Film: Guillermo Del Toro Box Set – Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth ****
Release Date: 25th October 2010
Running time: 319 mins
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Starring: Ron Perlman, Federico Luppi, Ivana Baquero
Crafting some of horror’s most unusual works, Guillermo Del Toro is first and foremost a horror fan, not prepared to simply get the job done – and boy, does it show. His works over the years have included the underrated Mimic, Blade 2 and both Hellboy and its sequel. This collection, released for the first time on Blu-ray, showcases his talent for producing poignant chills with his first feature Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone and the much-celebrated Pan’s Labyrinth.
Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi) is an elderly antiques dealer who happens upon an ancient mechanical device, shaped like a beetle, once belonging to a 16th century alchemist.
Housing an immortal parasite which offers him the chance of eternal life, Gris readily agrees, at first not overly concerned about an extreme aversion to daylight and an agonising thirst for human blood – the pros far weighing out the cons as he grows ever more youthful with every sip.
That is until he yearns for the vital fluid of his innocent granddaughter…
With its plentiful supply of body horror and insects guaranteed to leave us insecure at the very least, Cronos is a neat vampire riff that’s imaginative, witty and right on the money.
If clamping the ancient device on Luppi’s chest doesn’t make you look away, or if beetles escaping from one of the holes in the statue fail to send a chill down your spine, the trashy image of Jesus licking blood from a white-tiled toilet floor will certainly affect you.
Federico Luppi and Ron Perlman are superb as the warring relations, with spot-on dialogue that requires little padding to move the story on at a satisfying pace. The special effects and locations still fascinate, and the gothic soundtrack compliments the former splendidly.
Dark, and in places extremely stylish, Del Toro’s first outing at the tender age of 29 is perhaps let down by a script that never really hits full throttle – yet its deliciously entertaining and frightfully scary nonetheless; certainly worth getting your teeth into.
The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
Set during the final days of the Civil War, the young inhabitants of a Spanish Orphanage are brutally terrorised by Santi, a decaying spirit who stalks the building’s dark, decaying hallways.
Carlos, a ten-year-old boy, son of a fallen Republican hero, is badgered incessantly by the child-like ghost upon his arrival. Having to contend with a violent caretaker, a bully, and an un-exploded bomb that dominates the Orphanage’s courtyard, still ticking away, Santi latching onto him is all too much.
The only way to rid himself of the spirit is to delve into the past and learn the true story of the child’s death, in turn revealing the real source of danger and interpreting the ghost’s gloomy prediction that “Many of you will die”…
More than just a simple ghost story, The Devil’s Backbone somehow manages to pull its diverse sub-plots together in such an explicable and beautifully realised way that come the final third, you’ll be deeply moved and will completely forget about how terrifying the journey actually was.
It may build slowly, but the tense murder-mystery elements that keep you guessing until the very end, tinged with unspeakable brutality and fantastic performances from its cast of mainly children, will barely leave you time to breathe.
It’s because of the excellent performances that we do find enough empathy, even for the tormenting ghost Santi, and also why Del Toro doesn’t need to try too hard to scare us. Children are more likely to open doors they shouldn’t, after all. That’s not to say the chills are lazy, even if the finer moments take place in the basement and when Carlos is hiding in the closet.
Atmospheric visuals and subtle special effects are enhanced by an eerie soundtrack punctured by mysterious noises that really add to the tension, but it’s the emotional finale that will really send a lump down the throat – an underrated horror classic.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
A companion piece to the Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth follows Ofelia, a young girl uprooted to a remote military outpost commanded by her new stepfather, a sadistic general in Franco’s army during the harsh realities of the Civil War.
Powerless and lonely, Ofelia discovers a neglected labyrinth behind the family home. Meeting Pan, a fantastical creature who challenges her with three tasks which he claims will reveal her true identity, a Princess, she lives out her own dark fable, confronting monsters both otherworldly and human, hoping to finally meet her real father, the King…
Without doubt, a fairytale for grown-ups, Pan’s Labyrinth steals cheekily from all those before it – whether it be Sergi Lopez playing the big bad wolf in the shape of Ofelia’s stepfather, the housekeeper’s fairy godmother, the movie’s haunted forests and rural setting, or its nods to other classics such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Wizard of Oz.
Only, there are more than just devilish sprites, cheeky fauns and twisted witches on offer here. In fact, the real terror comes from the real world rather than that of Ofelia’s imagination – a place so violent and bleak it’s no wonder she so gratefully accepts the three challenges in order to prove her royal status.
The true monster is the sadistic general as he tries to stamp out the left-wing using whatever means necessary, reveling in scenes that are extremely difficult to watch as Del Toro charts the evil that men can do with look-away precision.
The scene stealer, however, is pure fantasy. One of the greatest ever horror scenes occurs when Ofelia is confronted by the Pale Man, a hideous monster with no eyes catching his beauty sleep until she awakens him by foolishly stealing some of his food. Timing is everything here. Even though the viewer knows it’s coming, they don't know when. Yet, even then, as the creature finally jerks into life, reaching for his eyes before inserting them into the palms of his hands, they still won’t be prepared for the nerve-shredding chase through the corridors that follows.
Del Toro refuses, once again, to go overboard with CGI, and the horror is more terrifying for it. Dark, delightful, bleak and beautiful, all at the same time, Pan’s Labyrinth manages to merge the horrors of real life into the fantastical world of imagination, leaving Ofelia, and the viewer, with no preferable place to hide.
Crafting some of horror’s most imaginative and terrifying works, Guillermo Del Toro manages to combine fantasy and supernatural dread with political commentary in a way nobody else can, showcased in this fantastic collection – one that truly delivers the goods.