By Thomas Alexander
Undoubtedly one of the most creative and interesting filmmakers of our time, Guillermo del Toro is the go-to-guy for all things fanciful, mysterious and dark. But his skill set is not limited to the unconventional as Hellboy and more recently Pacific Rim prove. What is strikingly clearly is that Guillermo del Toro’s abilities go beyond producing creatures designed to terrify as his latest film, Crimson Peak, illustrates.
Bloody-Disgusting caught up with del Toro to discuss his new film, the last film that scared him and what made him become a vegetarian for a while.
BD: Crimson Peak is very reminiscent of a silent horror film. Is this something you were going for when writing it?
Some of my favorite horror is silent because it has strength of composition and it has a very strong visual streak.
The way you evaluated silent film I think changed when sound arrived. I think that film is a visual & audio medium and it should be judged in the same way that you judge a painting or a visual art in terms of strokes, colors and shapes.
That sort of abstraction was very much how we read film in the silent era. When the forefront became the lines of dialogue, plot and other things like that it kind of diluted the power of it as a visual creation.
I always think film reached its maximum purity in things like Eric von Stroheim’s Greed, Nosferatu or Vampyr.
These were pure film. Not that I am against lines or stories it’s just that I think that we should not have lost the capacity to discuss film in an arena that goes beyond dramaturgy that becomes purely the audio, visuals and design content element of films.
The house in the film was built for real. How much did that and practical FX add to the film?
I think it was important to build the house for real in the same I felt it was very important to create the costuming with an eye for detail. I think having the ghosts as actors with make-up and not just digital effects was important.
You can enhance the actors digitally but the actors were there.
For example, the ghost that crawls out of the floor; we actually dug the floor. He was in a trench and he came out of the trench – we then added the floor on top.
A lot of modern day horrors and thrillers just don’t compare to the classics that came before it. What is it that seems to go wrong in these films in your opinion?
I think every aesthetic in any genre has good and bad examples. You have perfectly suited lower budget horror like It Follows. You then have others that are just interested in making a splash or using it as a stepping stone.
You then have beautiful movies like The Babadook that was financed originally through Kickstarter.
What I think is important, and I hope Crimson Peak works in the sense that it will help that we can talk about a scary, creepy, movie. It’s not horror, it is gothic romance. Even then you can talk about genre, because it is a genre movie in terms of bigger budgets.
When I was a kid I could see bigger budget genre movies treated as an event. I miss that. Not that I am against anything. I am in favor of returning to a bigger canvas for the genre.
What was it like to be working with Mia Wasikowska?
Fantastic, she is one of the actors that I’ve seen that is more capable of actually being there and making a moment real.
At the same time she is incredible easy to work with, she’s so fresh and so real. The camera just loves her.
If I could do every movie with this cast then I would.
Just a pity Ron Perlman isn’t in the movie as well…
I know. Ron is not period though [laughs]. Ron is very modern, man.
How does working on Crimson Peak compare to a massive film like Pacific Rim?
They are very different. What people need to understand with a movie like Pacific Rim is that part of that operation becomes like a military operation. You are dealing with very huge crowds, 500 or 600 extras.
There’s also motion controlled buildings, hydraulics with explosives – a lot of different things are happening.
Where as in Crimson Peak the biggest effect are the actors, camera and the lights [laughs].
So that must have made a good change in pace for you..?
I love blowing up stuff but you need to sort of rest from the big stuff.
If all you do is that then there comes a point where you need to come up for a breath of fresh air.
That’s what happened with Crimson and I was so thankful. I would arrive to the set super early, eager to see my actors and work with them.
With a script being so dark what did you do to keep things fun on set for yourself and the cast?
I’ve rarely had a difficult or sad set. One of the most difficult sets I’ve ever had was working on Pan’s Labyrinth.
It was really, really tense.
I actually feel it’s easy for me to have a fun set. I make jokes, I am very approachable with the actors and technicians.
I meet with the technical crew all the time so we love each other. I very often break out into singing because I like to serenade the crew. Every few weeks I have a mariachi band to set.
There’s a tradition on film sets that you finish the week in camera truck with a lot of food and a lot of booze so I try have a mariachi there if I can.
How much improv was there in this film and is it something that you encourage?
Oh yes, there was. I created these biographies for the actors that were about eight to ten pages each.
We went at them with great fervor but then on the day, some of the best things in the movie happened on the day. The scene of the silhouette in the park, that happened on the day. We were trying to find a solution to make the scene mysterious.
Another is the scene where Jessica is making breakfast. Originally she was meant to slap Mia but instead she throws the frying pan on the counter then picks up the scrambled egg with her bare hands.
We were always improvising.
We reckon that you don’t scare easily but what was the last film that really got to you?
I really was scared by The Babadook and It Follows. It Follows really freaked me out. I am ultimately very prudish, I am a prude. The movie struck so many repressive chords that were installed in me when I was a catholic boy.
There’s a lot of wacky rumors online about you. Is there any truth to the rumor that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre made you a vegetarian for a while?
It’s true, it made me a vegetarian for four years. I gained a lot of weight because I was into muffins. I saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and got so revolted. Everybody after the movie went for tacos and barbecue and I couldn’t do it.
I broke that streak where one day I ate something like three chickens, whole [laughs].
You’ve got The Bleak House where you keep all your memorabilia and other collectibles. What did you take from the set of Crimson Peak to add to your collection?
I really love that place, that house makes me happy. Frankenstein greets me when I enter and then you turn the corner and Hans the dwarf from Freaks is waiting for me there with a razor blade.
I bought the portrait of the mother, which makes me laugh and always cracks me up and I bought the automaton that has the trick with the silver ball.
I bought the mechanical drill. The book with the illustrations is mines to begin with so I have that.
You’ve been on Twitter recently with recommendations of films that should be revisited or discovered [RIGHTING A WRONG]. What films haven’t you seen yet you probably should have?
Films that I haven’t seen? I always end up re-watching stuff I love, more than watching stuff I need to watch.
I’ve not seen enough Antonioni and I am ashamed of that [laughs].
What are you going to recommend next?
I am going to recommend Cronenberg’s Crash because I think it is under appreciated.
Then I want to recommend a movie from Holland called Character, which won an Oscar so it is not undervalued but people need to remember it.
Do you think if films like Deadpool are commercially successful, with its Hellboy-esq quirks, could pave a way for studios softening to the idea of Hellboy 3?
I tell you, I’ve been at it for 20 years or more and cannot figure out how studios think. It’s totally random what can happen.
You cannot strategize for randomness.
When you have time between projects what TV shows are you watching right now?
I watch everything. I watch almost every pilot for every TV show because that’s the way I cast. They need to grab me.
If I am not grabbed by the pilot, I don’t continue. That’s how I got hooked on “Justified,” “The Americans,” “Mr Robot” and obviously “Breaking Bad.” I follow so many programs and keep watching them and got lost in them like “The Knick” where I watch them all at once.
I was very taken by the beginning of “Hell on Wheels” but I didn’t finish it.
Were you a fan at all of “The X-Files”?
You know, it’s curious. I only watched a few. To me the measure of success of that arena was always “Kolchak,” I was a rabid fan. But I think they were beautifully written and realized and obviously Vince Gilligan was involved.
Vince also wrote an episode of the new “Kolchak” that was genuinely scary.
So far your career has been quite varied with some work in video games. Although Silent Hills didn’t work out, what was the experience like?
It was curious.
We had a great experience and had great story sessions with hundreds upon hundreds of designs. Some of the stuff that we were designing for Silent Hills I’ve seen in games that came after, like The Last of Us, which makes me think we were not wrong, we were going in the right direction.
The thing with Kojima and Silent Hills is that I thought we would do a really remarkable game and really go for the jugular.
We were hoping to actually create some sort of panic with some of the devices we were talking about and it is really a shame that it’s not happening. When you ask about how things operate, that makes no fucking sense at all that that game is not happening.
Makes no fucking sense at all. That’s the randomness that I was talking about.
Crimson Peak is out in cinemas on October 16th.