DADDY’S LITTLE MONSTER: PAN’S LABYRINTH

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Published on March 25, 2011

NOTE: Through the magic of the internet, I’ve been able to track down the archives for my very first writing gig: DADDY’S LITTLE MONSTER was a tag-team review column I did for Rue Morgue’s blog with my then-11-year-old daughter, Emma. Emma’s now 18 and getting ready to head off to university in a month, so this seems like as good a time as any to revisit these.
I blame Guillermo Del Toro. It was the first pics of Ron Perlman and Doug Jones in full Hellboy/Abe make-up that turned four-year old Emma into the horror kid she is today. While she’s enjoyed the Hellboy movies, she’s been wanting to kick things up to the next level. For some time, she’s been bugging me to get a look at his more mature work, especially Pan’s Labyrinth. I’ve been hesitant: the film is quite heavy, mature and very brutal. There’s not a lot of “fun” to be had, like with our previous choices. After a lot of thought, I decided maybe it was time. And the end result? Read on…

Ron: So, Pan’s Labyrinth. We’ve watched it, we’ve let it soak in a bit. What did you think?

Emma: I liked it a lot. I think because it was “real” horror.

Ron: Now, what do you mean by “real”? A lot of folks would classify this as “dark fantasy” or a “fairy tale for adults,” but not horror.

Emma: Because the monsters aren’t what we should fear, that the humans are the real monsters and that makes it more scary. People are very brutal to each other in this film and with no real reason, either. That, to me, is real horror.

Ron: Well, definitely in the case of Vidal. He’s certainly the most brutal and horrific character in the movie, isn’t he? The brutality that he exhibits, and the fact that he’s so cold and unemotional about it – he doesn’t seem to feel anything – I think that makes him more horrific than The Pale Man, and he’s a walking nightmare.

Emma: ALL the worst stuff in the film is done by Vidal.

Ron: Now, we discussed the fact that this film has a different kind of violence than you were used to. No brain-eating, no “splatstick”. Keeping that in mind, from your view, is this a film that parents should be comfortable viewing with their kids?

Pan-Labyrinth-poster-342x490Emma: Oh God, no. No, I wasn’t even prepared for the violence here – it was brutal! When I first heard about Pan’s Labyrinth, I had a completely different idea what it was about. I thought it would be about this girl who ends up in this other world and she has to escape from these creatures who are horrific. I thought would be like Alice In Wonderland, but with evil creatures and it’s not like that at all! The monsters, the other world, they’re not the bad guys at all.

Ron: Well ,except for The Pale Man.

Emma: Right, but all the violence, all the evil stuff is being done by Vidal and his men and that’s way scarier. The movie was not what I expected at all.

Ron: And the violence is not supposed to be entertaining.

Emma: No, not at all. The scene where Vidal takes the bottle out of the farmer’s bag and smashes his face in, like, his face literally becomes flat, because he’s beating him so hard. That’s pain you can feel – I’ve fallen down on the ground and smooshed my nose before, even bumped a tooth – but that, times a million, is basically what he’s doing! I think I actually said “Oh My God!” at the end of it. But the one that got me the worst was the scene with Mercedes and Vidal. He’s about to torture her because she was trying to escape the night before. He’s got all these gruesome tools on this little shelf and she takes out the knife from under her apron – you have to pay attention, because she’s had it there from earlier on in the film – and she saws at the rope. She gets free, stabs him in the back, then stabs him again, like boom-boom-boom, and he’s still not down. And then, she puts his knife in the side of his mouth and she says something like…

Ron: “Don’t you dare touch the girl. You won’t be the first pig I’ve gutted!” I remember it because it’s the first time you see someone stand up to Vidal and take him down a peg.

Emma: Well, she also said another word, but we won’t say it… and she’s tearing at the side of his mouth. I couldn’t even watch it. It still gets to me.

Ron: So, it’s safe to say this probably isn’t the best film for a child to watch. Yet, despite that, I was surprised with just how much you liked the film.

Emma: I did! I really did! I love it.

Ron: Same here. For me, it’s because Del Toro remembers what it was like to be a kid. To believe in magic, to believe that there were things other than what we see. I remember you, years ago, took to sprinkling salt on our windowsills after seeing another movie, The Spiderwick Chronicles.

Emma: Yes, to keep the goblins out.

Ron: Exactly, and as a kid, that’s a perfectly sane and rational response. And Del Toro gets that. But that’s MY reason for loving this movie, what’s your reason?

Emma: Doug Jones. I’ve been a fan since Abe Sapien and I loved him as The Faun because he’s so friendly and sweet.

Ron: I’ve never heard The Faun described that way before.

Emma: I want my own Faun. A BFF: Best Faun Forever [Laughs].

Ron: A friend of mine once asked, “Where’s the Boris Karloff of our generation?” and for me, it’s Jones.

Emma: Look at all the emotions he can show under the makeup. He does so much with his body, especially his hands. He’s covered in latex and he’s just so real and believable. I love The Faun. I love Doug Jones.

Ron: And yet, he’s also The Pale Man, the polar opposite.

Emma: Yeah, I don’t need my own Pale Man. The movements he makes when he’s chasing after Ofelia on those skinny legs, the eyeballs in his hands. He was very scary in that scene. I was on the edge of my seat, going “Eeeeee, come on, comeoncomeon, go!”

Ron: Which leads me to another highlight of the film, and that’s Ivana Baquero as Ofelia.

Emma: I thought she was great. What I liked about Ofelia was she was kinda ditzy, like when she left her good dress on the branch and crawled into the tree and got all muddy. I liked that she wasn’t the smartest kid-hero on earth. She’s still a kid. I think she was supposed to be fourteen or so, but I felt like maybe when her father died, maybe she hasn’t grown up or “matured” from then on. She’s still free-spirited, a real kid with a great imagination. When you see other movies with child actors in them, the child always seem way more mature then they would be in real-life and they’re always smarter than the adults. She felt real and I could relate to her.

Pans-BanqueroRon: I think Baquero was so natural in this film and so believable. When she’s being chased by The Pale Man, like we talked about earlier, her fear wasn’t hysterical or over-dramatic. It was how a real kid would probably react in such a scenario: mute, wide-eyed and frantic.

Emma: But she’s still brave in her own way, especially at the ending.

Ron: Yes, the ending. Without giving away too much, we did have an interesting chat about the ending, didn’t we?

Emma: Yeah, like you said, the film could be seen in two ways: was her imagination making all these things appear real, or were The Faun, the Pale Man and the fairies real?

Ron: And there’s enough evidence to support either side of the argument that there is no wrong answer. Either ending works equally well, but I like the fact that it keeps me guessing.

Emma: Yes, but when you watch it from the “real” grown-up perspective, that’s like the saddest ending ever and that really sucks. But if you see it from Ofelia’s point of view, the ending is much happier. I prefer the happy ending.

Ron: Yeah, me too. The grown-ups’ view is very tragic, very dark and probably more realistic, but this is a fairy tale, so I’m sticking with the happy ending too. So, overall, what’s your take on Pan’s Labyrinth?

Emma: It’s one of my favourite films now. I want to watch it again. Doug Jones and Ivana Baquero were amazing, they did a great job. All the actors were really good. But it is not for kids. I would say maybe fourteen and older, because the violence is really disturbing. I also want to say that this is not Harry Potter or The Spiderwick Chronicles. The fantasy stuff is pretty short, and most of the film takes place in the “real world”, so your kids may not even be into it. But I loved it. How was that?

Ron: Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Now, we’ve been hearing from some people that we’re too agreeable, that the generation gap isn’t as wide as they were expecting. “When are you two gonna fight?” they ask. You’ll get a taste of that next time. The knives are coming out for that one. In the meantime, sweet dreams, Little Monsters.

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“The Man Of The Future”: Richard Strickland, THE SHAPE OF WATER’s “Prince Without A Kingdom”.

 

THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE SHAPE OF WATER.
PROCEED WITH CAUTION

“What makes a man a ‘man’ , a friend once wondered. Is it his origins, the way he comes to life?
I don’t think so. Its the choices he makes; not how he starts things but how he decides to end things.”

HELLBOY (2004)

This question, and the notion of 20th-century masculinity, has long been a theme in Guillermo Del Toro’s films, be it in subtext or front-and-centre. In his worlds, the real ogres wear very familiar forms. Usually handsome (or at least, rugged), with a penchant for sartotial style over inner substance. More often than not, they can be found in a position of authority or “respect”, which they wield with impunity and brutality. They are hard men with no appreciation for beauty or compassion, products of their environment or merely the latest recipients of an ongoing cycle of abuse. This essence, this spirit of toxic masculinity, takes many names and many faces. It’s in the impeccably groomed sadism of PAN’S LABYRINTH ‘s Captain Vidal. CRONOS’ thuggish Angel De La Guardia. The sullen Jacinto of THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE. And in THE SHAPE OF WATER, in Michael Shannon’s sharp-dressed company man, Richard Strickland.

As Occam Aerospace’s Chief of Security, Strickland is the man of the hour, the hero of his own story. Having captured the film’s amphibious Amazonian “Asset”, Strickland carries himself with the air of a decorated war hero: rigid, shoulders back, his tall frame restrained in a tailor-made suit that keeps him tight and streamlined. His life at home is Rockwellian perfection, his family of the prototypically nuclear variety. He has a doting and beautiful wife, a daughter & son and a home-cooked meal waiting for him when he walks in the door. Cold War-era suburban perfection. And none of it seems to make him happy.

Sex with his wife is a passionless chore – as he laboriously makes love to his wife, he puts his hand over her mouth, silently whispering for quiet. His relationship with his children rings hollow, with a detached half-interest in what his children tell him about their day. When his family’s unyielding chatter and the loud volume of the constantly blaring TV become too much, he escapes to his car in the driveway and sits. The only sound, the patter of raindrops against glass and Detroit steel. This is a man out of sorts with the perfect life he’s created for himself.

At work, though, Strickland has power. His office, highest point in the building, where he can see all from his desk. The augmented courage he feels with his sleeves rolled up and the slick-black cattle prod clenched in his fist. Here, he feels strong. Here, he feels complete. And he has no hesitation in exerting his influence among the others at Occam. Whether it’s belittling “the help” with racist or sexual innuendo, or mocking the project’s chief researcher for his more humane concerns for The Asset (“ Scientists…they are like artists: They fall in love with their playthings.“), Strickland feels more himself away from the confines of domestic life, where his brutish nature and lack of empathy prevent him from forming a meaningful relationship with his family. He has purpose, and that purpose is serving “the greater good” – in his case, the military-industrial complex who sees his violent nature as boon, not bane. Both Del Toro & actor Michael Shannon have hinted that Strickland’s character notes detail a less-than-ideal realtionship with his father, most likely abusive in nature (and considering his thematic predecessors, it’s easy enough to connect-the-dots here). It’s in his relationship with The Asset that we see his true nature: a natural tendency towards domination, the superior being to this “affront” to nature and God’s will (“You may think that thing looks human- stands on two legs, but we’re created in the Lord’s image. And you don’t think that’s what the Lord looks like, do you?“). In a later scene at a car dealerhsip, the salesman tells Strickland, “You are the man of the future.” It’s a line, a sales pitch, but in Richard’s mind, it’s just simple truth, isn’t it?  He is Homo Americanus, the alpha male, by birthright and by dint of his gender , his species and the colour of his skin.
It’s only fitting that he would seek a similar figure of authority as his surrogate father. A man like General Hoyt: the most basic (and laziest) definition of masculine power, Hoyt views emotion and compassion as weaknesses, defining his identity with the brass on his chest and the symbolic weight of his title. The modern ideal of American “manifest destiny”, Hoyt is a fellow “man of action” that someone like Strickland can easily identify with, and willingly emulate.

When The Asset is stolen, Strickland’s grasp on control begins to slip. We see it manifest in his temper, we see it in the rot of his hand, the reattached fingers from his altercation with the amphibious humanoid becoming gangrenous and black, the physical manifestation of his own disintegration. It’s all on him, and he’s feeling the pressure. Enough so, that in a rare instant of humility and honesty, Strickland confides, with Hoyt, his feelings on their dynamic and the weight of it all. The result is one of the film’s strongest moments, and perhaps the only time he elicits any sympathy from the audience .

You’ve know me for how long?… and in all that time, I… This is…what happened here is…A man is faithful, Sir: loyal, efficient all of his life. All of it, and he is useful. And he expects, he has certain expectations in return. And he fails, then. Once. Only once. What does that make him? Does that make him a failure?

When is a man done? Proving himself, Sir? A good man. A decent man.

And in return for opening up, for baring his soul?

Decent?

A man has the decency not to fuck up- that’s one thing. That is real decent of him. The other kind of decency? It doesn’t really matter. We sell it, sure but it’s an export. And we sell it ‘cause we don’t use it.

See? Thirty six hours from now this entire episode will be over. And so will you…

Our universe will have a hole in it with your outline. And you will have gone on to an alternate universe. A universe of shit. You will be lost to civilization. You will be unborn. Unmade. Undone.

So, go get some real decency, son. And unfuck this mess.

Years of dedication, brutality and servitude, all dismissed with the most casual of airs, by the man he respected the most. A mistake on his part , a moment of weakness, one that he knows he’ll never make again. Strickland doubles down on the “man of action” stance, descending further into rage and violence. He gives himself a pep talk in the bathroom mirror to psych himself up, reminding himself that above all else, he delivers. But even as he performs this act of willful affirmation, though, he’s coming undone. Emotionally and physically, the tight grip of order he has worked so hard to maintain all these years is coming unraveled. There’s a rot taking place, manifested outwardly by his hand, betraying the real sickness that has infected his soul.

At his core, he is a lost little boy, one of Del Toro’s  “princes without a kingdom” : a man with no positive male guidance in their lives, suffering from either abuse or neglect and filling the emotional breaks and gaps with hardness and cruelty. A defense against the world that’s seen fit to break them at an early age. As a child, they were not given everything they needed to feel loved, protected. As an adult, they become the very force that shapes them, the rotten apple falling far too close to the diseased tree. Somewhere along the way, Richard Strickland was broken and robbed of any potential for kindness or sympathy before he even had a chance. But sooner or later, a man chooses whether he will break the cycle or continue to perpetuate it. And it’s that choice that marks the line between sympathy and revulsion. Strickland’s choice, like Vidal and Jacinto before him, ends up determining his fate. and unlike our star (and species) crossed lovers, it’s not a happily ever after.Any sympathy for his sad childhood gets eliminated by his willful cruelty as an adult. Like the other “lost princes”, Stickland dies at The Asset’s hands, right after his final moment of revelation (“Fuck me, you ARE a god!”), finding himself in the presence of a higher power at the very end. Richard Strickland suffers the fate of most tyrannical men. He finds no great reward or tribute for his actions. Only death, bleeding out in the fall rain. His life ends just as he chose to live it: violently, and alone.

Leaving a hole, with his outline, in the universe.

 

IT’S EVOLUTION, BABY: 20 YEARS OF GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S MIMIC

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Published February 10th, 2017 for Blumhouse.com

It’s an all-too familiar story: internationally-acclaimed director, hot off the success of their debut film, courted by Hollywood with the promise of success, only to end up getting chewed up and spit out by the system. It’s happened to the best of them. Including Guillermo Del Toro, with his studio directorial debut, MIMIC, which debuted 20 years ago.

Having gained much acclaim for his first feature, CRONOS, Del Toro was approached by The Weinstein Brothers to contribute a segment for a planned sci-fi anthology film. When that project was scrapped, MIMIC was bumped up to feature status. Written in collaboration with Matthew Robbins and loosely based on the short story by Donald A. Wollheim, MIMIC takes us just ever-so-slightly into the future. A new plague has come, borne on the back of the common cockroach and laying waste to Manhattan’s child population. In an effort to stop it at the source, scientists led by entomologist Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino, still fresh off her Oscar win for MIGHTY APHRODITE) create a new hybrid insect – The Judas Breed, spliced together from mantis and termite DNA – to infiltrate, assimilate into and destroy the cockroach population with a secreted poison. The Judas Breed are custom built for this job alone, with a built in “one generation” expiration date. But, as with all best-laid plans of mice and men, nature’s got other ideas in mind. The Judas survive. And grow. And blend themselves into the city to get closer to their next prey: us.

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MIMIC had all the elements in place: a solid cast, a great “there are things man should not tamper with” premise and a hot new visionary in Del Toro at the helm. Alas, the film opened to middling reviews and a final box-office haul that nearly undid hiss Hollywood aspirations before he even got out of the gate. And, in hindsight, it seems downright odd that there was a time where he would ever be labelled “mediocre” (let’s be honest – the man’s work is too grandiose and operatic to warrant that label). In the end, MIMIC is a serviceable B-movie creature feature, with a little more smarts and art under the hood than most of its cinematic brethren. There was a restored director’s cut issued in 2011 which brought the film closer to his intended narrative pace and vision. But even without the additional footage, with all the studio interference and changes mandated by The Weinstein Brothers, there’s enough on view in MIMIC’s original cut that’s worth talking about. Specifically, the first traces of the themes and motifs that would thread through his movies like celluloid DNA.

TORONTO: MIMIC would be the first film Del Toro would shoot in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It wouldn’t be the last, either. PACIFIC RIM, CRIMSON PEAK and his recently-wrapped THE SHAPE OF WATER were all filmed in Canada’s largest city.  Toronto has long stood in for any of America’s larger metropoli, but Del Toro also makes a point of filming there because… well, he just likes it so much, as he stated in an interview with The Toronto Star:

I love the city, I love the (film) crews first of all. I love the people and then I love the city…I think it’s the most livable city. The food is amazing, the cultural life is amazing, the urban life is amazing and what is great is it’s a city, a proper city. It’s not a big town or a wannabe. I love this city.

LOVE (FOR) BUGS: As an amateur entomologist Del Toro’s affinity for insects runs through all his works. Whether overtly ( the fairies in both PAN’S LABYRINTH and HELLBOY II) to the less-obvious ( the hive-mind social structure of BLADE II’s Reapers and THE STRAIN’s Strigoi), his fascination with insects made MIMIC a custom-fit for his sensibilities. When talking about The Judas Breed (and the experience of filming MIMIC) in the book, GUILLERMO DEL TORO:  CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, Guillermo shows reverence and appreciation for both the fictional and real insect kingdom .“The insects in Mimic were all organic, but mankind needed glasses, artificial limbs. The mimics are the perfect ones, not us…I do happen to believe that insects, as far as form and function, are the most perfect—albeit soulless—creatures of creation.”

 

 

DOUG JONES: Burton and Depp. Scorsese and DeNiro. Hitchcock and Stewart. When an actor and director click, collaboration becomes a recurring thing such is the case with Del Toro and actor Doug Jones. Jones has appeared in several GDT films, often in multiple roles. But it all started here with his appearance as one of the film’s insect “Long Johns (“Long John Number 2”, to be precise).

Whether it’s as PAN’S LABYRINTH’s The Faun or The Pale Man or HELLBOY’s Abe Sapien or his role in the upcoming THE SHAPE OF WATER,  Jones has been an integral part of Del Toro’s world-building. There are many reasons that some actors and directors inevitably forma tag-team dynamic. Leave it to Del Toro, though, to put it as succinctly as only he can on Twitter:

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FAMILY: the relationships between generations old and young often form the backbone of Del Toro’s movies, specifically an older paternal figure with a young child or grandchild. While this started right off the bat in CRONOS with the loving and unconditional love between Jesus Gris and his granddaughter, MIMIC continues that thematic thread with the old shoeshine man, Manny (Giancarlo Giannini) , and his autistic son, Chui (Alexander Goodwin, below). When the boy is taken in by the LongJohns – attracted to him by his habitual spoon-playing, which ‘mimics’ their communicative clicks – Manny goes into the metaphorical bowels of hell ( the sewers below New York) to rescue him. It’s a narrative that gives the story its heart, and one that would continue to appear in subsequent films. From the father/child dynamics of Hellboy & Professor Broom (HELLBOY), Stacker Pentacost & Mako Mori (PACIFIC RIM) and Carter Cushing & his daughter, Edith (CRIMSON PEAK), the bond between elder and child is the lynchpin that holds his narratives together.

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“BEAUTIFUL DECAY”: every director has their trademark visual motif. Burton has his spin on German Expressionism. Wes Anderson’s work is defined by both his specific colour palette and razor-sharp symmetry. For Del Toro, one such recurring visual signature is an aesthetic that can only be described as “beautiful decay”. It’s in MIMIC that we get to see Del Toro’s first swing at this blend of architectural deterioration and fairy tale-like surrealism. Where the film starts out in the standard urban environs of New York, it takes on a more decidedly artistic flair as our characters go deeper underground to face off against the Judas Breed. The walls are coated with mildew and rust. Machinery, long left to decay in the abandoned subway tunnels takes on the appearance of urban fossils, technology of a bygone era. This aesthetic has become a mainstay in his filmography – informing the design of both HELLBOY films and BLADE II, before reaching its pinnacle in CRIMSON PEAK’s opulently deteriorating Gothic estate – and it’s arguably here where viewers got their first taste of it.

 

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Perhaps more importantly than all these ongoing aesthetic choices, though, it was Del Toro’s experience in making MIMIC that gave him one of the most important lessons a creator can learn: failure and the politics of studio filmmaking. Del Toro approached the project with loftier themes in mind – most specifically, humanity’s failure as a species and its replacement by a species engineered for evolution – but was hamstrung by producers and a studio who wanted the final product to be a little more ‘accessible’. In CABINET OF CURIOSITIES’ chapter on MIMIC, Del Toro tells of how the first shot in the film, an elaborate shot of a children’s ward, became a source of contention.

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It was the first day of shooting of MIMIC, and I thought it was a very beautiful, a very striking image…It was the first image that got me into deeper trouble because some of the producers hated that image from the start. They said ‘It doesn’t look like a real hospital. It looks like something off another planet. What are you doing? Are you making an art film out of a B-movie bug picture?’ And I said to them, ‘Well, I think they are one and the same. I think they are one and the same…it was a losing proposition from the get-go.

They say the hardest lessons are the most important, and MIMIC was the hardest one yet for Del Toro. In the end, the film was taken out of his hands and recut by the studio for its theatrical release. And yes, the 2011 Director’s Cut does its part in salvaging the original vision for the story, but the experience itself left an indelible impression on him and galavanized him for the rest of his career. From here on in, clarity of vision would always supercede compromise, be it for love or money.

“This is a struggle you have as an artist. Hellboy, in HELLBOY II, when he shoots the elemental, he’s shooting it because he wants people to like him…and they boo him and throw stones at him. As an artist, I’ve gone through that. You say, ‘Okay, I’m going to do what people like.’ I go and make a commercial movie like MIMIC, and it’s a huge hurt in my life. Then when you go and do the hard choice, there’s a reward in there.”

PHOTOS COURTESY OF:
Miramax Films

INTERVIEW PASSAGES COURTESY OF:
The Toronto Star 
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: CABINET OF CURIOSITIES (HaperCollins Press, 2013)

Terror Toys: Five Horror Franchises Worthy of Their Own Action Figures

bannerPublished February 21, 2017 on blumhouse.com

Toys. Action Figures. Collectibles. If there’s a movie or TV series with even a modicum of popularity, chances are there’s some form of plastic totem, ranging from the cute and kitschy Funko figures to the insanely articulated and intricate work from Hot Toys.

But while superhero franchises and sci-fi blockbusters take up a sizable chunk of real estate at your local toy or comic shop, horror seems to get short shrift. Oh sure, there’s multiple variations on the holy slasher trinity – Leatherface, Freddy and Michael – but the lack of variety is glaringly obvious. So, it is with only partial bias that I present a list of franchises waiting for their chance to decorate your shelves. In no particular order…

breedNIGHTBREED: A”no-brainer” and long overdue. Clive Barker’s 1990 cult classic has been screaming for a toy line for decades. With a newfound appreciation among horror fans, and a restored Director’s Cut that features even MORE monsters, it’s high time someone stepped up on this property. Barker’s flagship property, HELLRAISER, had a phenomenal and extensive line of figures through NECA, covering the first four films in the series which means a few variations of Pinhead in the mix. Hell, McFarlane Toys also had Candyman as part of their Movie Maniacs line. But NIGHTBREED, with its monster-heavy cast of characters? Not a one. So to get things started, which characters would make up a hypothetical “first wave”? Protagonists Boone and Lori, obviously. Sharp-dressed serial killer, Dr. Decker, would be a neccesity. Breed members, Peloquin & Kinski (pictured above) and mother-daughter two pack, Rachel and Babette. Round out the set with ex-preacher/ Big Bad In Waiting, Ashberry, and Wave One is a done deal. Future waves could put other characters in the spotlight – the brutish Berserkers, Midian’s lawgiver, Lylesburg, and ebony-skinned devil, Lude, for example. The potential is there. And I’ve wanted a Peloquin figure since 1990…. but I digress…

 

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KRAMPUS: Mike Dougherty has a knack for the iconic. His directorial debut, 1997’s TRICK R TREAT, gave us Sam, the sack-headed onesie-wearing Spirit of Halloween that has (and still is) generated multiple types and sizes of figures. So it’s a little more than surprising that we never got the same from his 2015 follow-up, KRAMPUS, because Holy Moley… this clutch of Christmas-themed creeps is custom-made for your shelf. While WETA Workshop put out a line of high-end sculptures for the film, let’s talk about a KRAMPUS toy line that’s affordable and accessible. A three-pack of Psychotic Gingerbread Men? The banshee-like Treetop Angel? The child-eating Jack-In-The-Box? Let’s have ’em all.And we can’t forget the big, bad Anti-Claus himself, can we? The film’s only a couple of years old and, while it doesn’t have the cult cache of TRICK R TREAT (yet), there’s enough monster madness to warrant a sizable line of figures and collectibles. Perhaps just in time for Christmas?

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PREACHER: Now, it bares mentioning that while DC/Vertigo did have a line of figures depicting the characters as they appeared in Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s acclaimed comic series, we’re looking at the versions of the characters as seen on AMC’s new small-screen adpatation. NECA has started the ball rolling with figures of the titular lead, Jesse Custer, and his ne’er-do-well Irish vampire buddy, Cassidy. But we need to start looking at an expansion. Jesse’s troublesome ex, Tulip, the supernatural Saint Of Killers and (eventually) the series big bad, Herr Starr. Throw in Arseface and tag-team angelic “problem solvers” Fiore and DeBlanc, and you’ve got yourself a good starting line-up.And with NINE volumes of the comics to adapt for future seasons, there are a lot more characters waiting in the wings.
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PAN’S LABYRINTH: It’s not often an Academy Award nominated foreign language film warrants a toy line. PAN’S LABYRINTH is the exception to the rule. The iconic designs of The Faun and The Pale Man lend themselves to collectible-status and while there have been deluxe high-end (and high-priced) sculptures of these characters by Gentle Giant, this time we’re talking posable action figures. Because brevity is wit, the line-up is simple: The Faun, The Pale Man and the movie’s heroine. Ofelia. If we want to get a little more completist here, we can throw in “evil stepfather”, Captain Vidal. But focusing on the main three mentioned above would be more than sufficient. Give this license to a high-end producer like Sideshow Collectibles or Hot Toys – prestige sculptors for a prestige property – and you’ve got yourself a line of collectibles that will class up any toy shelf.

I also wouldn’t say no to a “Fig Tree” playset complete with gigantic toad. But I’m not greedy –  I’ll take what I can get.
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THE STRAIN: Sure, THE WALKING DEAD has had Sundays on lockdown for seven years and counting and has the plethora of toy & figure merchandising to go with it, but what about that other apocalyptic “mankind vs the undead” series (now filming its fourth season)? I’m talking about THE STRAIN, and with good reason. Much like TWD, THE STRAIN could get plenty of mileage out of the numerous “Strigoi” that populate the series. From primary antagonists  like The Master, Eichorst and The Ancients, to the interchangeable swarm-like drones or  insect-like child “Feelers” and the half-Strigoi anti-hero Quinlan, there would be plenty to satisfy the needs of monster-loving collectors everywhere. And let’s not forget the good guys, either. Fan favourites, Abraham Setrakian  and (seen above) Vasily Fet would fit the bill quite nicely for your first wave of figures. Considering THE STRAIN is also a Del Toro property, NECA would be the obvious go-to for this line, as their work on HELLBOY II and PACIFIC RIM’s action figures was phenomenal.

I’m just spitballing here. I have no idea what demand is really like, nor which ones will hit it big with the collectors crowd. Which is why I do this kind of thing here and not work in the toy business. There are plenty of other horror properties waiting to be immortalized in plastic aside from the ones above and, chances are, you’ve got a wish-list of your own “needful things”.  So fire it up, kids – what horror icons do you want to see on the toy shelves?

Del Toro’s Master Class Recap: REBECCA

Originally published for Rue Morgue (August 27, 2014).

Photo Courtesy of Ian Gibson

“Welcome to this screening of I AM CHRIS FARLEY.” And thus, with his trademark self-depreciating humour, Guillermo Del Toro kicked off the Gothic Master Class at TIFF last night to a full-capacity audience.

The Master Classes have become an annual tradition here in Toronto, Del Toro’s second home. And for him, there’s as much business as there is pleasure in curating this film and lecture series. “The reason I wanted to do this is because I love the idea of discussing films in the same depth that we can literature or painting, or any of the major arts. There was a time when we used to discuss it like that and somewhat it got lost in the last 15 years. The discourse started to wrap into the business, box office… and it has become a necessity for me to do this, to re-engage in the fact that what we do is a form of art and a form of narrative art that can drink from the most ancient sources.”

Setting the tone for his three nights of “school”,  Del Toro gave a brief overview of The Gothic Tradition, including its symbolism as well as the origins of the sub-genre: “The Gothic Romance is a very peculiar creature. For me, horror surges out of the vocation of the fairytale…to talk about the dark side of the universe and to talk about the forces that shape us as humans.

Out of that comes a movement, over the centuries, towards rationalism. We look back, and we do it even now, we look back on things that are myth, fable, parable… like those things are for childish minds. But the fact is there is a moment in time in the 18th Century, where there is a surge against rationalism – “The Age Of Reason”, making everything prim-and-proper for the good of intellect – and there is a rebellion of the spirit. The spirit demands that we reembrace nature and fable and myth.

We are going to hopefully drag the gothic, and the gothic romance in particular, all the way up to now.

Following Del Toro’s introduction, the house lights dimmed and the opening credits for Alfred Hitchcock’s REBECCA filed the screen. The adaptation of Daphne DuMaurier’s novel was Hitchcock’s first film in Hollywood, marking the transition from his early days (Hitchcock’s “British years”, as Del Toro pointed out. The resulting film, despite its then-contemporary trappings and mores, has all the hallmarks of the Gothic tradition: a manor with a shadowy legacy, a dark and brooding patriarch haunted by the past and his innocent young bride, drawn into a web of mysteries and secrets.

 After the film’s fiery coda and the final credits rolled, Del Toro took to the stage and continued with the lecture portion of the night. It was here that he went into the film’s history – the clashes between Hitchcock and producer David O. Selznick, his displeasure with the film’s telegraphing and over-abundant score (as Del Toro put it, the music “Mickey Moused” every action and emotion on the screen to a near-cartoonish level), as well as how the then-untested director and Gothic Romance were actually a perfect fit.

You must remember this. First of all, two things: Gothic Romance was basically punk, it was an affront to the establishment when it was birthing. It was emotion and rote melodrama and a lot of things that weren’t ‘proper’ to express or feel, filled with innuendo. And Hitchcock, by the same token, was an incredibly modern filmmaker at the time. He was a guy that was very daring. There were plenty of sexual layers in the movie – he was an expert at dodging The Hayes Code… he would remove one perversion and add three.

There are two more films left to screen in the Gothic Master Class: tonight’s screening of David Lean’s GREAT EXPECTATIONS and Monday’s ( August 31st) final installment, Robert Stevenson’s JANE EYRE. Rush Tickets will be made available at the TIFF Box Office one hour prior to screening.

FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL: GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S GOTHIC CLASS at TIFF LIGHTBOX

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Although school doesn’t officially start for another couple of weeks, Toronto cinephiles can get some higher learning starting tonight, as Guillermo Del Toro returns to TIFF Lightbox to host the Gothic Master Class.

This will be the fourth time around for Del Toro at TIFF, having curated and hosted the Fright Nights Series (2011), The Alfred Hitchcock Master Class (2012)  and Ken Russell’s THE DEVILS with Richard Crouse ( 2014). For this series, Del Toro has hand-picked three films which best represent the Gothic cinematic tradition, tying into the imminent approach of his Gothic-heavy ghost story, CRIMSON PEAK (due out in October). Each film will be bookended by an introduction and a post-screening lecture by Del Toro, delving into the origins and signifgance of both Gothic literature and film.

It all starts tonight with a screening of Rebecca, Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier‘s novel. A fitting lead-in, as Del Toro is considered one of the world’s pre-eminent Hitchcock historian/experts, as evidenced at his previous Hitchcock Master Class.

Following that, TIFF will also screen David Lean’s Great Expectations, based on Charles Dickens‘ immortal classic, as well as Jane Eyre, starring Orson Welles and Jane Fontaine, directed by Robert Stevenson and adapted from the novel by Charlotte Brontë.

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(L to R: Rebecca, Great Expectations, Jane Eyre)

The gameplan breaks down, as follows:

August 26Rebecca (7 PM)

August 27Great Expectations (7 PM)

August 31Jane Eyre (7 PM)

As of now, all tickets are “Rush” status only, but take my word for it: it’s worth the wait if you manage to snag a ticket to even one of these events. Put simply, the man knows of what he speaks. With an encyclopedic knowledge of film and folklore, as well as being an incredibly entertaining (and occasionally profane) speaker, the lectures are worth the price of admission alone.

I will be covering the inaugural screening tomorrow night for my old alma mater, Rue Morgue Magazine, so expect to see my review of the night’s events on rue-morgue.com, as well as right here.

Need more info? Head over to TIFF’s website for all updates and information as they become available.

TIFF Lightbox is located at 350 King St W, in the heart of Toronto.

Classic cinema and education from one of the most revered filmmakers of our time under one roof?
There are certainly worse ways you can spend the end of summer.