Cue the creepy music; ignore the blazing sunshine. Ring the bell to an unassuming suburban home, hedges neatly trimmed. Spot, out of the corner of your eye, a small sign hidden in the ivy. “Bleak House,” it says.
The door swings open and there, surrounded by blood-red walls, is a hellhound with four hooded eyes and gaping fangs. The head of Frankenstein’s monster floats, disembodied and huge, a story above it. Peering at you from the living room, his fingers paging through a book, is the early-20th-century horror novelist H.P. Lovecraft. On a Victorian sofa, a demented doll stares down a bronze gargantua, Uncle Creepy and Cousin Eerie.
Welcome to Guillermo del Toro’s imagination.
Bleak House is what Mr. del Toro, the Mexican filmmaker known for the terrifying fantasy of “Pan’s Labyrinth” and American action-horror series like “Hellboy,” christened this pad, which serves as repository and inspiration. He writes there, and when he is in production, a handful of designers work in the repurposed garage. “We draw, draw, draw,” he said, every frame as detailed as animation.
There are reference libraries for the occult, horror, fairy tales (in a secret room, behind a bookcase), history, Teutonic mythology, anatomy and Gothic romance. That last genre inspired “Crimson Peak,” his film out on Friday, Oct. 16, which centers on a haunted house. He and his team designed it, from the oozing basement to the faces hidden in the woodwork. It stars Mia Wasikowska as a young bride, Tom Hiddleston as her mysterious husband and Jessica Chastain as his sister. “I love the idea that when Gothic romance started, they used to call it ‘a pleasing terror,’” said Mr. del Toro, who wrote the screenplay with Matthew Robbins.
“Guillermo has an imagination perhaps more precise and rigorous than any director I’ve worked with,” Mr. Hiddleston said. He “finds beauty in the shadows.”
Mr. del Toro of course believes in ghosts, and if any spirit invades his space, it is that of Forrest J Ackerman, a horror and science-fiction writer whom Mr. del Toro began reading as a child. They became friends in Los Angeles, talking shop over desserts at the House of Pies. “This house is basically a response to his house,” another fright mansion, Mr. del Toro said.
There are more than 700 pieces of original art in Bleak House, from R. Crumb and H.R. Giger works to concept sketches for Disney’s “Fantasia” and “Sleeping Beauty,” all of it chosen and carefully placed by Mr. del Toro. It’s less a man cave than a preteen fantasy, with crucifixion scenes and skeletons wedged beside beyond-cute figurines from Miyazaki movies. Schlitzie the Pinhead and Koo Koo the Bird Girl, made famous by the cult 1932 movie “Freaks,” are recreated life-size here; so are the visions of Charles Altamont Doyle, Arthur Conan Doyle’s father. “He used to see fairies, so Conan Doyle had him committed,” Mr. del Toro said. “I have one of his last portraits from the asylum.”
“What’s inside this coffin?” and “What are all these large body parts here?” are questions that roll off the tongue at Bleak House. The cable guy fled.
Mr. del Toro, 51, doesn’t live here, or in Bleak House 2 next door; his wife and daughters find them too scary, so they live nearby, in an un-Frankensteined home. But for him, these places are a refuge, and when his family isn’t around, he digs in.
“If we walk through the two houses, you would see not only the movies I’ve done, but the movies I’m going to do,” he said, adding, “It’s everything I accumulated in my head as a young man, and it’s been coming out, slowly.” (Half of his paychecks go toward collecting.)
Among his treasures is a trove of Alfred Hitchcock memorabilia, another hero. “I think what I love is, what he talked about made you want to make movies,” he said.
Mr. del Toro’s fan–boyness can be equally contagious. “I will go fast,” he said, as he gave a tour of Bleak House recently, “because if you’re not completely geeky, you can get bored very fast.” Two hours later, I was still not bored. Below, a few highlights.
Mr. del Toro’s office contains dozens of “Frankenstein” references. “Frankenstein’s creature is to me the most moving and beautiful monster, and it’s an amazing piece of design,” he said. He hopes to adapt the story to the screen himself one day. “It’s such a beautiful book, and it was written by a teenager and it has all the teenage angst.” The monster in the makeup chair is based on photos of Boris Karloff, sipping tea on the sets of his 1930s movies, with his makeup artist, Jack P. Pierce. Pierce’s hands were modeled by the Oscar-winning makeup artist Rick Baker. “We had Rick pose and molded his hands,” Mr. del Toro said. “It’s kind of cute.”
This figure from “Blade II” is one of many in the house. “The more I have, the more I enjoyed the experience of shooting the movie.”
A false window looks as if there’s a storm outside, with the sounds of thunder and rain piped in: “It’s incredibly soothing.” On his desk (not pictured) is a model of Princess Diana’s mansion. “I just love the idea of a little house, so I have my ‘Twilight Zone’ dolls living there. I liked it as a desk for a little bit, but I prefer the sofa. The sofa’s really good for naps. You have to write where you can fall asleep.”
The cream-colored paperbacks in the center shelf are the first scary books that Mr. del Toro bought as a child, including a “Best Horror Stories” anthology from 1971, when he was 7. “It’s by my hero, Forrest Ackerman. I wrote him to adopt me, and my dad found the letter and beat” the heck “out of me,” Mr. del Toro said, using stronger language but laughing at the memory.
And the man in the shot? “It’s H. P. Lovecraft. He’s reading one of his own
books; he’s checking that they did it right.”
“Those two portraits are by a guy called Michael Deas. He’s the guy who does all the U.S. mail commemorative stamps. He did James Dean and he did Poe, and I asked him to do a Poe and a Lovecraft.”
Seated is Edgar Allan Poe, one of several life-size statues Mr. del Toro commissioned: “I made it a point to live with all the guys I admire. I don’t talk
to them. I’m not insane – yet.”
In the box on the coffee table is an ornate bed containing a skeleton, a reproduction of the captain’s bed on the Disney “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme park ride. “We did the ride a few times and photographed the fabric, to have the fabric made, miniaturized.”
“I bought the gun on ‘Hellboy I’ from production at the end of the movie, and then I rented it to ‘Hellboy II’ in exchange for props. I said, ‘I’ll give you the gun for free for the whole shoot, but you’ve got to give me the giant egg.’ I love that movie. I think it’s one of my favorites.” The chopped head next to it is from ‘Blade II.’”
Mr. del Toro doesn’t know how many skulls he owns, “probably over 100. I just think it’s a beautiful object.” All but a few are fake. “I don’t want to have a skull that was somebody in the past. It creeps me out. I don’t like anything like real blood, real violent stuff in the real world. As a Mexican, I’ve lived through some stuff, but it’s just disturbing.” He prefers an artist’s take. The skeleton at left is the Hatbox Ghost, from Disney’s “Haunted Mansion” ride. “‘Haunted Mansion’ freaks, we used to obsess about him,” said Mr. del Toro, who created a mock-up of the ride.
Johnny Eck, a sideshow performer born without his lower body, appeared in Todd Browning’s “Freaks,” from 1932. “He was quite a handsome guy,” Mr. del Toro said. “That is a really beautiful sculpture because the way the blood is flowing, his forehead has the vein, and then his lower hand is full of blood and the other hand is empty.” It’s detailed down to the body hair. “Every hair is put in with a needle: You thread the needle with the hair, you inject it and you pull the needle. Some of it is yak hair, and some of it is human.”
It’s great to know that one of our favorite directors is also as big a fan of horror as we are. Can’t wait to see Crimson Peak!
story via Ny Times