Guillermo del Toro is one of the most consistently impressive filmmakers of the past 20-plus years. His personal vision is distinct and clearly in-focus regardless of the project he is working on, be it a Hollywood scary movie, a superhero adaptation, a Westernized kaiju adventure, or a straight-up, scare-you-to-your-core horror film. You can tell a del Toro film within the first few minutes you catch, whether that’s at the beginning or if you come in halfway through. He’s the kind of filmmaker that we need. For the purposes of this entry in this year’s ABCs of Horror, there was any number of approaches to take. I considered concentrating on his comic book adaptations Blade II, Hellboy, and Hellboy II: The Golden Army. I thought about the evolution of his work with vampire mythology from Cronos to Blade II to The Strain. For a brief moment, I played with the idea of looking at Pacific Rim in the context of other modern kaiju films. I even thought about going mad and just writing about his entire oeuvre, even films that are impressive but didn’t really work for me like Mimic and Crimson Peak. Finally, though, it became clear that since this is ABCs of Horror, what better approach than to look at del Toro’s three Spanish-language films that serve as cornerstones of modern horror cinema: Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, and Pan’s Labyrinth. Cronos – 1994 Guillermo del Toro’s first film is a wonder. Released in 1994, Cronos tells the tale of an elderly proprietor of an antiques dealer who stumbles upon a bizarre clockwork device built in 1536 by a mysterious alchemist designed to give its user eternal life. The film is a meditation on aging, on obsession and addiction, and ultimately on love and family. It’s also a vampire movie that never mentions the word vampire. First films are always a bit more exciting from a critical perspective, especially when looking back at them as the beginning of a long career. Sometimes, especially with directors who predominantly shoot horror films, there’s an urge to go more extreme or absurd in an attempt to make up for obvious lacks like money, experience, or even a talented cast. But every now and then, special directors come along and establish their vision and thematic obsessions from the very beginning. Such is the case with Cronos. Not only do we get a taste of del Toro’s ongoing interest in reinterpreting vampire mythology that will take center stage in both Blade II and his trilogy of novels/television series The Strain (we also get an old dying millionaire searching for eternal life, which is the primary inciting incident in The Strain), we also get concepts and visuals that will return in both his adaptation of the novel Mimic (an insect fixation) and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (amazing clockwork machinery). Central to Cronos is the relationship between Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi) and his granddaughter Aurora (Tamara Shanath), highlighting a familial relation in decay, as it were, where their love for one another becomes the force that saves Jesus from himself. This film also establishes from the very beginning a fairy-tale aspect that will become one of del Toro’s primary stylistic approaches, especially for this set of three films. The look of the film transcends the budgetary limitations thanks to the use of distinctive set designs and an artist’s eye for setting the scene (thanks, in large part, to frequent collaborator Guillermo Navarro – an outstanding cinematographer and television director in his own right). The scene of Jesus ecstatically licking blood up from a bathroom floor is an image that captures both the beautiful and the grotesque in del Toro’s work. The script, by del Toro, never falters, giving even the most minor characters wonderful moments to either establish their personalities and relationships with those around them, or subtle humorous moments that humanize them. And then, there’s Ron Perlman. Despite having a producer bow out and the production coming up short with Perlman’s salary halfway through the shoot, he took a chance on the vision of his first-time director and life-long friendship and filmic relationship was born (Perlman would go on to appear in Blade II and Pacific Rim, as well as star in both Hellboy films). While Perlman is a joy to watch, Luppi’s performance as Jesus is what makes this film so special. In the beginning, we barely even realize that Jesus has nearly faded into nothingness. He’s happy interacting with Aurora, but his wife Mercedes (Margarita Isabel) is distant. She teaches dance, is vibrant and alive, while Jesus plays games with a child and spends his days surrounded by trinkets and statues. When the Cronos device is first found, his eyes light up. This is a once-in-a-lifetime find. And he’s not wrong. But once the device – and the insect inside – have tasted his blood, there’s no going back, and what at first seems like a boon, with renewed vigor and livelihood, soon becomes a curse. There’s a feeling that impotence has been cured, but it is an aberration and Jesus begins to lose his humanity. Until his love for his granddaughter allows him to break the grip of the Cronos device. The Devil’s Backbone (El espinazo del diablo) – 2001 After a miserable experience in America filming Mimic (check out the special features on the director’s cut for the details), del Toro returned to a script he had written before Cronos but reworked with the help of Antonio Trashorras and David Muñoz. Whereas Cronos had been set and filmed in del Toro’s native Mexico, for The Devil’s Backbone, the setting shifted to Spain during the final year of the Spanish Civil War, 1939. The film is a classic ghost story set in an orphanage run by two Republican loyalists, the romantic and lovelorn Dr. Casares (Federico Luppi) and the strict object of his affection, headmistress Carmen (Marisa Paredes). The boys in the orphanage are all children of parents either away fighting in the war or dead. The film opens with the arrival of Carlos (Fernando Tielve), an educated boy who doesn’t know his father is dead and is surprisingly abandoned at the orphanage by his tutor/caretaker. The groundskeeper Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega) has a few secrets of his own and thrives on intimidating the children and having sex with both the young teacher Conchita (Irene Visedo) and Carmen (!!!). Oh, and there’s also some secret gold on the premises. All of this makes for what could be a straight historical drama with love, lust, greed, guilt, and revenge, but this is Guillermo del Toro, so we also have the ghost of murdered orphan, Santi (Junio Valverde). As we saw with Cronos, the monster here is not the real threat. The humans lusting for money and revenge serve to actualize the symbolic danger of the unexploded bomb that sits in the center of the courtyard. Jacinto’s actions combine with the approaching violence of war to trigger a chaotic climax that sees just about every character paying some price. Visually, this is another treat. Navarro returns as cinematographer and together, he and del Toro craft another visually stunning piece that expertly combines realism, the fantastic, and the occasional breathtakingly symbolic use of landscape. Every set is dressed to perfection, particularly Dr. Casares’ office, and the visual effects used to represent Santi’s ghost is just as disturbingly creepy now as it was when I first saw it over a decade ago. It’s a subtle and effective use of CG to recreate the idea that Santi is underwater no matter where he manifests. Detritus floats all around him, lingering in his wake, and the constant wash of blood flowing upwards from the gash in his forehead creates a distinctly unique image. Luppi’s Dr. Casares again serves as a symbol of impotence moved into passion by extraordinary events. The poetic beauty of his unexpressed, but not entirely unrequited, love for Carmen is doomed from the beginning and Luppi brings a sincere sense of heartache to the role. And as in Cronos, his relationship with Carlos echoes Jesus and Aurora, although here the storylines for the adults and the children stay fairly distinct. Carlos’ developing friendship with Jaime (Íñigo Garcés) begins antagonistically as Jaime bullies and threatens him, but Carlos is a truly good and pure character, similar to Aurora, and his loyalty wins over the bully, the other boys, and ultimately the ghost of Santi as well. Ultimately, though, as with Cronos, as with life, the loss of innocence and transition from childhood to adulthood is the narrative path of the film. Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno) – 2006 The success of The Devil’s Backbone led del Toro back to America where he directed Blade II (2002) and Hellboy (2004) in quick succession. But his next film, Pan’s Labyrinth, was intended from the start to be a spiritual sequel to The Devil’s Backbone, right down to the fairy tale narration at the start, the circular structure of the narrative’s opening and closing, the arrival of the child at the beginning, the night visits, and solving of the supernatural mystery along the way. It had been five years since The Devil’s Backbone, so naturally, Pan’s Labyrinth is set five years after, in 1944 under the Fascist regime of Francisco Franco. While the previous film had preoccupied itself thematically with the transformation from innocence to experience, this film took a different approach and examined the moral and emotional conflicts inherent in the struggle between obedience and disobedience. This is most striking in the relationship between Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil), who has married and become impregnated by the, frankly horrifying, Captain Vidal (Sergi López) just a year or so after the death of Ofelia’s father. Because Vidal feels his son should be born with his father present, he orders Carmen and Ofelia to travel to his remote location in the countryside as he hunts Republican rebels, despite Carmen’s delicate health. Just before their arrival, as their car is pulled over to allow Carmen to throw up by the side of the road, Ofelia finds a strange rock with an eye carved in it. After a short walk, she finds a statue missing its eye and upon replacing it, disturbs a large stick insect that Ofelia believes is a fairy. From this point on, literally after the first five minutes or so, the film is split between the objective reality of life under Franco and Ofelia’s journey into a world of magic and fairy tales – which may or may not be real, depending on how you want to interpret the film. Del Toro is on record as stating that for him, the magical world is real and there are plenty of clues throughout the film to support this, but the film still works as a heartbreakingly tragic tale of lost innocence if we treat the magical as imaginary. Which is kind of the point of the film, actually. Twice during the course of the story, Ofelia is told by her mother and her surrogate mother, Vidal’s housekeeper Mercedes (Maribel Verdú) – who also happens to be a Republican sympathizer – that there is no magic in the real world or that they believed in magic when they were children, but not now. But neither of them was told by a magical faun (Doug Jones) in the heart of a labyrinth that they were the princess of the underworld, lost in the human world, with a father and mother awaiting her return (her father, the king of the underworld, is Federico Luppi cameoing for the trifecta of del Toro’s unofficial fairy tale trilogy). So there. With the help of the stick insect, which transforms into a more traditional fairy-form for her (inspired by the appearance of fairies in jars in a background from Hellboy), and two other fairies, Ofelia – or, rather, Princess Moanna – must complete three quests given her by the faun which will allow them to open that last portal to the underworld and return her to her kingdom. After the experience of designing monsters for Blade II and Hellboy, del Toro unleashes his imagination with Pan’s Labyrinth, creating some of the most disturbing and amazing monsters in modern horror cinema. Famed performer Doug Jones plays both the faun and the nightmarish Pale Man – the creature with eyes in his hands and folds of flesh hanging from his emaciated form – with what are simply amazing practical costuming and makeup. There are CG enhancements, but the majority of what you see is Jones and his performance (although del Toro chose to dub his dialogue with the voice of Pablo Adán – even though Jones had learned his lines in Spanish especially for this performance). Guillermo Navarro’s cinematography also takes a dramatic visual leap forward with this film as he and del Toro really discover just what they can do. The film is beautiful, with nearly every frame worthy of notice, and the visual work serves to enhance and expand upon symbolic elements in the story. We also have the return of the clockwork imagery as Captain Vidal is obsessed with his pocket watch, tinkering with its innards in the cross-sections of hard angles, cogs and wheels that make up his office (which is also a subtle reference to the classic “fascists keeping the trains running on time” commentary). He is about control, authority, and logic, almost always filmed in cold blues and grays. The rebels, on the other hand, are usually filmed in browns and greens, hiding the forests, using guerilla tactics, avoiding linear approaches to anything. And when we begin to cross over into magical realms, the screen lights up with crimsons and golds that finally bleed over into the fascist blues as Ofelia drugs Vidal at the climax and steals away with her newly born baby brother to the heart of the labyrinth. We would see this color imagery return in del Toro’s next film, Hellboy II: The Golden Army (along with the clockwork motif). Pan’s Labyrinth became the pinnacle of del Toro’s fairy tale stories about children growing up, and in the three films he’s made since, Hellboy II, Pacific Rim, and Crimson Peak, he’s been satisfied not to return to the theme. Which could be why none of these films have lived up to the emotional depth and complexity of his three Spanish-language films (to be honest though, I still love Hellboy II and Pacific Rim). Of course, aside from Mimic, these three films (along with Crimson Peak) are his poorest showings at the American box office, so that could also have something to do with it. Despite this, del Toro continues to be an inspiration visually and imaginatively, creating films that are distinctly original and visually stunning, every time the lights go down and the screen lights up. See larger image Trilogía de Guillermo del Toro (Cronos / The Devil’s Backbone / Pan’s Labyrinth) (The Criterion Collection) Throughout a career that encompasses both visually arresting art-house hits and big-budget Hollywood spectacles, director Guillermo del Toro has continually redefined and elevated the horror genre with his deeply personal explorations of myths and monsters. These three Spanish-language films, each a tale of childhood in troubled times, showcase his singular fusion of the fantastic and the real. Drawing inspiration from a rich variety of sources, from Alfred Hitchcock to Francisco de Goya, the gothic-infused stories collected here populated by vampires, ghosts, and a fairy-tale princess make evident why del Toro is considered the master cinematic fabulist of our time. DIRECTOR-APPROVED THREE-BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION COLLECTOR’S SET FEATURES– High-definition digital restoration of Cronos, 2K digital restoration of The Devil s Backbone, newly graded 2K digital master of Pan s Labyrinth, all supervised and approved by director Guillermo del Toro, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack for Cronos and 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks for The Devil s Backbone and Pan s Labyrinth – Alternate DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround soundtrack for Pan s Labyrinth– Audio commentaries on all three films– Interviews with del Toro, director of photography Guillermo Navarro, and actors Doug Jones, Federico Luppi, and Ron Perlman– Welcome to Bleak House, a 2010 video tour by del Toro of his personal collections– New piece on Pan s Labyrinth featuring del Toro and novelist Cornelia Funke– Interactive director s notebooks for The Devil s Backbone and Pan s Labyrinth– Making-of documentaries for The Devil s Backbone and Pan s Labyrinth– Geometria, a 1987 short horror film by del Toro finished in 2010– Footage of actor Ivana Baquero auditioning for Pan s Labyrinth in 2005– Original Spanish-language voice-over introduction for Cronos– Introductions by del Toro for The Devil s Backbone and Pan s Labyrinth– Deleted scenes from The Devil s Backbone, with commentary by del Toro– Selected on-screen picture-in-picture presentation of del Toro s thumbnail sketches for The Devil s Backbone– Programs comparing del Toro s thumbnail sketches and production storyboards for The Devil s Backbone and Pan s Labyrinth with the final films– Piece on The Devil s Backbone s depiction of the Spanish Civil War– Animated comics featuring prequel stories for the creatures of Pan s Labyrinth– Gallery of stills from Cronos, captioned by del Toro– Trailers and TV spots– English subtitle translations approved by del Toro– Deluxe box set featuring new illustrations by Vania Zouravliov– PLUS: A 100-page hardcover book featuring an introduction by author Neil Gaiman and essays by critics Michael Atkinson, Mark Kermode, and Maitland McDonagh, along with production notes and sketches by del Toro and illustrators Carlos Giménez and Raúl Monge New From: $55.06 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... 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