This story originally appeared in Latina Magazine's November 2015 issue.
In his latest cinematic masterpiece, Crimson Peak, legendary Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro explores the monstrous side of amor.
When Guillermo del Toro was 4-years-old, he accompanied his mother to a revival theater in their hometown of Guadalajara, Mexico, for a matinee showing of William Wyler’s Wuthering Heights, starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. He fell asleep on his mother’s lap only to awaken during an intense storm sequence that both terrified and fascinated him. It was del Toro’s first time watching a movie, and the film’s haunting story and the gothic ambiance clearly had a profound impact on him, later influencing the look and feel of many of his own films—though none quite as much as Crimson Peak, in theaters now.
“When you say ‘gothic romance,’ people think of Fabio on a paperback cover,” del Toro, 52, says with a laugh. “But the reality is it’s a very cagey genre because it’s not quite as scary as horror but also not as idyllic as a classic romance. It’s a dark poem that encompasses love and death.”
In a way, Crimson Peak is also del Toro’s love poem to the grand gothic romances of the 1930s and 1940s—among them Robert Stevenson’s Jane Eyre, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca, and the Vincent Price-led Dragonwyck. To that end, there’s an operatic quality to the film’s cinematography and aesthetic—from the color-coded wardrobe, which del Toro says was inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, to the elaborate set design, replete with dimly lit corridors featuring triplicated wood moldings that create a surreal, dreamlike effect.
Set in the dawn of the 20th century, the film centers on a beautiful but naive American girl, Edith (Mia Wasikowska), who falls in love with a handsome and enigmatic British gentleman, Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Despite her father’s objections, Edith ultimately weds Thomas and accompanies him to his family estate, a dilapidated mansion atop a mountain of blood-red clay where Thomas resides with his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain). As Edith settles into her new home, she encounters a series of ghosts, each new apparition shaking her to the core. Determined to learn more about her surroundings, Edith unearths some disturbing secrets about the Sharpe siblings and the bone-chilling events that transpired in their family’s estate.
“The real darkness in the movie comes from the humans,” says del Toro. “The ghosts may be spooky, but they’re not meant to be the ultimate horror of the film. Lucille and Thomas’s parents were monstrous people who shaped two monstrous children—that’s the real horror of the story.”
Kindness and compassion are palpable when del Toro, a father of two (Mariana, 19, and Marisa, 14), speaks. These attributes also come across in his work. His elegantly nuanced stories, from Cronos to The Devil’s Backbone, don’t necessarily posit supernatural figures—be they vampires, ghosts, or monsters—as inherently evil. Chuck Hogan, who created the FX series The Strain with del Toro, theorizes, “He’s able to see the beauty in these creatures and understand what [events and circumstances] made them what they are.”
It’s an interesting ability given that as a young child in Guadalajara, del Toro was terrified by the ominous monsters he encountered in his lucid nightmares on a near-daily basis. “I would wake up with night terrors, and because I was so scared to go to the bathroom, I’d end up wetting my crib, so my mom would punish me,” he recalls. “One day, I got up in the crib, and I said to the monsters, ‘If you let me go to the bathroom, I’ll be your friend.’ After that, they disappeared.”
In the years that followed, not only did del Toro make good on his promise to befriend the monsters, but he went a step beyond, creating fearsome creatures of his own, filling notebooks with story lines and sketches that he eventually turned into books, screenplays, and films.
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