Guillermo del Toro, who celebrated his 51st birthday just last week (on October 9th, to be exact) and who will no doubt have even more reason to celebrate this week with the release of Crimson Peak, seems to be more active and more revered than ever before. Though his career spans more than two decades, it seems that many are just now catching on to del Toro’s fanboy brand of genius. Or, perhaps it is that he is finally getting to apply his impeccable imagination to more and more projects that are actually worthy of his mad, brilliant vision. Either way, fans new and old of the Mexican-born filmmaker can rejoice in del Toro’s success–the more respect he gains within the industry and from moviegoers alike, the more opportunities open up for del Toro to create works that truly showcase his unbelievable passion and talent for all things monstrous, creepy, and fantastical, which in turn, gain him that respect.
But what makes del Toro such a God among fanboys and fangirls in the first place, besides the fact that he is one of us? In large part, it is his enthusiasm–for his own work and for the myths, movies, comics and conventions that have influenced that work–and the fact that his excitement and fascination are palpable with every choice he makes as a writer and director. He is also one of the most imaginative, visionary filmmakers around, especially when it comes to creature features. He is the auteur of modern monster movies, with many of his creatures exhibiting similar idiosyncrasies and appearances no matter what the overall tone or genre is in which they appear; del Toro’s works are actually quite varied, but his creatures all bear a certain signature quality that only del Toro himself can provide.
If you’ve seen Pan’s Labyrinth (2007), you’re familiar with Pale Man, a terrifying entity whose eyes are on the palms of his slender, eerily graceful hands. The makeup used to create the look and movements of this horrifying spectre are similar to effects we’ve seen on other del Toro creations–del Toro’s vampires (or, Strigoi) from The Strain (FX’s television adaptation of the novels del Toro wrote with Chuck Hogan), have the same sickly, off-white pallor. Perhaps even more deliberate and overt, they have very similar mouths, replete with blood-sucking appendages, as the vampires in Blade II (2002) one of del Toro’s earliest Hollywood endeavors. And another note on The Strain–The Master, aptly named as he is in control of all the reptilian bloodsuckers that overtake New York City, has hands with the same long, strange fingers that move in a disturbingly delicate manner as those of the Pale Man. And those creepy digits make an appearance also in Crimson Peak judging from trailers alone. Even Abe Sapien in del Toro’s stellar Hellboy (2004) adaptation moves with the same ballerina-like rhythm. When you realize that this is not necessarily a given from the comic books but that it does truly bring that character to life in both the most creative and most accurate way possible, you start to truly connect the dots apparent in these small but significant details.
And yet, del Toro is not merely a master monster-maker with a distinct style. His talents extend well beyond this ability to create elaborate, innovative creatures that seem to all speak the same exquisitely crafted visual language. What is more impressive is the way he brings those creatures to life in such a variety of projects, in terms of the different kinds of stories he tells and variety of genres he dabbles in. He’s created dark, quiet fairy tales with his Spanish-language indies such as the aforementioned Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone (2001), which both, to differing degrees and in different ways, capture all of the fear, vulnerability and desire for purpose that come with childhood. And in using the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, both films effortlessly ground fantasy in history and humanity, and the results are heartbreaking.
Then you have del Toro’s Hollywood epics like Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), which if nothing else demonstrate just how perfect del Toro was to direct a Hellboy adaptation, given that the horror comic book series from Mike Mignola is all about creepy monsters, anti-heroes and dark humor. Or an even better example would be Pacific Rim (2013). The big, loud summer popcorn movie was del Toro’s ode to the cheesy, Japanese Kaiju films of his youth, and featured his take on the giant sea monsters, by pitting them against giant robots of course. Pacific Rim may be less nuanced than some of his other films, but that may be simply because del Toro understood on a fundamental level that Kaiju films don’t have to be nuanced– it feels like a fanboy having fun, and that translates to fun for the audience.
That same fanboy, though, has earlier works like Cronos (1993) and Spanish-language ghost story The Devil’s Backbone (2001) that have been released as part of the Criterion Collection. If you look at this wide array of works that vary in tone, genre, budget, and focus, you’ll find that del Toro has spent his entire career trying to strike a balance, or at least, that is how his well-rounded, eclectic filmography comes across at times. It’s as if he were trying to gradually but fervently address all the facets of horror, fantasy, and science-fiction that appeal to him and all the different kinds of creatures that have always scared and enthralled him. It would be limiting then, especially knowing his talent and variety of interests, to expect that he only experiments with or excels in one or a few. As a fanboy himself, del Toro is living the dream and we’re living it vicariously through him. He indulges in some very different sensibilities, including but not limited to B-Movie, Art House, and Hollywood traditions, and has thereby curated a resume that is as varied as any genre fan’s own tastes. The fact that he does it all extremely well and makes all of his projects into visually exciting, entertaining, and often emotional viewing experiences is why he is one of the best filmmakers working today in any genre, and it seems as though he’s only just getting started.