Walking into a small portion of a Victorian era haunted house in the middle of the Comic-Con International: San Diego 2014 showfloor is a surreal experience on its own. After all, you’re transporting across space and time when you enter the interactive exhibit, and looking at props and costume conceived of for the movie Crimson Peak. Thanks to some trippy effects, there are doorway eves that look blurry, sounds coming from every corner, and a prevailing sense that this little portion of a house could just as soon grow as collapse down onto you and swallow you whole.
To double down on the surreal feeling, a small group of journalists was cycled through on preview night, greeted by writer-director Guillermo del Toro. He is a character unto his own, acting less like a respected name in the film industry, and more like a young teenager eager to tell friends, family, or whoever will listen why what he’s created is oh-so-cool.
We chatted briefly with del Toro in the exhibit created by Legendary Pictures after five weeks of design work by the creator, before also jumping into the cockpit of a Jaeger courtesy of the Oculus Rift. While it was certainly cool to watch the pistons pumping and a kaiju pop through to devour our co-pilot, there’s nothing quite like a conversation with del Toro.
Newsarama: Why is it important to you to establish the atmosphere of Crimson Peak so early, Guillermo?
Guillermo del Toro: It’s important for people to know that we are going for the same sort of painterly fairy tale, gothic visual that I have done in my European movies, rather than an all-out just “scary movie” with “bam bam bam horror.” We’re doing a really beautiful gothic romance. It has elements of romance, thriller, supernatural, but one of those things I do in the movie is the ghosts are scary, very scary, but the scariest thing in it is the humans.
So it’s a character oriented piece. I wanted for people to see the very careful design and atmosphere, the attention to detail on the props. From the dresses that utilize original fabric from Victorian times, original lace, it was hand made to exacting specifications. And the set – one of the things we do is that if you look at the edge from back there, this looks out of focus, it looks like it’s blurry. The corridor is very confusing, you’ll see where you wonder if you’re seeing double. We designed the corridors in the mansion to have the negative space of a human figure so that it’s threatening even with no one there.
If you stay in the attraction long enough, every three or four minutes a ghost crosses the back of the corridor, too. It was important for me, for people to have a first-hand experience of this and Pacific Rim. They are sort of the left and right hemispheres of my brain. Pacific Rim was also designed with me, ILM; everything you see in the two attractions was supervised by me. They give you a good sense of what Pacific Rim was and is going to be, and what Crimson Peak is.
Nrama: You’ve done high fantasy, bombastic action, now gothic horror. What is it about the different genres that appeals to you, as far as a way to talk about human nature?
Del Toro: Well, these are all aspects of me. If you visit “Bleak House” for example, my home office, it is really this. At the same time I have a Kaiju section, I have a manga cabin. The thing is, as a story teller, I don’t just think – I say well, the concept is me. But I’m going to give you the appetizer, the main dish, and the dessert, in my lifetime if I can. I’m not going to serve you the same plate every time.
So you can come and see Pacific Rim or you can come and see Crimson Peak, and I’m crafting two completely different experiences. The important thing is, I try to not make movies that I don’t absolutely have to make. Contrary to the advice of Scarface, I get high on my own supply! (laughs). I really get off on these things – as much on Gothic Romance as on Robots vs. Monsters.
Nrama: Is there a dish you haven’t served to the public yet? A genre you want to work with?
Del Toro: Yeah, yeah! I’m very eager to do a Steampunk movie, very much. You can see Steampunk touches in Hellboy, you’ll see Steampunk touches in Crimson Peak, and even in Pacific Rim I think that the Russian robot and pilots are very steam punk-y.
Nrama: As a comic book guy, I have to ask you, what is it about comic books that are such a natural extension of your movie making thoughts? You’ve crossed back and forth between the mediums so much.
Del Toro: Well, you know, when I grew up, there were three kings in my kingdom: Comics, TV, and Movies. And what did I want to do? Comics, TV, and Movies!
Nrama: (laughs) So you’re having a good year!
Del Toro: (laughs) I’m having a great year! But what is funny is five years ago I said this in one of the press conferences; I said that in five years I want to do animation, video game, TV… and lacking the video game because the company we were in business with went down, THQ… I think all I’m trying to do is experience the narrative form, and have fun.
Look, I’m 49, and to this day I haven’t made – I haven’t been involved in any project that I wouldn’t die for, or get gangrene for, lose an arm, lose a leg, I don’t care. Comics or TV, they are the same, for me, they’re equally important for what made me what I am.