Many words have been tossed around to describe Guillermo Del Toro’s work such as “creepy” or “bizarre”, but we prefer “visionary.” He’s established himself as a master of horror just by doing what he loves best: dabbling in the macabre. You can spot Del Toro’s influence from a mile away from his gothic sets to his hair-raising monster designs. He mesmerizes audiences through fantastical elements, religious imagery, and complex characterization.
With The Shape of Water hitting limited theaters this weekend (nationwide on December 8), let’s take a look at the horror master’s filmography so far.
Considered to be Del Toro’s worst film, Mimic could have been something great. Originally envisioned to be a half hour segment of a horror anthology, Mimic became a victim of studio interference. What was supposed to be a film about Darwinian and divine intervention became a generic cheap-scare horror film thanks to Harvey Weinstein’s continuous intervening. Also, due to Delo Toro’s personal issues (his father was being held for ransom during shooting), there are major tonal shifts throughout the film.
That being said, Mimic still sports Del Toro’s signature imagery such as wretched creature designs and an alien lair that looks like something straight out of a David Cronenberg film.
8. Blade II
Blade II remains the only film that Del Toro has directed and not written. Adapting a script written by David Goyer, Blade II is martial arts cinema mixed with horrific imagery. Blade II’s storyline was mainly written to focus on action sequences, which gave Del Toro plenty of wiggle room to make gory, appalling creatures. The Reapers, vampire-like beings who seem to be a mixture of multiple movie monsters, rival with Pan’s Labyrinth Pale Man for the creature most likely to haunt your dreams forever. To accompany the terrifying monsters is a side of gloriously over the top-violence (like watching a vampire get explicitly split in half). It makes up for the weak story and gratuitous side plots.
Del Toro made his mark on international waters with the unconventional vampire film, Cronos. Veteran actor Federico Luppi plays an antique art dealer who comes across a 450-year-old device that makes his youth and health return in abundance. The only catch is that he now develops a thirst for blood.
Cronos serves as a foundation for Del Toro’s signature traits such as religious imagery, elaborate set designs and the idea of self-sacrifice. It also introduces one of many of Del Toro’s oddball characters in the petty thug, Angel (played by a snarky Ron Perlman). What could have been a one-dimensional bodyguard cliche turns into a hilarious and endearing side character. Angel is basically Perlman’s casting call for Hellboy.
While the narrative leaves a bit to be desired, Del Toro still leaves its viewers pondering about immortality and the difference between man and monster.
6. Pacific Rim
Many were divided over Pacific Rim, debating whether it was dumb fun or just dumb in general. While the story certainly has its issues, Del Toro emphasized on human survival and the high stakes that came with it. Del Toro could give Michael Bay some lessons on how to create a human story in a blockbuster setting. Pacific Rim is a delight because unlike some blockbuster directors, Del Toro knows how to choreograph fight sequences without them losing their coherence. He also can work with different colors and make them vibrant without being overbearing. Plus, it’s giant robots fighting giant monsters. What’s not to love?
Del Toro has repeatedly shown his love for the outcast, so it makes sense that he would drift towards the outcast monster. Ron Perlman is perfectly cast as the snide son of the devil who wants to fight for people despite them not wanting him to be there. He brings this larger than life attitude combined with a vulnerability that can make any viewer relate to him. He may be the muscle of the BPRD, but he’s also a self-conscious loner and loves kittens more than people.
Hellboy is not only based off of a comic book but also feels like one. It’s vibrant and full of energy, using dark blues and reds to create something terrifying yet beautiful. The film has a preposterous storyline, but it knows that and goes along with it. There are action scenes where you have to suspend belief, but its utter wackiness keeps you glued to the screen. Hellboy was made for Del Toro to adapt and has opened so much lore for him to explore (only if the studios would let him).
4. Crimson Peak
People credit Crimson Peak’s failure to its marketing campaign. What was made out to be a haunted house thriller actually turned out to be a gothic horror romance. I have to give credit to the horror director; he tries so hard to make the likes of H.P Lovecraft and Jane Eyre cool again, but audiences just aren’t having it.
Crimson Peak is an atmospheric picture, focusing on the beauty of death and the supernatural. It’s certainly Del Toro’s most serious film, as he tries to tell a gothic love story without any of the typical horror tropes. This is a film that you need to see for yourself because the trailers don’t do it justice.
3. Devil’s Backbone
While not as fantastical as Pan’s Labyrinth, Devil’s Backbone is still a compelling story about troubled youth during wartime. Using the Spanish Civil War as the background, Del Toro cleverly mixes political ideologies with horror. On the one hand, the young male protagonists are being haunted by a former orphan who was killed by a bomb landing; on the other hand, the adults are secretly conspiring on what to do with the dirty money that they sit on top of. Soon enough, they intertwine and come to a conclusion that is both melodramatic and extremely violent.
2. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
You can count the number of directors on your fingers that have created a sequel that is better than its predecessor. On its own, Hellboy was a fun romp, and fans expected Hellboy 2 to be a passable sequel. No one expected that it would surpass the first way in almost every way.
In Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Del Toro abandons the gothic element and replaces it with a high fantasy setting. Instead of Rasputin, the team is fighting against an evil elf prince who wants to exterminate the human race with the mystical human army. It’s a compelling commentary on contemporary racism and illustrates just how much Hellboy and the antagonist, Prince Nuada have in common. Despite saving people from demons, Hellboy is still hated by the general public because of how he looks. Nuada despises the human race because they banished his kind to the forests forever.
With a higher budget and technological advancements, Hellboy II is even bigger and prettier than before. The troll market feels like something straight out of a Star Wars movie, and the tooth fairy creatures are only something that the Mexican director could think of. For ten years, fans have been campaigning for a Hellboy 3 to complete the trilogy. Sadly, it looks like we’ll only have these two films to cherish.
1. Pan’s Labyrinth
Cronos may have been Del Toro’s first film, but Pan’s Labyrinth is the one to make the Mexican director a star on international waters. Considered the “sister film” to The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth also takes place during the Spanish Civil War. But instead of a little boy, a young girl takes the lead. Ophelia, the film’s protagonist, copes with the horrors of wartime through books and fairy tales.
When people think of the fantasy film genre, only four films come to their mind: The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Pan’s Labyrinth. And while Lord of the Rings may be too overwhelming for some, Pan’s Labyrinth has the perfect blend of fantasy and historical drama. While this is truly a dark, adult fantasy to its core, it feels like it’s told through the eyes of a child. Ophelia makes childish mistakes and believes in superstitions.
Pan’s Labyrinth’s stellar script, lighting, and makeup would go on to be nominated for Academy Awards, making it Del Toro’s only Oscar-nominated film.