Visionary filmmaker Guillermo del Toro was a big draw at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. There to talk about the remake of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which he co-wrote and produced with Troy Nixey as the director, he explained the importance of producing the work of first-time filmmakers and why he enjoys learning from their unique visions.
He also spoke about his thoughts on 3-D, why he’s interested in making a new version of The Haunted Mansion, his desire to bring his own version of Frankenstein to the big screen and how he’d love to do another Hellboy film. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: What was it about the original film that you wanted to keep intact with this version?
Guillermo: What I loved about the original was the fact that these things were not big and scary. They were small and wickedly smart, and they relied on the fact that no one could see them and no one would believe they existed. When I saw this movie as a kid, it became such a powerful movie. It left such an imprint in my imagination. Years later, I saw it again as an adult – and it happens now and again, when you re-read a book or re-watch a movie – and you realize there’s a second movie that you entirely made up in all those years, that is not the movie you originally saw, and I thought there was room for that movie to exist. I originally started writing the movie in ‘98 with Matthew Robbins, to direct myself. One of the things I loved about it was to create these creatures the way they were in the original because that worked.
What was it about Troy Nixey’s work that inspired you to bring him onto this project as the director?
Guillermo: I was a big fan of the comic books already. “Jenny Finn” was the first time I saw his work, and I lost it over an original piece of art he did of Jenny Finn in the bed with the tentacles spilling over the blanket. It’s in my house now. I wanted very much to know that guy, the same way that I wanted to know Mike Mignola, for example. So, we met and had a good first encounter, and then he emailed me some JPEGs of his short. I wrote him back an extensive email telling him how great it looked and encouraging him to finish it. And then, I saw the full short and there was already a sensibility there, of a person with a world view, and it was very skillfully directed. I really think one of the duties, if you can do it as a producer, is to produce first-time filmmakers. I would much rather see somebody bring something new to a genre than produce something that seems safe. I think Troy had a new and fresh view on the material. And, we had the same fucked up childhood. I believe, as a producer/director, your duty is to create a beautiful horror film that really resonates. They need to have a really beautiful, valid aesthetic proposal, and Troy had that in spades.
Since you were originally aiming for a PG-13 rating, but the ratings board gave you an R rating, did you leave the film intact, or did you go back and reintroduce some ideas that you had previously cut out?
Guillermo: We actually did not tamper with it after that. There was one shot, which is a gash in a hand, where I wanted some tendons to show, but we agreed to tame it down. And then, I called the effects house and said, “Bring the tendons back.” Other than that, I don’t think we did anything. It’s completely abnormal that you contractually have a PG-13 movie with a studio, and then the time comes and you get a hard R and they tell you that you cannot change anything because it’s for pervasive scariness, which is like talking about morbid obesity in a candy store. It’s completely impossible to solve. And then, the studio supported us. It was a jaw-dropping moment for me, but it was beautiful to get that. It was like a badge of honor.
What do you get out of producing other filmmakers?
Guillermo: Producing is great because you learn. Troy made choices in the movie that would be completely against my instinct and that were entirely different than what I would do, and they worked. That taught me the same way that Juan Antonio Bayona made his own proposal of what a horror movie was with The Orphanage. I never would have thought it would work. And now, I just produced a movie in Spain, called Los Ojos de Julia, or Julia’s Eyes, and Guillem Morales, the director, came back and I was like, “Why this? Why that?” But then, I saw the movie and was like, “Oh, that’s why.” I’m learning. You learn a lot, as a producer.
Was there any pressure from the studio to make this a 3-D film?
Guillermo: We did an investigation of 3-D because the studio did ask how much it would cost to be 3-D. This movie was done for a fraction of the cost because we wanted to preserve the ending we wanted and the hardcore stuff we wanted. If we went over budget or we went too big, we were going to start losing those freedoms. It’s a low-budget movie for the size of production it is and, when the studio heard the number it would require to convert it to 3-D, they said, “Keep it at 2-D.” It’s a combination of very fortunate economic timing and artistic integrity.
Would you consider 3-D, under the right circumstances?
Guillermo: I love 3-D and I want to do it. Personally, I was not in favor of it for The Hobbit because, at that time, I thought it needed to be completely cohesive with the trilogy. But, that’s the only property in which I was not inclined to explore it. I think the way I do compositions and dynamics in the frame is perfectly suited for 3-D. I want to do it, and the next movie I do will be in 3-D.
What scares you, in real life?
Guillermo: There are only two on-buttons for fear, in any permutation you want. One is when something that shouldn’t be is, meaning a presence. And, the other one is an absence. It happens when someone walks into an empty corridor and something that should be there is not, or something that shouldn’t be there is. That’s it. But, without context, things are not scary. Fear is those two switches, in context. Without context, like humor, horror doesn’t work. In real life, what scares me is politicians, corporations and people that think they know what the world should be. People with certainty scare the shit out of me. When people say, “This is the way it should be,” I go, “Holy fuck!” Those things scare me. With supernatural things, I have heard ghosts, but I’ve never seen ghosts. I do seek ghosts and I would love to see one, but I would crap my pants.
Where were you when you heard ghosts?
Guillermo: The last ghost I heard was in New Zealand. We were scouting for The Hobbit and we went into a haunted room in a hotel that was famous for having a haunted room, so of course, I asked for the haunted room. I told everyone in the party, “Don’t come fucking with me at midnight.” I took the room and, at about midnight or 1 a.m., I started hearing a guy screaming. It was coming from a window in the bathroom, so I opened the window, but there was nothing but a narrow alley there. I was like, “Oh, fuck!” So, I went back to the bed, and then I started hearing a women sobbing and howling, coming from the same place. The rest of the night, I watched episodes of The Unit. I was so fucking scared that I needed some real men around me.
Also, when we were doing Hellboy 2, Mike Mignola, Danny Elfman and I went to a very famous hotel in London, called the Langham Hotel, that has two rooms that are haunted. One is haunted by a lover that committed suicide, and the other is haunted by a man that strangled his wife. I booked the wrong room. I wanted to book the room with the guy who threw himself out the window, but I booked the one with the strangler. So, Mike, Danny and I decided to spend the night there and, while two guys went to the bar, the other guy would stay 30 minutes, alone with the lights off. We set the rules that there would be no knocking, moaning or bullshit. Then, we hear “Woooo!,” and it was Danny Elfman’s fucking ringtone. My testicles dropped three stories. Those two seconds that it took for me to realize it was his ringtone, before I tried to insert his iPhone where the sun don’t shine, was very scary. The rest of the night, nothing happened.
Why are you so fascinated by fear?
Guillermo: My favorite novel in the world is Frankenstein. I’m going to misquote it horribly, but the monster says, “I have such love in me, more than you can imagine. But, if I cannot provoke it, I will provoke fear.” As a child that was disenfranchised from everything, and that was in a world that was the wrong size, run by the wrong people, the wrong morale and the wrong rules, I felt completely outside of that, and I wanted some measure of control, and the measure of control I found was through fear. The reality is that I feel that fear is a very spiritual emotion. In a world where we are so pragmatic and materialistic, fear is the only emotion that allows even a sophisticated person to believe in something beyond. We are such skeptics that we find it difficult to believe in God and angels and a spiritual afterlife, but a moment of fear makes our spirit so vulnerable that it allows us to believe in something beyond that. It’s also a boundary, and there’s nothing that defines who you are more than boundaries, whether you cross them or not, in every aspect of your life, and horror is a really great boundary.
How did you come to be doing The Haunted Mansion?
Have you seen the Eddie Murphy version?
Guillermo: Yes. I saw it with my daughters. I don’t like to talk about other people’s work, I just think there’s room for another one.
Is there a chance that you would incorporate Bernie Wrightson’s style for Frankenstein into your version, when you make it?
Guillermo: Bernie Wrightson designed our Frankenstein already. He came and designed it, and we executed it. We have all the pieces. They have been painted. We’re doing a test on Doug Jones very, very soon. Doug is the monster. We’re going to apply it and film it. Bernie designed the creature and he will be the main conceptual designer of it.
Do you think we’ll see Doug Jones in The Hobbit?
Guillermo: I have no idea anymore. When I was in charge, yes.
What are the chances of any more Hellboy films?
Guillermo: I would love to, yeah. I hope so.