This weekend the new horror film "Mama" opens in theaters nationwide. It's the spooky tale of a pair of young girls who are abandoned in a cabin in the woods for several years. When they are finally discovered and returned to society, to live with their kindly uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from "Game Of Thrones") and his punkish girlfriend (Jessica Chastain), something else comes along with them… a spectral figure the girls name "Mama." In other words: perfect material for producer Guillermo del Toro to shepherd to the big screen.
We got to talk to the filmmaker about what it is about ghost stories that always inspires him, what to expect from the forthcoming "Devil's Backbone" Criterion release (another ghost story), where "Haunted Mansion," "Crimson Peak" and "Beauty and the Beast" are in his busy development pipeline, his day job at DreamWorks Animation and why his Disney Double Dare You shingle broke down (hint: it had something to do with "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark").
What is it about ghosts that constantly fascinates you?
You know, amongst the characters in supernatural fiction, one of the ones I've been the most intrigued about is ghosts. I've done "Devil's Backbone," produced "The Orphanage," read every ghost story that you need to read for the curriculum, everybody that is noteworthy. And I think it's steeped in tradition. In England they used to tell great ghost stories during Christmas and I really find that it is, of the themes in horror, the one that invites themes of reflection. You reflect about what it is to be human, what it is to be alive, so on and so forth.
And "Devil's Backbone" is something you're revisiting for a new Criterion disc. What do you have planned for that?
We've done a new transfer, we're doing a new sound mix. Criterion is really streamlined about the extras – they don't want to put a lot, they only want to put the good stuff. So they are really, right now, designing what they want. We know we want to do a second part for the "Bleak House" [Guillermo del Toro's office, which is stuffed to the gills with monster-related bric-a-brac and macabre miscellanea] because we have so many rooms left. There's a whole second half of the house!
"Haunted Mansion" is very much alive and in process. Disney is very supportive and we are doing another draft of the screenplay… Yet another draft… And they really want to do it. I know we're going to talk about other possible directors, for me to produce, and having written it, produce it for somebody else.
What's the tone going to be like?
It's going to be scary. Hopefully it will be fun scary, rather than funny scary. It's going to be fun but the idea is to make it scary like when you go through the ride as the kid – part of you is charmed and part of you wants to get out of there.
"Crimson Peak" is a ghost story too right?
Yes, but fortunately, like in comedies you can have Woody Allen or The Farrelly Brothers or you can do Preston Sturges or Lubitsch or all of these things. There are so many ways to tell a ghost story. "Crimson Peak" is a gothic romance. I don't mean that there's going to be a guy who appears with a dozen flowers singing in the balcony, what I mean is that, in the most classical definition of the term, it's a gothic romance. It's got a lot of darkness and sound and fury and drama and stormy; but at the core of it is a scary movie.
Is that still going to be next?
Yes, God willing. We're going to be doing the pilot for the series "The Strain" [based on the trilogy of novels co-written by Del Toro and "The Town" author Chuck Hogan] for Fox and then I'm going to go right into the prep for "Crimson Peak."
Where does "Beauty and the Beast" fit in?
We just got the first draft from Andrew Davies, who wrote some BBC Charles Dickens miniseries, to great effect, including two of my favorites of his – "Little Dorrit" and "Bleak House." I love his work. So we just got it. I'm doing a pass myself and then we'll send it to the studio for reactions.
What is it like to have this film, which probably wasn't on your radar at all until a little while ago, opening at the same time as "The Hobbit," which you spent 18 months on?
All I can say is that it's been a very busy end of the year. We were prepping the launch of "Pacific Rim," we were prepping the launch of "Rise of the Guardians," I was prepping the launch of "Mama." And the result is I'm going to see "The Hobbit" next week. Peter [Jackson] was kind enough to offer a private screening and I said, "Look, I want to see it with an audience." And I got the screener from the Academy and I said, "I don't want to see it on my TV. I want to go to the theater." Then my daughters say, "Don't go without us!" And I say, "Don't go without me!" When you have two kids it's like making an appointment for the ambassador of Zambia.