Guillermo del Toro, who's become quite the Comic-Con fixture, hugging fanboys and journos alike, admits that his gothic horror-romance, "Crimson Peak" (Oct. 16, 2015), is the biggest movie he's ever made. "Not only the scope is bigger, but I'm going to use a word that I don't normally touch, and that's ambition," he told me after his profane-laced Legendary Hall H panel. "This is an ambitious movie from the thematic point of view and from the visual point of view."
However, even though del Toro constructed "an entire Victorian mansion three stories high, with working elevators, working bathrooms, rooms, a full library," the director insists that "Crimson Peak" is not a haunted house movie. Rather, with a great cast consisting of Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, and Tom Hiddleston, this is gothic romance with a touch of horror that only del Toro could dream up: tapping both sides of his personality -- the beautiful and the brutal.
"You need to follow a great romance, a great love story but then go beyond that -- under their skin literally. And the ideal for me is 'Uncle Silas' by J. Sheridan Le Fanu [an early example of the locked room mystery]. And it's great to see a girl lose everything and come into her own self and become the person she was meant to be, and that for me was the model for 'Crimson Peak.'"
Indeed, as del Toro suggests, the ghosts are scary, but the people are scarier. And the footage screened during the Legendary panel was like watching "Rebecca" through the super-saturated color palette of Mario Bava. "A house as old as this one becomes in time a living thing," explains Hiddleston in voice-over. Then the terrifying chills begin with shots through dark corridors in this baroque haunted house, contrasted with the elegance of a dance party, and culminating with a black, bony hand touching a frightened Wasikowska curled up in bed.
Del Toro was also influenced by Victorian illustrators and oil painters to get a graphic, neon look that's quite distinctive. "We did trickery in the movie that is significant. When a character feels insignificant, we made the furniture slightly bigger. And then when the character feels stronger, the wardrobe and the furniture become a little smaller. And we make characters wear a costume with a slight color change from one scene to the next. For feeling depressed or after an attack they lose color. So it's a very painterly movie.
"As I said in Hall H, the biggest special effect in 'Crimson Peak' is the characters," he continues. "It's not explosions. You are carried by the characters and their story. It's a much more sedate side of myself. But every time I see the movie, I cry a little -- I'm very moved. And I'm actually scared and very shocked because there are moments of great violence and great beauty, one after the next."
Thus, "Crimson Peak" represents the sum of del Toro's many horror influences, but without voyeuristic torture porn. "The simplicity of a character trapped in a house is what I'm going for. You care for the character, you want the character to survive and do well. It's a simple structure that allows you to do a big visual construction."
So, as del Toro teases, "prepare to be shocked, prepare to be swept off your feet by the romance and then tossed on the ground."