The Devil’s Backbone was one of del Toro’s first feature length films and is one of his most critically acclaimed pieces of work to date. The historical fantasy horror helped to establish del Toro as a beautiful and artistic director, and showed him as a master in his trade for being able to alternate between mainstream American action films and dark, Spanish fantasy pieces. In this gothic fantasy horror, Carlos, a 12-year-old whose father has died in the Spanish Civil War arrives at an ominous boy’s orphanage. He soon discovers the school is haunted and has many dark secrets that he must uncover. An undercurrent of fear and violence hums from the first frames of this creepy, atmospheric thriller, a masterwork of mood and suspense.
In Blade II, Blade, a vampire hunter, forms an uneasy alliance with the vampire council in order to combat the evil Reapers. Del Toro was brought on to the film as the producers believed his dark sensibilities would be ideal for the Blade franchise. He chose not to alter the script too much from the original ideas to preserve the influences of comic books and Japanese animation. Del Toro succeeded in creating a memorable monster, in order to make Blade the ultimate hero in this dark sequel.
Although it was made within the Hollywood studio system, del Toro claimed that 2004’s Hellboy is far from a conventional comic book film. He worked hard to show that Hellboy was a ‘flawed’ hero, as he makes more mistakes than any other character. He worked closely with original Hellboy creator Mike Mignola to keep the film as faithful to the source material as they possibly could. That said, del Toro still allowed himself to make the film his own by showcasing his distinctive directorial style.
Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth certainly caught the eye of critics, as it won three Oscars for Best Cinematography, Best Production Design and Best Makeup in 2007. Pan’s Labyrinth features one of del Toro’s most iconic characters, the Pale Man. Del Toro’s focus on detail, make-up and costumes meant that the creature looked incredibly realistic without the use of CGI or digital effects. Del Toro stated that he considered the story to be a parable, influenced by fairy tales, and that it continues themes related to his earlier film, The Devil’s Backbone (2001).
Set in 2020, Pacific Rim follows the story of the Kaiju, colossal monsters that emerged from an interdimensional portal on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean to start a war with Earth. Del Toro said about this film that he would have liked to have seen adventure films with similar morals when he was a child. The self-described pacifist avoided giving the characters military ranks such as “captain”, “major” or “general” and wanted to break from the mass death and destruction featured in contemporary blockbuster films by showing the streets and buildings being evacuated before Kaiju attacks.
Del Toro himself called Crimson Peak a supernatural horror. He has described it as “a very set-oriented, classical but at the same time modern take on the ghost story”, and said that it allowed him to play with the genres’ conventions while subverting their rules. Del Toro’s usual creepy characters can be seen as spectres appearing from the walls of Allerdale Hall, which also oozes sinister, blood red clay. Crimson Peak is instantly recognised as a del Toro film due to the combination of love, death, horror and beauty all intertwined in his unique style.
Crimson Peak is out now on Blu-ray™ and DVD from Universal Pictures (UK).