes and overwhelming in the sheer amount of intricate detail.

Aside from the setting, we have director and cast namedropping The Haunting (the black-and-white original), The Innocents, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? and The Shining as inspirational points of reference. Also note an “electrified” Stephen King’s early screening review that Crimson Peak is “gorgeous and fucking terrifying”.

In total, this film looms large as one of the most exciting horror releases in recent memory and the reasons all ultimately spiral back to the mind behind it all. What del Toro does is fabricate fantastical love letters to his enthusiasms, but his works aren’t merely derivative tributes – the auteur cleverly plays with genre and gleefully pushes his own personality into every project, remaking what he adores in his own image.

I think it’s a good moment to say ‘Give Guillermo del Toro all your money’ again. Yes, indeed. For more highly creative re-workings of various fairytale, fantasy and horror traditions produced by someone with genuine love for it, ‘Give Guillermo del Toro all your money’.

His previous feature before Crimson Peak was Pacific Rim, and that also was a labour of love that merged several of the director’s greatest passions. Those particular passions were the kaiju and mecha traditions of Japanese film and TV and he combined the genres together with the eye and enthusiasm of a child. He made the tone joyously light though touched with real human feeling and deep subtextual themes (coping with grief and loss, humanitarianism and human unity, advanced empathy, feminism).

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It’s a deliriously fun flick about humans controlling giant robots to fight giant alien monsters from another dimension that are repeatedly attempting to invade Earth. Even if it was bad, Pacific Rim would still be good, but in del Toro’s hands the sweet concept became the most beautiful monster movie of the modern age. It has big boss battles, big heart and big brains. It deserves big love, and so does its larger-than-life creator.

Given the opportunity, Guillermo del Toro will make these unique, personal movies combining the geektastic with the emotionally real on a grand scale. Yes, big studios looking for distinctive blockbuster properties, this is why you should ‘Give Guillermo del Toro all your money’.

Crimson Peak and Pacific Rim aren’t oddities in the man’s oeuvre though – it’s the same with every auteurial work and the creator has an array of made and unmade projects across diverse media (he’s also written books, directed and produced for TV and worked on several unreleased videogames as well as done good work as an executive producer and creative consultant on others’ movies). Focusing on his cinematic output, I don’ think you’d be able to pick out any of films that del Toro directed himself and find cynicism, a lack of soul and an absence of personality, creative gusto and inspiration.

Allow me a moment to rapidly run through the highlights of the filmography to hail our hero and further strengthen the ‘Give Guillermo del Toro all your money’ cause. Adapting graphic novels to screen is a tricky business, but del Toro handled Mike Mignola’s Hellboy in style in two highly entertaining movies.

The soul of the sacred source material was successfully captured and retained while del Toro imprinted his own stamp on proceedings. The result – a slick quasi-superhero blockbuster brace fleshed out with humour and character drama, coloured richly in horror and fairytale flourishes.

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Even when del Toro has been engaged in Hollywood work under studio pressure – as was the case for Mimic – his persona still pushes through the limits and his directorial trademarks are evident. Away from American mainstream production and turning to his Spanish language works, we find that nothing is different when the budgets are lower, the acting cast less starry and the subtitles turned on.

Cronos is a charming creative spin on vampire legend set in Mexico, fusing antique alchemy with bloodsucker gore and much meditation on anxieties about ageing and mortality. The Devil’s Backbone is both a ghost story, a celebration of childhood innocence and a powerful portrait of what it is to live in fear in the midst of war. Also set during the Spanish Civil War and overshadowed by the brutality of fascism is del Toro’s masterpiece – El laberinto del fauno (or Pan’s Labyrinth to give it its slightly misguided English title).

It’s possibly the greatest fairytale film ever created. Shockingly violent and disturbing yet simultaneously so sweet, the horrors of real life are paralleled by the alternating wonder and darkness of the fantastical underworld. It’s a rich and wondrous experience – visually astounding, sophisticated, soulful and affecting.

So it is with all del Toro’s films whether they be big or small in scale and categorisable as mainstream or ‘world cinema’. Acknowledging the hit-rate and uniform excellence, I think it’s high time I threw another ‘Give Guillermo del Toro all your money’ out there. It seems obvious – support this artist’s visions and the return will be amazing films, happy audiences and subsequent box office success.

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But yet, this especial creative genius doesn’t get it all his own way and has a lengthy history of axed projects and frustrating spells in development hell. It boggles the mind to think of all that del Toro could have produced while he was caught up in the pre-production hassles of The Hobbit prequel trilogy (a film series he would never direct and which he would hand back to the lord of The Lord Of The Rings, Peter Jackson).

Of all the shelved and stuck projects (including Frankenstein, a stop-motion Pinocchio, Silent Hill and Justice League Dark), knowing that we may never get to see del Toro’s adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madness stands as the biggest tragedy. Several studios have declined to back what would be an R-rated cosmic horror epic with a panglobal period setting, no love story and a no happy ending.

Del Toro has done a superb job pushing the cult into the mainstream, but the commercial powers that be are conservative and risk-averse. Hence, Universal Studio’s recent ditching of Pacific Rim 2 from its scheduled slate, with Pitch Perfect 3 taking its April 2017 release date. The latter has a lower budget and is a safer bet at the box office. Therefore, cinemagoers will certainly be seeing another cynical cash-in sequel (probably with bonus casual racism) while a genuinely earnest and creatively rich franchise is curtailed (or, at least, put on hiatus).

This piques my dander. I have nice mental images of Hellboy backed by legions of terrifying fairies, the Pale Man and a couple of Jaegers, all descending on Hollywood to demand satisfaction. I can’t make that happen in reality (I have no budget or influence) so I’ll sigh plaintively again, ‘Give Guillermo del Toro all your money’.

If del Toro were better supported we could possibly have all these Pacific Rim spin-offs, perhaps Hellboy 3 and a whole array of other astounding works that have stewed over the years in this inspired artist’s brain. For instance, for a long time he’s apparently wished to make a movie about a Mexican masked wrestler who discovers that all politicians are vampires.

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We can be sure that there’s plenty more where that came from, and that the world will be a much better place if these wild fantasies can be turned into screen reality. Del Toro is a workaholic who’s never short of ideas and his track record speaks for itself. I’d urge studios to trust in the auteur and put up funds for the dark fantasies and fabulous concoctions he cares deeply about. (Again, ‘Give Guillermo del Toro all your money’.)

As a final thought, it’s also worth noting that del Toro has recently signed up to Twitter and he’s taken to it in fine style. He is now acting as an altruistic social media service offering up horror literature recommendations, sharing his favourite artworks and defending underappreciated movies – ‘Righting a Wrong’ – every single day.

Guillermo del Toro is a hero – a lovely human being, an ever-loving impassioned geek and a genius creator. He is the type of person that the film industry needs and who should be encouraged and given free-reign to indulge himself and do whatever he pleases. Yes ‘Give Guillermo del Toro all your money’.

I’m now going to go and see Crimson Peak. I’d advise that you do the same.

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