Since the release of Cronos in 1993, Mexican writer and director Guillermo del Toro has built a strong following with the distinctive look and feel of his feature films. Fans have long been intrigued by his ability to blend fairytale archetypes with storylines based on historical events or even comic books. While this combination of genres may seem strange to some, others see it as part of the weird tapestry that is del Toro.
During pre-production, del Toro hand-sketches the fanciful creatures and details he hopes to bring to life in movies like Pan’s Labyrinth or Pacific Rim. Some of these sketches appeared in a book released by del Toro in 2013 - but they only scratch the surface of his obsession with the macabre and the fanciful.
He owns one home for the sole purpose of displaying his personal collections, he entered into an agreement with monsters as a child, and he once made a short film about a serial killer potato. The Mexican writer-director is an eccentric, once-in-a-lifetime talent, and he has a number of strange tendencies to prove it.
Aside from his main home, del Toro owns a second residence in Westlake Village, CA, for the sole purpose of holding his various large collections. Known as Bleak House, the Tudor-style mansion houses models of creatures from del Toro’s films, recreations of characters from movies like 1932’s Freaks, and various pieces of artwork. Drawings from Disney's Fantasia, comic books, paintings, and other artwork fills the house, allowing del Toro to “see the brushstroke or the Wite-Out” and “understand how they did it.”
The artwork goes on tour sometimes, allowing the public to peruse del Toro’s unusual collection of movie props, themed rooms filled with life-sized figures, and rare books.
Del Toro grew up drawing monsters and using his own face as a canvas for special effects makeup, transforming himself into bloodied grotesques. As he continued on the path to filmmaking, del Toro spent obsessive amounts of time on the design of the creatures appearing in his movies.
The physical interpretation of del Toro’s vision is among the director’s top priorities - even if it means returning a portion of his salary to pay for proper special effects.
When bringing Hellboy to the big screen in 2004, del Toro insisted on seeing his vision brought to life properly. He returned half his paycheck to the studio in exchange for higher quality special effects.
To ensure the opulent and exquisitely designed world of 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth fully came to life, he rejected all payment so the funds could go toward his creatures.
Growing up in a Catholic household led to del Toro butting heads with his grandmother. She worried about his obsession with drawing monsters and, later, his interest in special effects makeup that skewed to the gory side of things. In an attempt to recover her grandson’s soul, she tried to exorcize the devil from him - twice.
On another occasion, she forced del Toro to place metal bottle caps in his shoes to atone for his sins. In a 2017 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, del Toro recounted the experience: "She explained purgatory to me: basically, the flames of hell, but not forever... if you want to ameliorate your time in purgatory, you can offer Jesus your suffering. So, here are these bottle caps, put them in your shoes and every time they hurt, you offer your pain to Jesus. I wore them for a long time until my mother discovered my socks were stained with blood, and then we stopped the bottle cap-thing."
Created in 1993 by artist Mike Mignola, Hellboy is a complicated half-demon who works for the forces of good while fighting against the perceived destiny others believe he should embrace. After growing up in a Catholic household while attempting to follow his interests in monsters and the macabre, del Toro felt a deep connection to the character during the making of the film adaptation of Hellboy.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, del Toro said Hellboy embodies the idea that you are who you choose to be. Hellboy is a half-demon who chooses to do good while others attempt to use him to bring about the end of days or turn the tide for the Nazis in World War II.
Del Toro’s grandmother attempted to turn him away from his interests through exorcisms, punishment, and vocal declarations of disappointment. The director fleshed out the parallel, saying, "The relationship between him and Professor Broom, it's still the relationship between me and my grandmother in many ways, you know, it is, for me... I changed the birthday of Hellboy in the comic to my birthday, October 9."