Guillermo DelToro

(Copyright © 1999-2017 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
7.1 The Devil's Backbone (2001)
7.2 Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
6.7 The Shape Of Water (2017)
6.0 Blade 2
6.0 Crimson Peak

Mexican-born actor Guillermo DelToro debuted as a director at 29 with Cronos (1993), followed by Mimic (1997), based on Donald Wollheim's short story, two films about the supernatural.

Set in Spain during the Civil War of the 1930s, El Espinazo del Diablo/ The Devil's Backbone (2001) is a ghost story, a children story, a political fresco and a sordid melodrama. Underlying the fairy tale of a living child who is trying to communicate with a dead child are a story of sexual frustration and a story of political frustration.

In the first scene a child dies, blood pouring out of his skull.
Carlos, another child, doesn't know it, but his father has been killed in the Spanish civil war. His tutor brings him to the house of a rich middle-aged lady with a wooden leg, Carmen, the widow of a leader of the rebels, who, together with an elderly Argentine-born doctor, is now taking care of many children like him, orphans of dead rebels (only boys). Carlos' tutor begs her to take Carlos. Carmen begs him to take her gold so the fascists will not find it if they win the war.
Carlos thinks he is just visiting the odd compound, but instead the tutor leaves him there. While he was waiting in the courtyard, admiring an inexploded bomb that is still stuck in the ground, he saw a strange figure that disappeared after a few seconds. At night he thinks he hears someone. Carlos is afraid but determined to meet the ghost, and follows him into the basement wearing only his pajama. The children know about the ghost, and so do Carmen and the doctor.
Jacinto also lives in the house. He is a young man, a former pupil, who now works as a caretaker in return for shelter and food. He is engaged to the beautiful Conchita, the housekeeper, and they dream of starting a life in Granada. But Jacinto is actually a sadistic man who one day scars Carlos with a knife to punish him.
The doctor, instead, is a nice man who knows how to deal with the children. When Carlos tells him about the ghost, the doctor shows him the secret of the orphanage: a drink that they make out of some secret potion and that gets its taste from the bodies of unborn children. The doctor invites him to drink in order to heal his wound, and Carlos immediately retracts his ghost story rather than drink. The doctor smiles, but then he drinks his own disgusting potion: popular superstition has it that it cures male impotence.
Jacinto is also a cheater: he is Carmen's secret lover (the secret lover of his former teacher, of the woman who saved him and raised him). The doctor hears them make love from the other side of the wall.
And Jaime, the most arrogant of the children, is secretely in love with the pretty Conchita, who obviously treats him only like a child.
The children finally tell Carlos that he has been assigned the bed of a child, Santi, who disappeared the night that the bomb dropped from the sky. Nobody knows what happened to Santi. Carlos looks again for Santi and finds him, but Santi is evil and locks him in a closet.
One day the doctor learns that their friend has been taken prisoner. Knowing that he will talk under torture, the doctor persuades Carmen to take as many children as possible and leave before the fascists come to search the house. He thinks that Carmen still has the gold. So does Jacinto, who reveals the real reason for his sexual favors to Carmen: he wants the gold. He grabs the key of the safe, but the doctor shows up in time with a gun and kicks him out of the orphanage.
While the children get ready to leave, Jacinto returns, damages the only truck and is pouting gasoline to set fire to the building while the children are still inside. Conchita sees him and grabs a gun, but can't find the strength to shoot. Carmen and many children are killed in the explosion. The survivors have to camp among the ruins. The doctor, wounded, is determined to kill Jacinto. Jaime finally tells Carlos how Santi died: he was killed by Jacinto who threw him against a wall, breaking his skull (the first scene of the film). Then Jacinto threw the body into the pool. Jaime watched unseen, powerless to save his friend. Minutes later bombers appeared in the sky and a bomb fell, narrowly missing Jaime. Now Jacinto too is determined to kill Jacinto.
In the meantime, Conchita has set out on foot to look for help. Instead she runs into Jacinto, who does not hesitate to kill her. Jacinto is coming with friends to loot the place. The old man is waiting for him at the window, armed with a gun, but getting weaker. He promises to protect the children to the end, but instead he dies. In the meantime Jacinto meets Santi who asks: "bring him to me". Jacinto is already there, and forces the children to help him search for the safe. When they find it, they find it empty. BUt Jacinto is obsessed with the gold and wants to continue searching. And he succeeds: Carmen had hidden lots of gold inside her wooden leg. The children had been locked in a room but a mysterious hand opens the door for them. The children make sure that Jacinto chases them into the room where Santi was killed. Then they throw him in the pool for Santi to finish the job. What really kills him is the gold that he has in his pockets: the weight drags him to the bottom and makes him drown, his body struggling underwater next to the skeleton of Santi.
The surviving children leave the building and start walking along the road. Once they have left, the doctor appears at the gate: he is the new ghost of the place. The last words of the film are his.

El Laberinto del Fauno/ The Labyrinth of the Faun/ Pan's Labyrinth (2006) is two films in two: a harrowing war movie and a fairy tale. The two are gently woven into each other and somehow their intercourse gives birth to the old-fashioned melodrama of an orphan mistreated by her stepfather. It is a mesmerizing game of symbiosis and metamorphosis. There seem to be references to biblical events (e.g. in the Book of Genesis mandrake root helps Rachel conceive Jacob) but, if so, they don't follow the original.

In 1944, while Spain is run by a fascist dictator, a girl is reading a fairy tale. The fairy tale is about a princess who left the underworld to visit the human world and got her memory erased by the sun. Having become mortal, she died, but her father the king still believes that she will eventually return home. The king is building labyrinths to welcome her back. The reader is Ofelia, who is traveling in a car through the forest with her pregnant mother Carmen towards the military camp where her stepfather, a captain, is stationed. It is an old mill. When the car stops to let her car-sick mother vomit, Ofelia takes a short walk and finds a stone that looks like the carving of an eye. Then she finds a statue that is missing the eye. She pushes the eyes into the stone face and a praying mantis comes out of the mouth. When Ofelia gets into the car and the car restarts, the praying mantis flies behind it. The stepfather is in charge of capturing the remaining communist rebels fighting the fascist dictator. The praying mantis shows up again. Ofelia follows it and discovers an ancient stone labyrinth. The captain's trusted maid Mercedes takes care of Ofelia, who makes a point of telling her that her father was a tailor, while the military doctor visits Carmen. The doctor does not hesitate to tell the ruthless captain that it was not a good idea to have the pregnant woman go on such a long tiring trip. The captain coldly replies that a son has to be born where his father is, and the doctor is shocked that the captain is so certain that the baby will be a boy. When the doctor leaves, Mercedes begs him for help, implying that she is protecting someone who was shot by the soldiers, obviously a rebel. Meanwhile the captain's soldiers have arrested a peasant and his son, suspecting them of cooperating with the communists. The son claims that his father went hunting for rabbits. The captain kills him brutally by crushing his head with a metal baton and then shoots the father in the heart. But the old man's purse contains indeed dead rabbits. The captain coldly reproaches the soldiers for not having carefully searched the two peasants and takes the rabbits home for Mercedes to cook them. Meanwhile, Ofelia wakes up and finds the praying mantis chirping next to her and turning into a tiny fairy. The flying fairy leads Ofelia through the labyrinth to an ugly but friendly faun. The faun welcomes her back, believing that she is the lost princess, and gives her a book of blank pages that is supposed to contain three tasks for her to perform in order to regain immortality. The following day the captain receives a huge cargo of food and medicines that clearly draws the attention of Mercedes. Just then the soldiers spot a fire in the forest and immediately ride in that direction. The captain finds a syringe of antiobiotics next to the abandoned campfire. The rebels are actually watching them but the soldiers don't see them. Meanwhile, Ofelia wanders through the woods reading the faun's book and is assigned the first task. She crawls into a cave until she meets a horrible giant toad. The task is to retrieve the key that the toad guards. She succeeds but she leaves the cave covered in mud and slime. That evening the captain is throwing a party. He is boasting about having cornered the remaining communists, and Mercedes walks out silently to warn the rebels with light signals. Just then Ofelia is walking out of the woods, shivering, dirty, her beautiful new dress destroyed. Her mother is mad at her and sends her to be without supper. But the praying mantis appears again. Ofelia follows her again into the underworld to meet the faun. She delivers the key to the faun, who tells her to keep it and gives a chalk. The soldiers distribute food and medicines to the population but the captain deliberately limits the amount so that they cannot give any to the rebels. Every time Ofelia looks at the book of blank pages, the pages start displaying something. This time the book displays blood. Ofelia runs to her other's room and finds her in pain and covered in blood. Ofelia knows that Mercedes is helping the rebels but is willing to keep the secret. Mercedes leads the doctor to her lover, Pedro. The doctor is willing to risk his life. Pedro leads them to the camp where the rebels hide. The doctor has to amputate the rotting leg of the leader, an older intellectual. The doctor tells Pedro that he is a fool for fighting the vastly superior forces of the fascists, but Pedro is determined to continue his fight. Mercedes hands him the key to the warehouse where all the food and medicines are stored. The faun appears to Ofelia while she is sleeping and gives her a magic root for her mother. The faun tells Ofelia that her next task is life-threatening. She follows the instructions, opens a secret passage, and walks into a long tunnel. She ends up in a room where a mannequin is sitting in front of a table laden with delicious food, but the decoration of the room hints at meals in which the children are the main course. Ofelia doesn't resist the temptation to try the food. The mannequin rises and eats the fairies who are trying to protect Ofelia. Ofelia, terrified, runs back into the tunnel but the monster is right behind her. She barely escapes and gives her mom the magic medicine. The doctor is pleased to see improvement in the mother. Ofelia overhears the captain order the doctor that, if things get worse, he has to save the child before the mother. The rebels attack a convoy in the woods but don't steal anything. The captain rushes there with the soldiers and is puzzled that the rebels didn't steal anything... until he hears the explosions: the rebels have attacked his camp to steal all the food and medicines from the warehouse, and the attack on the convoy was just a diversion to send him away with most of the soldiers. The captain leads the posse that chases the rebels. When they find them, they massacre them. At the end of the battle the soldiers kill all the rebels who are still breathing but too wounded to speak. They save only one, one who is only wounded in the leg, and can still talk. They take him back to the mill and the captain tortures him all night long. At night, the faun appears to Ofelia. The surving fairy tells the faun that Ofelia woke up the monster by eating his food, and the faun curses her to remain human forever. In the morning the captain calls the doctor to assist the prisoner who no longer responds to the torture. The prisoner begs the doctor to kill him, and the doctor does it. The captain also realizes that the doctor has been providing medicines to the rebels. The doctor is doomed. The captain shoots him in the back after a brief confrontation. At the same time the captain has found the magic root and showed it to Carmen. Carmen scolds Ofelia: magic does not exist. Carmen throws the root in the fire, and the root starts screaming. Seconds later Carmen starts screaming too: the birthpangs started. Carmen dies giving birth to a son. The captain is indifferent to Carmen's death but rushes to hug his son. Ofelia now only has Mercedes. But the prisoner has confessed enough that the captain has started suspecting Mercedes of being an informer. Mercedes decides to escape and Ofelia insists to leave with her, but the captain is ready to catch them. He locks up Ofelia and prepares to torture Mercedes. Mercedes has hidden a knife in her apron and attacks the captain, stabbing him repeatedly. Mercedes run away. The captain is alive and orders the soldiers to chase her. When the soldiers reach her, and surround her, she is ready to kill herself rather than surrender but the rebels arrive just in time to annihilate the soldiers. She can finally hug Pedro again. At night, the faun orders Ofelia to bring the captain's son into the labyrinth. Ofelia grabs the baby while the rebels are storming the mill, but the captain (her step-father) sees her. Mercedes is in fact searching for her. The captain abandons his men and chases Ofelia into the labyrinth. Ofelia brings the baby to the faun but then refuses to hand him over when the faun reveals that he needs a few drops of his blood for the sacrifice that will open the gate of the underworld. The captain sees Ofelia talking alone (cannot see the faun), grabs the baby from her and coldly shoots her. He walks out of the labyrinth only to find that the rebels have conquered the mill and are waiting for him. He hands the baby over to Mercedes and asks her to tell the baby the exact time when he died (just like his own father did when he died in the war), but Mercedes tells him the opposite: the baby will never even know his name. Pedro shoots him in the head. Ofelia is dying. She wakes up in a royal room. Her mother and her (real) father are sitting on high thrones and welcoming her back to their kingdom: she has passed the last test by preferring to spill her own blood rather than the blood of an innocent. Ofelia smiles as she dies.

The Shape Of Water (2017) was a much more conventional Hollywood film, an unlikely love story with a happy/melodramatic ending of sorts, told as a fairy tale, mixed with a Cold War-era spy thriller and some nostalgic retro visual art, but hurt by a ridiculous ending worthy of the most moronic Hollywood endings.

The story is set at the beginning of the television era. Elisa is a mute who lives alone in an apartment above a movie theater. She works as a janitor in a top-secret laboratory. Her best friend Zelda is a black janitor who talks to her all the time. One day they are cleaning a room full of scientists when they witness the arrival of a new piece of equipment. Elisa touches it and realizes that inside there is a living being. She has dinner with a middle-aged poster designer, Giles, and then they watch television together. They are good friends and neighbors. He is a struggling ### One day Elisa and her black friend witness the horrible mutilation of an arrogannt scientist, Strickland, who doesn't wash his hands after peeing. Later they are asked the clean the blood on the floor of the laboratory. Elisa finds two fingers. She sees again the cage full of water and catches a glimpse of the animal, an amphibian humanoid that swims inside. Another time, alone in the laboratory, she sees that the animal has been tied to a chain and is swimming inside a pool. She offers him an egg. He grabs it and swims away. The arrogant scientist, who has had the severed fingers grafted back to his hand, summons them and tells them that the beast is not human, that he found him in Amazonia and that they dislike each other. He has a sexy wife and two children, a regular family of the time. Meawnwhile, Elisa keeps secretely bringing eggs to the creature. She behaves as if she's in love with the beast, and one day a scientist sees her flirting with him. This scientist is a Soviet spy who is writing reports on what is going in the lab. Dimitri let his fellow spies know that he has evidence the beast is intelligent. One day Elisa finds the beast chained outside the water pool and bleeding. She hides when the arrogant scientist comes in: he is torturing the beast with an electrical baton. She witnesses the visit of a general. The arrogant scientist wants the beast vivisected to learn its anatomical secrets. The Russian scientist is opposed. The reason that this beast is so important for the military is that the Soviet Union just sent a human in space, and the USA wants to do the same, and needs a human who can breathe like this beast. They know that the Soviets want the beast too. She sees from a window that the general and the arrogant scientist decide to vivisect the beast against the objection of the good Russian scientist. Back home she tells her middle-aged friend Giles that she wants to save the beast. He understands her sign language. She cries. She loves the beast. The man has his own problems: after working a lot on a poster, he realizes that his customer just doesn't want it. To make matters worse, he stops at a restaurant and realizes that the bartender is a racist. This convinces him to help Elisa because she's the only friend he has. Meanwhile the Russians are plotting. Dimitri has reported back that the general wants to vivisect the beast. Dimitri's superior orders him to kill the beast before that can happen in order to make sure that the USA doesn't learn anything from the beast's anatomy. Dimitri, however, is a scientist before he is a patriot and wants to keep the beast alive. Elisa has worked out a detailed plan, and Giles helps her fake ids that will get him inside the lab. Surprisingly, the arrogant scientist is attracted by Elisa's handicap and tries to seduce her. Dimirtri, who goes by the name Bob in the lab, pleads in vain the arrogant Strickland. Meanwhile, Elisa has tampered with the surveillance camera. Bob/Dimitri understands what she is doing. Instead of stopping her, he gives her the keys and tells her what the beast needs to survive. He activates his own plan, that in theory should lead him to kill the beast, but with the purpose to help her smuggle the beast out of the lab. Elisa's friend suspects that something wrong is going on and tries to stop Elisa. Dimitri/Bob blows up the electrical grid, Giles can drive the van to the leading dock, Elisa's friend Zelda reluctantly helps Elisa move the beast, they load the beast in the van and take off while Bob/Dimitri and Elisa's friend leave normally. Strickland has sensed what is happening but cannot stop the van. In fact, the van hits his brand new car on the way out of the parking garage. Elisa and the Giles unload the agonizing beast into a bathtub. Now Elisa has a plan to release the beast in the sea when it rains. At home the Giles is supposed to watch over the beast but falls asleep and the beast starts walking around the man's apartment. He finds the man's cat and devours it. Then the beast runs away injuring the man. Elisa finds him in the movie theater, staring at a movie in an empty room. She brings him back and the beast is sorry to see the man's injuries, and even plays with the remaining kitties. He seems to understand human feelings. Alone with the beast, she undresses and has sex with him. The following day she smiles nonstop. She confesses the sex to Zelda . She floods her bathroom to have sex underwater with the beast and causes the water to rain into the movie theater. Giles wakes up with no wounds: the beast magically healed them. Clearly the beast has superhuman powers, and that's why he is worshipped as a deity in the Amazons. The rains come and Elisa is getting ready to release the beast into the sea, even if that breaks her heart. At the same time the Russians are preparing to smuggle Dimitri out of the USA: Dimitri told them that he killed the beast, and therefore his mission is over. Strickland's fingers are rotting but he is obsessed with finding the beast. He watches Dimitri and sees him leaving the apartment in the rain. Dimitri is waiting for his Russian superiors. The Russians shoot Dimitri and almost kill him, but Strickland arrives in time to save him. Strickland hearad him speak Russian. Strickland pulls out his electric baton and starts torturing Dimitri under the rain. Strickland is convinced that the beast was kidnapped by a team of Russians and wants the names from Dimitri. Dimitri confesses that the kidnappers are the cleaning women. Minutes later Strickland is at Zelda's door. Strickland cracks his own fingers that are rotting while telling Zelda a biblical story. The husband saves Zelda by telling Strickland that the mute Elisa took the beast. Zelda calls Elisa and tells her to run. When Strickland arrives at Elisa's place, Elisa and Giles are gone, and taken the beast with them. Strickland finds a note about a dock and understands where they are. Elisa and Giles take the beast to the dock. It is still raining heavily. Strickland arrives in time and shoots both Elisa and the beast. The beast comes back alive and kills Strickland. Then he lifts Elisa's body in his arms and jumps in the water with her. While she is sinking, he resurrects her.

His Pinocchio (2022) is set in fascist Italy.

(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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