Audiences got their first look at Guillermo Del Toro’s new film Nightmare Alley. Based on a novel of the same name and featuring a star-studded cast and a cryptic trailer, the film looks to be another promising film from the director.
Guillermo Del Toro’s career began in high school, where he made short horror films. Later he went on to study film at the University of Guadalajara. Developing his make-up and directorial skills, Toro made his debut with the film Cronos — the story of a man who finds a device that grants immortality by latching onto his body. The film met critical success and helped Toro transition into Hollywood.
From there Guillermo Del Toro has made several films including Hellboy, Pacific Rim and the best picture winner, The Shape of Water. Moving between genre and visual style, Guillermo Del Toro has created films that are visually distinct.
Hellboy was the perfect synthesis of the first two volumes of the comic, adapting the elements of Lovecraft and pulp action to great success. Pacific Rim is a sendup of everything Kaiju and mecha-anime. While, “The Shape of Water'' is as much of a romance as a love-letter to Universal’s Creature form the Black Lagoon, Nightmare Alley looks like a new genre for Guillermo Del Toro to explore noir and occultism.
This blending of genre has been a staple of Guillermo Del Toro’s career and it’s most evident in his 2001 gothic-horror film El espinazo del diablo or “The Devil’s Backbone.” Set during the Spanish Civil War, a young boy is moved to a boarding school in the countryside. The school is inhabited by an elderly couple, a young couple and an assortment of orphans. However, mystery abounds, when a young boy disappears in the same night an undetonated bomb lands in the school yard.
The Criterion Collection posed three reasons to encourage a viewing of “The Devil’s Backbone.” Applauding it’s themes of a surreal childhood, casualties of war and “a sweet nightmare”, the corporation asks viewers what motivates them to watch the film. Here are my three reasons:
First, it is a ghost story that proposes the question of “what is a ghost?” in the first few minutes of the film. The film goes to great lengths to explore this question and create some larger understanding of ghosts. Reminiscent of universal monsters like Frankenstein or The Wolf Man, the ghost's complex origin lends to the scares and sympathy needed in a good horror film.
Second, it is a mystery of the school's success that is evocative of films like Night of the Hunter. School boy drama and horror are not a likely pair, but Guillermo Del Toro does an excellent job balancing each subject in the film. The film becomes a complex mystery of murder as the ghost walks the halls haunting the students.
Third, it is a story we don’t see. World War II films have been made since the advent of the war. However, very little of cinema is dedicated to The Spanish Civil War. Often it has been the realm of literature like For Whom the Bell Tolls or George Orwell’s Homage to Catalina. So, this portrayal aids in the discussion around Spanish history and promotes a deeper understanding of the topic.
Given these reasons and the wait for Nightmare Alley, give “The Devil’s Backbone” a try. Horror and haunted houses always remain in the zeitgeist, with the tv series The Haunting of Hill House proving to be a phenomenon. Turn off the lights and relax, as you find yourself asking “what is a ghost?”
Ben Ervin is a senior studying English literature and writing at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Ben know by emailing him email@example.com.