April 17, 2024 | Miles Brucker

Macabre Facts About Guillermo del Toro's World

“Well, the first thing is that I love monsters. I identify with monsters” —Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro has built a formidable and fearsome body of work: He is fascinated by the beauty of the unusual, the macabre, and the horrific, and his work has always strived to blur the tenuous distinction between so-called high and low art, earning him legions of fans and critical acclaim in the process. Here are some facts about the life and work of the Mexican maestro.

1. Monster-Mad

Guillermo del Toro’s sincere love of monsters has been embedded in him since he was a small child in Mexico. He claims that monsters used to crowd into his room at night, and he made a pact with them: If they let him go to the washroom, he'd be their friend for life. It worked, and del Toro says, "To this day, monsters are the thing I love most."

 Guillermo del Toro

2. The Power of Christ Compels You

Del Toro liked monsters so much as a child that his Catholic grandmother, fearing for his soul, performed a real-life exorcism on him, and when that didn’t work, she actually performed a second one. Despite such a strict, religious upbringing, de Toro now considers himself a lapsed Catholic.

Guillermo del Toro FactsGetty Images

3. Prodigy with a Potato

Del Toro started flexing his filmmaking muscles earlier than most, making short films as a child on his father’s Super 8 camera. One short focused on a murderous potato who killed del Toro’s mother and siblings before being venturing outside and being run over by a car.

Guillermo del Toro FactsWikimedia Commons

4. Horrorshow

Del Toro wrote and directed episodes of the cult Mexican anthology series La Hora Marcada. This is how he first met fellow filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men, Gravity), who also worked on the show.

Guillermo del Toro facts Getty Images

5. Make-up Whiz

Before making his first film, Del Toro spent 10 years as a special-effects make-up artist. He founded his own Mexican special effects house, Necropia, with his longtime animation partner Rigo Mora.

Guillermo del Toro FactsShutterstock

6. Friend, Mentor, Legend

Legendary make-up artist Richard Smith had been a huge influence on del Toro throughout his life. He bought Smith’s make-up kit when The Exorcist came out in 1973, and applied for his make-up course in New York in 1987. It was around this time that they met, and Smith soon became a close friend and mentor to del Toro.

Guillermo del Toro facts Getty Images

7. Light Reading

Del Toro considers himself a book-person first and foremost, and there were two books that shaped his universe as a child. One was an encyclopedia of health (which led to an obsession with anatomy), and the other an encyclopedia of art.

Guillermo del Toro FactsShutterstock

8. My Pal Perlman

Best known for his portrayal of the title character in 2004’s Hellboy and its 2008 sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Ron Perlman has starred in five of the director’s films in total. Their first collaboration was 1993’s vampire drama Cronos, del Toro’s debut feature.

Guillermo del Toro facts Getty Images

9. Not a Bad Start

Cronos received widespread acclaim and award recognition, including eight Ariel Awards from the Mexican Academy of Film.

Guillermo del Toro facts Cronos (1993), Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía

10. High-Profile Rewrites

After turning in a draft of his screenplay for Mimic to Miramax, the studio was not happy with how little was explained about the creatures at the centre of the story, and decided to commission a number of rewrites. One of these drafts was written by none other than Steven Soderbergh, but almost none of his work ended up in the film.

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11. Second Unit = Second Rate

Del Toro is not a fan of second unit work, and for his director’s cut of Mimic he managed to excise the majority of the second unit footage. Robert Rodriguez was one of the second unit directors on the film.

Guillermo del Toro facts Getty Images

12. Real-Life Horror

During the production of Mimic, del Toro's father was kidnapped from Guadalajara, Mexico, and held to ransom for 72 days. The kidnappers wanted $1 million for his safe return, but del Toro had put all of the money he had into Mimic. Things were looking dire until his good friend James Cameron stepped up and paid the ransom.

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13. The Weinsteins Were Worse

Mimic was a very troubled production, and del Toro claims that his experience butting heads with studio execs at Miramax was actually more traumatic than his father’s kidnapping: "What was happening to me and the movie was far more illogical than kidnapping, which is brutal, but at least there are rules."

Guillermo del Toro factsGetty Images

14. Involuntary Exile

After the ordeal of his father’s kidnapping, del Toro felt that he could never go back to Mexico: “Every day, every week, something happens that reminds me that I am in involuntary exile.”

Guillermo del Toro facts Getty Images

15. Almodovar the Great

Del Toro’s third film, 2001’s The Devil’s Backbone, was produced by renowned Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar. Almodovar afforded del Toro a level of creative freedom that he’d never experienced up to that point, and the eternally grateful del Toro has tried to pay this gesture forward as a producer for many directors’ films.

Guillermo del Toro facts Getty Images

16. Double Feature

Del Toro considers The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth to be companion pieces, and claims that they reveal "symmetries and reflections" if watched together.

Guillermo del Toro facts The Devil

17. A Nighttime Visit

The inspiration for the faun in Pan’s Labyrinth came to del Toro through a lucid dream he used to have as a child, where he would wake up at midnight and see a large faun emerge from behind his grandfather clock.

Guillermo del Toro facts Getty Images

18. Superior Subtitling

Unsatisfied with the way they were handled for The Devil's Backbone, del Toro did the English subtitles for Pan’s Labyrinth together with a friend and an assistant.

Guillermo del Toro facts Pan

19. Jones Takes Centre Stage

A former contortionist and mime, Doug Jones has embodied a diverse array of characters in six of del Toro’s features (including the Pale Man and the Faun from Pan’s Labyrinth). 2017’s The Shape of Water sees Jones in his first lead role as a fish-man in a government lab in the early ’60s who falls in love with Sally Hawkins’ mute cleaning lady.

Guillermo del Toro facts Getty Images

20. No Hablo Español

Jones was del Toro’s first and only choice to play the faun in Pan’s Labyrinth, even though the character spoke entirely in Spanish and Jones was not a Spanish speaker. Jones spent a long time learning Spanish for the role, only to eventually be dubbed over by a native Spanish speaker for the final cut.

Guillermo del Toro factsGetty Images

21. Del Toro’s Bibles

Del Toro has always kept sacrosanct journals crammed with ideas and sketches that often make their way into his films in some form or another. He showcased many of these in a 2013 book entitled Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions.

Guillermo del Toro FactsFlickr

22. Crisis Averted

In the mid-00s, del Toro accidentally left one of his notebooks in the back seat of a London taxi. When the driver tracked down del Toro’s hotel and returned the notebook to him two days later, the overwhelmed filmmaker gave him a tip of approximately $900. The journal had contained four years worth of sketches and notes, much of which formed the basis for Pan’s Labyrinth, and del Toro took its return as a sign and began making the movie right away.

Guillermo del Toro FactsShutterstock

23. United We Stand

Del Toro’s monster movie Pacific Rim was not just a glorious ode to the kaiju cinema and mecha anime that he loved as a child, it was also intended to act as an anti-jingoistic beacon of togetherness and cultural harmony. He has said “the idea of the movie is just for us to trust each other, to cross over barriers of color, [gender], beliefs, whatever, and just stick together."

Guillermo del Toro factsFlickr, Pat Loika

24. The House That Guillermo Built

The stunning haunted house at the centre of de Toro’s film Crimson Peak is the real star of the show, and every detail of it was built from the ground up and designed by del Toro and production designer Tom Sanders. Every piece is original and intended to invoke the history of the characters; nothing was made from reused or salvaged parts.

Guillermo del Toro factsCrimson Peak (2015), Legendary Entertainment

25. Nightmare Fuel

The grotesque, petrifying scarlet ghosts in Crimson Peak were actually brought to life by actors in full prosthetics, and enhanced with CGI.

Guillermo del Toro factsCrimson Peak (2015), Legendary Entertainment

26. Living Metaphors

Del Toro is fascinated by insects because of their alien nature and complete lack of empathy, and refers to them as “living metaphors.” The characters in Crimson Peak were explicitly intended to represent certain insects: “Edith is the fragile butterfly of daylight, and Lucille a powerful, ugly moth of the dark.”

Guillermo del Toro FactsGetty Images

27. Politically-Charged Chills

He considers the horror genre to be inherently political, and claims horror, like fairy tales, can be delineated into two ideological categories: “One is pro-institution, which is the most reprehensible type of fairy tale: Don’t wander into the woods, and always obey your parents. The other type of fairy tale is completely anarchic and anti-establishment.”

Guillermo del Toro FactsShutterstock

28. Horror Maestro

Despite his profound love for the genre, del Toro does not strictly consider himself a horror filmmaker. Instead, he describes his movies as “fables that have the beauty and aesthetics of the horror movie.”

Guillermo del Toro factsGetty Images

29. The Desolation of del Toro

Del Toro was originally set to direct The Hobbit series, but left the project due to continued delays and unreasonable time commitments. It was not an easy decision, and at the time he cited it as the most difficult situation of his life. He is still credited as a co-writer for each film.

Guillermo del Toro factsFlickr, BagoGames

30. The Role of a Lifetime

A big fan of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, del Toro has appeared on the show as the delightfully insane Pappy McPoyle. Sunny star Charlie Day offered him the part after the two worked together on Pacific Rim.

Guillermo del Toro factsIt


Politically, del Toro has described himself as “a little too liberal.” Most of the villains in his movies share authoritarian traits.

Guillermo del Toro factsGetty Images

32. Simpsons Did It

He directed the opening couch gag for the Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Horror XXIV,” and crammed it full of references to his own work and classic horror films.

Guillermo del Toro factsThe Simpsons, 20th Century Fox Television

33. Producer of Note

Though mostly celebrated for his work as a director, del Toro is also a prolific producer. His producing credits include The Orphanage (2007), Biutiful (2010), Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011), and Puss in Boots (2011).

Guillermo del Toro FactsGetty Images

34. Sincerity Is Key

As a storyteller, del Toro rejects irony and never likes to put himself above his subjects. “I’m out of step with the culture a little bit," he says. “I’m never ironic, I’m never postmodern, ever. I’m always earnest.”

Guillermo del Toro factsGetty Images

35. Bleak House

Del Toro owns and maintains a home containing numerous books, props, replicas, costumes, posters, and other items pertaining to his work and influences. He named it “Bleak House” (after the Charles Dickens novel), and it has been on view as a temporary exhibition at several museums.

Guillermo del Toro FactsFlickr

36. A Darker Pinnochio

Del Toro’s career is almost as noteworthy for his unrealized projects as it is for those that get completed. Among them is his long-gestating stop-motion Pinnochio adaptation, which he recently announced wouldn’t be happening due to lack of funding. Unsurprisingly, the project would have been a darker, more complex take on the classic children’s story, focussing on ascension of Mussolini and Fascism in early 20th century Italy.

Attention-Seekers factsMax Pixel

37. Regretfully Yours

Del Toro was offered creative control over Universal’s Monster Universe reboot, but he turned it down. He cites this as one of the few things in his career that he regrets not doing.

Guillermo del Toro factsGetty Images

38. Pining for Potter

Something else he deeply regrets is turning down the opportunity to direct Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which he was offered before his friend Alfonso Cuarón took up the mantle.

Guillermo del Toro facts Getty Images

39. The Hellboy That Never Was

According to Ron Perlman, the third instalment in del Toro’s Hellboy series would’ve seen the titular hero as a beast of the apocalypse who “has to take down civilization” in order to save humanity, and it would’ve introduced the character’s twin children.

Guillermo del Toro facts Getty Images

40. He Made Mignola Happy

The original Hellboy creator, Mike Mignola, has stated that he was "very happy" with del Toro’s Hellboy movies.

Guillermo del Toro facts Getty Images

41. The Author is God

Del Toro’s first official foray into fiction writing was his collaboration with Chuck Hogan on a trilogy of vampire novels, titled The Strain.

Guillermo del Toro facts Getty Images

42. Master Craftsmen

Del Toro plans to take a year-long sabbatical from directing in 2018, during which he intends to carry out interviews with filmmakers Michael Mann and George Miller, each over two weeks, to discuss their craft.

Guillermo del Toro facts Getty Images

43. A Fantastic Future Ahead

One of del Toro’s most intriguing potential future projects is his remake of 1966’s Fantastic Voyage, about a miniaturized team of scientists who inject themselves into the bloodstream of a colleague who is dying of a blood clot. Originally due to begin pre-production in early 2018 but put on hiatus due to del Toro’s planned sabbatical, the project is said to use the same 3D technology James Cameron used for Avatar.

Guillermo del Toro facts Flickr, janitor

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 27, 29, 30, 31, 32


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