Guillermo del Toro is on a roll – his most recent film, The Shape of Water, was a critical and commercial smash hit, he’s currently working on a ‘darker version’ of the Pinocchio story, and has three TV series in the pipeline. It seems del Toro’s fantastically entertaining imagination knows no bounds. To celebrate the release of his TV series The Strain – Seasons 1-4 available on DVD 22nd October – here’s a celebration of the Oscar-winning director’s most visually arresting, genre-defying creations.
The Mexican director took Mike Mignola’s cult comic book character, about a demon conjured by the Nazis during the war, who switches sides and becomes a good guy, and turned him into an iconic screen hero – a cigar-chomping Ron Perlman, unrecognisable in extraordinary make-up.
2. Pan’s Labyrinth
Del Toro started out doing special effects make-up (learning his trade from Dick Smith, famous for his work on The Exorcist and Scanners). He showed off his love of the craft in the acclaimed fairytale horror Pan’s Labyrinth, which featured all manner of weird and wonderful creations. Who can forget the Pale Man, the humanoid demon with eyeballs in the palms of his hands?
3. Blade II
Del Toro’s Blade sequel was that rare beast – a follow up that was arguably better than the original. Vampirism is a favourite theme of the director, so he was right at home telling the story of Blade, played again by Wesley Snipes, taking on the vicious Reapers. And just take a look at what they look like.
Released in 1993, Cronos was the film that brought del Toro to international attention. It features a strange metal clockwork scarab, which promises eternal life to whoever owns it. But, as you might expect, eternal life comes at a price.
5. The Devil’s Backbone
This eerie film from 2001 sees a boy attending an orphanage after his father is killed. Something is not quite right at the institution – he begins to see apparitions within its walls, including the seriously spooky Junio Valverde as Santi, who will help unravel the mystery of the orphanage.
Genetically created insects, bred to kill diseased cockroaches, run out of control in the New York city sewers. You would think it would be simple to eradicate them, except the bugs have grown huge – and have the ability to turn themselves into human form.
7. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
This splendid remake of the spine-chilling 1973 TV movie, a favourite of del Toro’s, sees a young girl terrorised by nasty little hobgoblins from the basement of her dad’s house. Amazing effects work from the legendary Greg Nicotero (From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, The Walking Dead) bring to life the creatures writer and producer del Toro describes as “really, really nasty vermin”.
8. Crimson Peak
This lavish gothic horror from 2015 is an absolute treat for fans of the director, with sumptuous production design, a fairytale ambience, and, of course, a huge house inhabited by strange goings on. Just look at this ghastly ghost that heiress Mia Wasikowska encounters in the creaking corridors of her cursed mansion.
9. Pan’s Labyrinth
Deep inside the labyrinth lives the Faun, who gives the heroine three tasks to complete if she is to return to her world. The intricate and beautiful design of this, and the other creations in the film, meant the film won the Oscar for Best Makeup in 2007.
10. The Shape of Water
This acclaimed release from last year showed del Toro at the peak of his powers, with its poignant story of a woman falling in love with a sea creature kept in captivity. It won four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, and introduced audiences to the slippery, slimy, but ultimately loveable amphibian man.
11. Pacific Rim
Del Toro is equally at home with spooky ethereal creatures and goblins, as he is with mammoth effects-driven blockbusters, as shown in 2013 action sci-fi epic Pacific Rim. Giving the Transformers films a run for their money, it’s robots versus sea creatures in an epic, eye-popping battle for humanity!
12. The Strain
Del Toro returned to his love of the vampire myth with the TV series The Strain, co-written by Chuck Hogan. A viral outbreak in New York turns people into bloodsuckers – but these are vampires like you’ve never seen. These are a cruel and ruthless species, that, as del Toro says ‘drink a human like you would drink juice, and then dispose of the human like you would dispose of that juice’. Charming.
The Strain Complete Series: Seasons 1-4 is released on DVD 22nd October.