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About this book

Offering a multifaceted approach to the Mexican-born director Guillermo del Toro, this volume examines his wide-ranging oeuvre and traces the connections between his Spanish language and English language commercial and art film projects.

Table of Contents




Guillermo del Toro began his directorial career as part of Mexico’s state-funded cinematic revival of the early 1990s with Cronos (1993). But even then, with this seemingly local project, he was casting his film (and subsequent career) beyond the national. The nature of Cronos (a contemporary vampire film replete with references to Hollywood vampirism, a transnational cast, and some dialogue in English) ran counter to the preferred nationalist, realist, auteurist (and indeed art-house) model usually favored for funding by the Mexican Film Institute (IMCINE) (Shaw, 2013, 20–22). In the end IMCINE made its feelings clear about the low cultural value of the project by contributing only a small amount to the production costs (the rest was supplied by Los Angeles-based Ventana Films), but the film still earned critical and institutional approbation both from abroad (at numerous festivals) and with its subsequent winning of nine Arieles—the highest accolade in Mexican filmmaking. That del Toro was an uneasy fit within the prevailing currents of institutionalized Mexican film culture and its preferred cadre of filmmakers is partly why there was a delay in the making of his next film, Mimic (1997), and also why this film was a “Hollywood” production (Wood, 2006, 122).
Dolores Tierney, Deborah Shaw, Ann Davies

Del Toro’s Principles and Practices


Chapter 1. “There Is No Such Thing”: Del Toro’s Metafictional Monster Rally

The October 2013 edition of the annual The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror boasted a credit sequence conceived and guest-directed by Guillermo del Toro. The opening “couch gag” of Matt Groening’s long-running series has often displayed the show’s irreverent brand of intertextuality, but del Toro’s contribution was a three-minute master class in playful pastiche, quotation, and self-reference. Del Toro’s fans could spot cartoon versions of Prince Nuada and the forest god from Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), a gargantuan monster and robot fight in the style of Pacific Rim (2013), Marge in the shape of a monstrous cockroach from Mimic (1997), Homer’s face erupting gruesomely into that of a Reaper from Blade II (2002), the Cronos (1993) device, Mr. Burns reconfigured as the Pale Man from El laberinto del fauno/Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), and Lisa Simpson dressed as Ofelia (from El laberinto), falling down the 1951 Disney version of Alice’s rabbit hole and confronting the Hypnotoad from Groening’s Futurama series. Creature feature aficionados could revel in shared genre knowledge by sighting—among many others—intertextual references to Ray Harryhausen’s skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts (Don Chaffey 1963), Elsa Lanchester as the bride from The Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale 1935), The Car (Elliott Silverstein 1977), several incarnations of The Phantom of the Opera and The Day the Earth Stood Still (Robert Wise 1951), The Creature from the Black Lagoon (Jack Arnold 1954), The Shining (Stanley Kubrick 1980), Nosferatu (F. W. Murnau 1922), The Fly (Kurt Neumann 1958), Alien (Ridley Scott 1989), and Freaks (Tod Browning 1932).
Glenn Ward

Chapter 2. Guillermo del Toro’s Monsters: Matter Out of Place

The films of Guillermo del Toro abound in monsters, and the cinematic monster is a question of matter out of place. Monsters in literary, cinematic, and media texts are those creatures that on one level repel us, and they do so precisely because their physical existence defies our expectations of normality in ways that offend us. They ingest or expel substances that we find revolting; they look peculiar and misshapen. Many monsters appear humanoid, which underscores the notion of matter out of place still further, as we have ourselves as a so-called normal template for comparison. These monsters look like us except for the fact that matter is out of place: they drink blood, their flesh rots, their faces are misshapen, they become unnaturally hairy. Jasia Reichhardt argues, “Only a human being or a humanoid can be a true monster. No monstrous cupboard, chair, plant or teapot could engender real fear, horror and fascination all at once. The essential condition for a monster is that the human characteristics it possesses must not be changed too far” (1994, 139).
Ann Davies

Chapter 3. Myth and Monstrosity: The Dark Realms of H. P. Lovecraft and Guillermo del Toro

This chapter explores the connections between the works of two significant and charismatic figures in the field of horror. The first is New England native H. P. Lovecraft (1890–1937), renowned for a relatively small—yet distinctive and resoundingly influential—corpus of fiction that originally appeared in pulp magazines and has only recently been canonized through its inclusion in the Penguin Modern Classics and Library of America series. The second is Mexican-born director Guillermo del Toro (1964–), who has made a name for himself over the last two decades with a body of films that, though generically diverse—embracing elements of action, thriller, fantasy, fairy tale, and science fiction—is nonetheless unified by a frequent utilization of the themes and iconography of horror.
Rebecca Janicker

Del Toro’s English-Language Works


Chapter 4. “This Is Something New … or—Something Very, Very Old”: The Strain Trilogy in Context

The title of this study comes from a line near the beginning of the first book in The Strain Trilogy, which consists of The Strain (2009), The Fall (2010), and The Night Eternal (2011), and is spoken by Nora Martinez, who is assistant to Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, head of the CDC rapid response team. They have been called in to investigate the mystery surrounding the landing of a Boeing 777 at JFK airport in New York, where all the passengers have seemingly died from an unknown infection that slows down antemortem decomposition in its victims, yet also produces spontaneous tissue growth. The only indications that something untoward has happened to the bodies are the small wounds on the victims’ skin near major arteries. Still unable to discover the cause of what is happening, Nora declares, “This is something new … Or—something very, very old” (del Toro and Hogan, 2010, 164). Somewhat usefully, this statement can also relate to the trilogy as a whole, both in its relation to vampire literature and also in terms of the vampire that it portrays. The novels occupy a space not unlike Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), where the Transylvanian count exists on the borders of both temporal and geographical realities.
Simon Bacon

Chapter 6. Adapt or Die: Mimicry and Evolution in Guillermo del Toro’s English-Language Films

It is not uncommon for a director to move between modestly budgeted personal projects and larger-scale genre films. However, there is something both peculiar and provocative about the trajectory of Guillermo del Toro’s career to date. This is not just to do with his leaping back and forth between Spanish-language “art-house” projects and English-language multiplex fare rather than proceeding from the former to the latter in what would be a more conventional mode of international career development. It also connects with del Toro’s own repeated insistence in interviews and in DVD commentaries that for him all his films, be they in Spanish or in English, are personal projects. Perhaps most strikingly, the challenge offered by the shape of del Toro’s career comes out of the way in which his films often confound or complicate distinctions between what we might think of as art cinema and genre cinema. After all, this is a director whose first feature, Cronos (1993), combined art-house and horror conventions and was shot partly in Spanish and partly in English.
Peter Hutchings

Chapter 6. Of Monstrous Masses and Hybrid Heroes: Del Toro’s English-Language Films

In a canonical essay from 1979, film scholar Robin Wood argues that US horror often plays with the rigid dichotomies between the self and the Other, between the normal and the abnormal. In large part, his essay is responding to the types of US films being produced at the time of writing, films that reinterpreted the monstrous (Night of the Living Dead [George Romero 1968], Texas Chainsaw Massacre [Tobe Hooper 1974]). Wood argues that horror films from the 1960s and 1970s recognize the monstrous not as foreign, but as “American and familial,” a projection of that which was repressed by dominant US culture (1979, 18–19). While arguing for the potential of horror to offer a radical sociopolitical critique, Wood, Christopher Sharrett, David Sanjek, and other critics have suggested that in the 1980s US horror films took a conservative turn. Some films such as The Omen (Richard Donner 1976) repositioned the monstrous as evil incarnate and, thus, entirely Other; another group, including Aliens (James Cameron 1986) and Starship Troopers (Paul Verhoeven 1997), mixed horror with science fiction and situated the monster(s) as an external threat located elsewhere, outside domestic boundaries.
Laura Podalsky

Chapter 7. Pacific Rim: Reception, Readings, and Authority

Genre and auteurship are frequently seen to be incompatible. Where genre has its own “supervisory” function necessitating some adherence to convention through the repetition of significant elements, auteurship is understood to be about originality, the director marking out unique characteristics identifiable as patterns from one film to the next (Cook and Bermink, 1999, 137–38). When auteurs take on genre films, they are expected to reinvent and repackage them so that they conform to certain art-house conventions.1 When auteurs do reinvent and repackage, the use of genre becomes part of a coherent career path. Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim (2013) destabilizes this approach because it is a genre film that does not seemingly reinvent genre, and, as a result, a close reading demands a reconsideration of the relationship between genre and auteurism. This chapter examines Pacific Rim as a challenge to dominant theoretical approaches to both genre studies and auteurism and proposes that del Toro should be read as a “geek auteur.”
Niamh Thornton

Del Toro’s Spanish-Language Works


Chapter 8. Reflected Horrors: Violence, War, and the Image in Guillermo del Toro’s El espinazo del diablo/The Devil’s Backbone (2001)

Much of the current scholarly work conducted on Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish-language films (Cronos [1993], El espinazo del Diablo/The Devil’s Backbone [2001], and El laberinto del fauno/Pan’s Labyrinth [2006]) has, among other things, observed the cultural and economic context for their production (Shaw, 2013), the element of the reappropriation of history within the narratives (Hardcastle, 2005), and the filmic texts’ engagement with national discourse prevalent at the time of making (Labanyi, 2007). These concerns are manifested in the forms of a rapidly changing society brought about through entry into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) (Cronos) or the modern hauntings of the nationally repressed historical trauma of the Spanish Civil War (El espinazo, El laberinto). This chapter will take as its exploratory premise the examination of El espinazo—the first of del Toro’s Spanish Civil War films. Taking on board and expanding upon scholarly work conducted in the field, the chapter will examine the significance and role of the specter in El espinazo, beyond the symbolic and cognitive meanings attributed to its presence. It will read the framing of the ghostly apparitions in the narrative as examples of del Toro’s attempts to redefine the gothic mode on the screen.
Miriam Haddu

Chapter 9. Transnational Political Horror in Cronos (1993), El espinazo del diablo (2001), and El laberinto del fauno (2006)

Despite the disparity of the different fields and geographical locations in which Guillermo del Toro works (in the Mexican and Spanish film industries and in an increasingly globally dispersed Hollywood), the horror genre has characterized the majority of his work as director, producer, writer, curator, and film advocate to date. But although he has consistently worked in the horror genre, critical readings of del Toro’s films have rarely focused on the workings of the horror genre itself, preferring instead to displace their studies onto other topics. Critical readings of Cronos, for example, “treat vampirism as a metaphor or cover story for something else,” letting the film’s “vampiric surface” virtually disappear (Davies, 2008, 395). The neglect of horror in Cronos can be explained in part by the critical disreputability of the horror genre both in Mexican official culture and in Latin American cultural discourse, which has meant that the genre has had little or no presence in its national film canons (and that del Toro struggled to find institutional funding for both Cronos and El espinazo del diablo/The Devil’s Backbone in Mexico).1
Dolores Tierney

Chapter 10. Between Fantasy and Reality: the Child’s Vision and Fairy Tales in Guillermo del Toro’s Hispanic Trilogy

There are many trademarks of Guillermo del Toro’s filmmaking, but it is his fascination with the horror genre that stands out in particular. He explores the horror genre using the gothic and multiple intertextual references to literature and visual culture, and emphasizes cruelty, bodily mutilation, the sinister, and an aesthetic of the grotesque in the creation of his monstrous characters. Del Toro remarks on a DVD extra for Cronos: “[These monstrous characters] are the ultimate outcasts. They are beyond sexism, class struggle; they are beyond anything. They are truly fringe characters.” And within this director’s particular bestiary and his Hispanic trilogy (El laberinto del fauno/Pan’s Labyrinth [2006], El espinazo del diablo/The Devil’s Backbone [2001], and Cronos [1992]), it is Frankenstein’s creature that is particularly emphasized, not least because of the monster’s emotional relationship with children. Although insects, science, magic, mythology, and the Catholic religion are all part of the filmic universe he elaborates in the Hispanic trilogy, the recurrent focus on childhood (including del Toro’s own childhood experiences) (Kermode, 2006a) is particularly noteworthy, particularly in the way it is used as a forceful instrument to expose the inhuman nature of the adult universe.
Juan Carlos Vargas


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