Feo Amante's Under the Microscope:
An interview with
Guillermo del Toro
by Nicholas Braccia
Before I watched Luis Buñuel's Los Olvidados my friend Mark Dellelo warned
me, "It's so horrifying you'll almost want to laugh, but the laughter
will die in your throat." I'd give the same admonition to anyone seeing
Guillermo del Toro's effective new film, El Espinanzo del Diablo, or
The Devil's Backbone. Like Los Olvidados, it's about orphans caught
in the midst of chaos and terror, not sure who to trust or where to
turn. And like the end of Buñuel's film, the final scenes of Espinanzo
leave you silent - caught somewhere between a laugh and a scream.
at the New York City premiere of
THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE
I spent some time talking to Guillermo about THE
DEVIL'S BACKBONE, his previous movies, Cronos and MIMIC,
classic horror cinema, and the Internet while he was in New York City.
While his movies are, for the most part, deadly serious, I did catch a glimpse
of the jovial del Toro's essence when he noticed our Sony interview
room’s glass display of movie props. While I gawked at Daniel Larusso’s
All Valley Under 18 Karate Championship Trophy, Guillermo flipped at
the sight of amulets and broadswords from Coppola's DRACULA. He's every movie geek's inspiration-the fan who turned his love into art.
It's abundantly clear he’s a horror movie buff and comic book fan at heart.
His home in Austin is filled with Ray Harryhausen figures, original art by
Edward Gorey, Moebius, and Mike Mignola. After learning that I was pitching
to Feo Amante's horror Web site, he quickly identified the site's proprietor.
"That site is fucking amazing. It’s the guy with the bald head, right?"
Nicholas Braccia: How
much time do you spend surfing and what sites do you go to?
Guillermo del Toro: No matter what, I surf two hours every day. Mostly I'm looking for stuff
not in the regular movie news - the weirder the better. I never surf outside
movies and comics, though. If you do, you get all kinds of crazy mail.
I have all my sites bookmarked: Ain-It-Cool-News, Dark Horizons, The
Comics Continuum, and The Comic’s Journal...
NB: And you're friends with Harry Knowles who runs Ain’t
it Cool, right?
Toro: Yes, we’re neighbors now. I met him through e-mail.
He didn’t like MIMIC and I agreed with the points he made and I liked the crazy-ass energy of his site.
It's great because when you find someone like him ... it's like with
you guys: You love movies, but you're not going to get rich off them.
Before the Internet crash, it looked for a while like everyone was going
to be an e-millionaire, but then the bottom fell out. Now, everyone
involved is doing it out of love. So it's basically the biggest fucking
geek-net in the world. And I connect with some guys on the Internet
who I hang with at Comic Book conventions. But sometimes I'm very shy
about doing it. It's sometimes hard for a creator to approach people.
I was with Francis Ford Coppola the other day and he tells me that he
visits chat rooms quite often and eventually there's a point where he
just can't help it and says, “I'm Francis Ford Coppola” and everyone
is like “fuck you” in disbelief.
NB: Do you value fan feedback on the Internet as a tool in the moviemaking process?
del Toro: I think it's good. But you have to take it with a huge fucking massive paperweight size grain of salt. Sometimes I read talkback
and message boards on sites and when Kurosawa died, someone posted “What
the fuck do we care? He was not American.” And I thought, OK, that's enough
for me today. But then there was that great joke in The Onion, “Man Sees
Relic and Mimic and Can't Tell Them Apart.” At least you know that everybody
in the industry cruises the Internet. You would not believe the important
people who drop by Dark Horizon and Ain't it Cool. The top, top people
read what a geek has to say. A lot of the time I know it's 11-year old
guys posturing with blasé hard-boiled personas. But it's really good to
hear. I'd rather check out that than a fluff piece for a magazine. It's
a more honest reaction. But you hope that, if you like their site, they'll
like your work, but sometimes, they don't and that's ok. That's the way
it should be. The first reviews of Devil's Backbone were on the Net.
There's no questioning del Toro's passion for horror. Before directing Cronos,
he worked extensively in special effects honing his craft with Dick
Smith, the famed make-up master and contributing to episodes of Hora
Marcada, a Mexican series similar to The Twilight Zone. He's quick to
champion George Romero and Mario Bava and counts the former's Martin
and Brian De Palma's rock opera Phantom of the Paradise eclipsing Rocky
Horror among the films he holds most dear. Like De Palma, Romero, and
Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon, del Toro employs the conventions
of earlier horror movies to unveil the dark side of the human psyche.
NB: Watching Frederico Luppi in CRONOS, I couldn't help but think of Karloff in Bava's BLACK SABBATH as
the Wurdalak. Was that your intention?
del Toro: Absolutely. When I saw Black Sabbath I thought that
he had a really good idea, but I wondered...what if they what had welcomed him?
NB: And your movies seem to reference each other, too. As I watched Carlos in THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE peel an egg, the tan shell and pasty flesh reminded me of Luppi peeling off his skin in Cronos.
del Toro: And the idea that I like about the egg is that it cracks like the head of the dead kid, Santi. My fascination is with stuff that lay beneath other stuff. Like in Cronos, the insect that lies inside the device that is inside of an archangel. Or the way that The Devil's Backbone has a war within a war within a war.
PAGE 2: Guillermo talks about the highly anticipated BLADE 2