I’ve attached ACMI’s synopses below. Having seen three of del Toro’s films (The Devil's Backbone, Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth) and not interested in his other Hollywood films (Mimic and Blade II), I’m particularly interested to see his first film (Cronos) and his selection. I enjoyed The Devil's Backbone when it was released, though I can’t say it left a big impression on me. If I find the time, I’ll see it again in light of his most recent film.
As I wrote in my review of Pan’s Labyrinth, I found it visually spectacular, but the narrative was inconsistent and flawed. As I recollect, The Devil’s Backbone had a nice understated ‘arthouse’ aesthetic and satisfying story without the breathtaking visuals of Labyrinth.
Focus on Guillermo del Toro - ACMI Screening Program
Cronos / La Invención de Cronos (Mexico, 1993) - Making its auspicious debut during Critics’ Week at the Cannes Film Festival in 1993, del Toro’s first feature is an elegant, sardonic and ultimately very moving reworking of the vampire and monster genres. Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi), a mild mannered antiques dealer, accidentally discovers a curiously rapacious mechanical device that has the power to reverse the aging process if you let it suck on your blood for a while, the only catch is that you develop a taste for blood yourself.
Mimic (USA, 1997) - Del Toro’s first US-produced feature, Mimic is an environmental horror film about a mutant breed of insects that wreak their own form of genetic revenge on the human residents of Manhattan. With salutes to the original sci-fi creature-chiller, Alien, and taut noir of David Lynch (with production design by Lynch regular Carol Spier) Mimic encompasses several set pieces that del Toro considers his most accomplished, including the subway abduction of Dr Susan Tyler.
The Devils Backbone / El Espinazo del Diablo (Spain, 2001) - A supreme ghost story-murder mystery set in the dying days of the Spanish civil war, The Devils Backbone tells the story of 10 year old Carlos who, sent to a school shelter for orphans and abandoned children, soon finds himself by a pale spectre of Santi (Valverde), a fellow orphan who was brutally murdered.
Blade II (USA, 2002) - Sequels are rarely known to better the originals that spawned them, but del Toro managed the rare feat of inspiring unanimous praise for his hyperkinetic contribution to the Blade trilogy (based on the Marvel Comics’ hero). Wesley Snipes returned to take up the role of the conflicted part-human/part-vampire crusader in a film invested by del Toro with neo-noir atmospherics and edge-of-your-seat action.
Hellboy (2004) - Del Toro collaborated closely with Mike Mignola, the creator of the Hellboy comic to create this entertaining film that according to del Toro became “its own creature.” When a newly conjured demon child crosses into this world via a portal, the Nazi’s aim to exploit it to their sinister ends. Hellboy (Ron Perlman, in his third del Toro film to date) learns to temper the more destructive traits encoded in his DNA and sides with humanity.
Pan’s Labyrinth / El Laberinto del Fauno (Spain, 2006) - Set against the postwar repression of Franco’s Spain, Pan’s Labyrinth unfolds through the eyes of 12-year-old Ofelia, who travels with her mother to live at a rural military outpost commanded by her cruel new step father. In the real world, war-riven Spain, she discovers a fantasy underworld and must battle against the most twisted, nightmarish evils to survive.
Del Toro’s Pick > Black Sunday: The Mask of Satan (Mario Bava, Italy, 1960, B&W) - Cult film darling Barbara Steele debuts as a 17th century Moldavian princess, condemned to death for witchcraft and vampirism. The film sealed the directorial credentials of Italian horror maestro Mario Bava. Portraying perfectly executed images of cruelty and shocking torture sequences and visuals that are still impressive.
Del Toro’s Pick > The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, USA, 1955, B&W) - Adapted from the strange, brilliant, American gothic novel by Davis Grubb, the film follows Harry Powell, a self proclaimed preacher, on a quest to find the cash hidden by a deceased cell mate. Charles Laughton creates a powerful story of good versus evil, where both claim to have god on their side.
Del Toro’s Pick > Martin (George Romero, USA, 1977) - George Romero is acclaimed for his pop classic ‘living dead’ zombie trilogy. In Martin he turns his zeitgeist-attuned wit to the modern day perils of a young vampire trying to keep himself nice in the face of challenges that include a new generation of emancipated women.