Staff Selects: Guillermo del Toro

In celebration of Guillermo del Toro’s birthday and in keeping with the horror theme for the month, we’ve put together a Staff Selects about a few of his films.

Federico Luppi in Cronos (1993)

Cronos

With Cronos, his debut film, Guillermo del Toro was already beginning to show many of the tendencies he would lean into later in his career. It’s a dark fantasy story that gets to his certain visual style with insects and practical effects and make-up that evoke both fairy tales and the classic Universal monster movies as a man discovers a device that provides immortality. Through his addiction to the device and his discovery that forces of evil would like to control it, the film delves into dark territory and certainly has a more mature feeling to it than the sources it drew upon but also a certain comforting nature to it that makes it feel like a story from childhood being delivered with the same impact as an adult. Sometimes it felt a bit heavy handed on the symbolism, especially when a character named Jesus rose from the dead, and a bit unrefined with the presentation, but it is a highly impressive debut and remains one of his best works. [Henry Baime]

Mimic

Some four years after his feature debut, Cronos, Guillermo del Toro attempted to break into Hollywood with his cockroach creature feature, Mimic. Monster movies with sci-fi leanings were somewhat in vogue at the time, and the film also looked to capitalise on the popularity of actress Mira Sorvino, not far removed from a surprise Oscar win with Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite, and Romy and Michelle’s High-School Reunion making a splash in cinemas around the same time. Mimic was not to see the same level of success, however, if it could be called a success at all. Del Toro lamented unwanted interference from the Weinsteins in the editing room, and the picture limped out of theatres without recouping its budget. 
Whilst hardly the Tinseltown calling card he was hoping for, taken on its merits, Mimic gives a decent account of itself. Many of del Toro’s calling cards are present, if presented less confidently than we’ve now become accustomed to. Fans of deadly arthropods causing havoc amongst humans in dense, dark environs are encouraged to apply. It does get a bit silly, but we’re talking about mutant bugs with a masterplan for world domination that involves imitating the human form—if any of this sounds appealing, I’m sure your disbelief comes pre-suspended. Mimic is often looked at as one of del Toro’s weakest efforts, but I’m unashamed to have a soft spot for it. Now, where’s that can of Raid? [Chris Barnes]

Pan’s Labyrinth

I think for a lot of people, Pan’s Labyrinth was the first foreign language film they ever saw, or the first one they really connected with. Outside of Crouching Tiger, few foreign films had the lasting impact that Pan’s had in the 2000s; the blend of fairy-tale fantasy with a harsh look at life under Spanish fascism made for an oddly compelling blend that still resonates with many audiences to this day. That very resonance has turned Pan’s Labyrinth into one of those obvious films that aren’t anywhere near as fun to gush about as a lot of del Toro’s others, but there’s something to be said for the sort of boringly flawless movie that Pan’s Labyrinth is. It’s del Toro’s best work as a writer, his second best as a director, and packs such a volatile punch that he has never been able to properly replicate. This is a man who’s made a few films that should go down in history as great pieces, but Pan’s Labyrinth will always, to me, be the film that defines his impressive career, and I see no tragedy in that. [Davey Peppers]

Ron Perlman, Wesley Snipes, and Danny John-Jules in Blade II (2002)

Blade II

While his indie directorial feature effort Cronos was critically acclaimed and even nominated for the foreign language Oscar, it was a commercial flop. His Hollywood foray follow-up Mimic, was unfortunately a critical and, yet again, box office flop (on what I’d like to assume was due to not being given full control over his own film). After one more critically acclaimed but low-budget indie film later (The Devil’s Backbone), del Toro was personally requested to helm Blade II. It’s here where del Toro cut his teeth on both the comic-book world and the mainstream wide theatrical release Hollywood model with the biggest budget he had ever worked with at the time: ~$54M, which is almost double the amount of his previous three films combined, while also making almost five-times more in the box office than those three films as well. One could say his clout was on the rise, and in terms of big summer franchises, his budget would only increase moving forward while he snuck in a few extremely critically acclaimed personal stories you may have heard of in between. I’d go as far as saying that Blade II set-up the foundation for Hellboy (Reedus’s BPRD hoodie included).
Not only is Blade II Guillermo del Toro’s best film (for me), it’s also the very first Marvel sequel to be made—back in a time where sequels weren’t planned nor guaranteed, but earned. It’s also one of the first Marvel films period: the fourth—behind Howard the Duck, Blade, and X-Men— if we don’t count all those old-school straight-to-DVD/serial Captain America, Punisher, Fantastic Four films. It should go without saying, but it’s also the first Marvel film to be led by POC, beating Black Panther to the punch long before, but to less mention for some reason (shout-out to non-Marvel Spawn and Steel in 1997). Building off Blade, del Toro and writer David S. Goyer amplified the darker tone, and crafted a far more violent, bloody, scary, and well built largely practical world that predates all the desires for “edgy” pre Nolan and Snyder. The first 20 minutes of Blade II alone feature more gore, body horror, diversity, grit, skin, profanities, and better choreographed fights (coordinated by co-stars Yen and Snipes) than the majority of the MCU. A variety of set-pieces (most notably the club and sewer sequences) were all-timers as a kid, and I’m curious to see how it holds up. Blade II managed to be both a franchise studio film and allow del Toro control enough to include his own trademark thematic paternal sensibilities and gothic atmosphere. Furthermore, it included a massive upgrade in terms of star power alongside Wesley Snipes and Kris Kristofferson: including but not limited to Donnie Yen, Matt Schulze, Norman Reedus, Thomas Kretschmann, Tony Curran, and someone who’s life was about to change moving forward…Ron Perlman. [Lee]

Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, John Alexander, Doug Jones, Seth MacFarlane, and James Dodd in Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

This was del Toro’s third comic book adaptation following Blade II and the previous Hellboy, but this is his best foray into the genre. GDT’s films are always rife with monsters all across the alignment chart and Hellboy II has his most stacked roster yet. This time around the team at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense is trying to stop an elf from finding an army of automatons to take over the world. It has the true feeling of a fantasy adventure film on top of being a sequel that raises the stakes for Hellboy’s character. It also has great moments of levity, with one of the film’s best moments being Hellboy and Abe just getting drunk and having a chat. The visuals are also stellar, with tons of makeup, costumes and digital effects used to bring the large cast to life, from the brash and loveable Ron Perlman as Hellboy to Doug Jones’s brief role as the androgynous and skeletal Angel of Death. It’s sad that we never got to see the Hellboy trilogy fully realized, as GDT was bringing something special to the superhero genre that still feels fresh today, and in the same era as Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, no less. Maybe we should just keep letting horror filmmakers have the superheroes they like. [Jen]

Staff Selects

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