Film Studies: Master Of Monsters: The Cinema of Guillermo del Toro

Led by Rose Butler.

Over the past two decades, Mexican-born filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has earned a reputation as the master of dark fairy tales. From his Spanish-language directorial debut Cronos (1993)– an imaginative spin on the vampire myth– to last year's Oscar favourite The Shape of Water (2017), his films are exquisitely realised, frequently macabre and often politically charged.

This course will comprise four screenings and four discussion sessions that will span del Toro's career and consider his place as one of the most significant genre directors of the last twenty-five years. From Mimic (1997) toCrimson Peak (2015) viaThe Devil's Backbone (2001) and Pan's Labyrinth (2006), we will explore del Toro's body of work, and particularly the ways in which he walks the line between arthouse and mainstream filmmaking; combines fantasy with the terrors of the real world; and blends elements borrowed from the traditions of fairy tales, gothic literature and the modern horror film.

Del Toro is, of course, an interesting example of a director associated both with world cinema and Hollywood, and this course will explore his work in Mexico, Spain and America. It will be bookended by two studio films with very different production histories. Mimic, the director's first film with a major Hollywood studio, was an incredibly difficult production that caused del Toro to return to independent filmmaking until the early twenty-first century.Crimson Peak, on the other hand, was a passion project with a major budget, and one that could only have been produced by a director with creative freedom.

In between, we'll look at two of del Toro's lauded Spanish-language features, both of which have a connection with Spain's turbulent history: The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth. Both are films about the childhood innocence, traumatic memories and the horrors of conflict inextricably connected to the Spanish Civil War. But we'll also examine politics in del Toro's Hollywood endeavours, particularly the sharply anti-capitalistMimic.

The course will investigate del Toro's influences, which range from the literature of Edgar Allan Poe, Horace Walpole and H.P. Lovecraft to the films of James Whale, Tod Browning, Mario Bava and Roger Corman. And, finally, we'll pay particular attention to del Toro's clear enthusiasm, passion and sympathy for the monster, a recurrent figure in a body of work filled with tragic outsiders, restless spirits and lonely creatures seeking hope, love and acceptance.  

Rose Butler is an Associate Lecturer in film and television studies at Sheffield Hallam University.

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