“It was a TV movie I saw when I was 9 or 10 years old,” del Toro, 46, says of the 1973 original. “In those days, you didn’t have VHS or any way to replay something you’d seen. So we’d tell the story to our friends and recreate it for ourselves.
“After more than a decade of telling it, I finally got a VHS player and found a copy. And I realized that a lot of my favorite beats in the movie were not in the movie at all – they were things I had imagined. I still loved it. But I remember being very shocked by that. It was still an effective, chilling movie that I loved, although there was no way I could say it wasn’t a little dated.”
The result is a new version of “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” opening Friday (8/26/11), starring Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce. It was directed by Troy Nixey, from a new script del Toro cowrote with Matthew Robbins.
“The original movie was like a cult film for my generation,” del Toro says. “So when I decided to make this feature, I wanted to retell it the way I imagined it had been. We weren’t trying to remake it as much as revive it, give the story a new origin and a new set of characters. In a lot of ways, it’s entirely new. We wanted it to resemble a dark, dank fairytale.”
Del Toro meant to direct the film, but couldn’t because of delays on “The Hobbit,” which he was going to direct first. So instead he served as the film’s producer, a role he’s filled several times in the past for other filmmakers: “It’s either tough as hell or fun as hell,” he says. “I like producing for first-time directors, like I did on ‘The Orphanage.’ I’m proud to bring Troy into the filmmaking world. I love it because I learn a lot when I’m producing.”
Del Toro is a superstar to fans of fantasy and horror, based on a career that includes films such as “Cronos,” “Mimic” and the “Hellboy” films. Yet his take on the paranormal and supernatural have also won him fans among serious film lovers, for his work on films such as “The Devil’s Backbone” and the Oscar-nominated “Pan’s Labyrinth.”
Still, his recent track record in making films of his own has been spotty: He spent two years committed to directing “The Hobbit” – only to bail out when he realized just how much more of his time the film was going to consume.
“I spent two years and 10 months on ‘The Hobbit,’ but the experience was so great that I love having done it,” he says.
He’s less sanguine about his experience with his long-time passion project, H.P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of the Moon.” He had Tom Cruise loosely attached to the project, and James Cameron ready to help produce. He was a weekend away from opening his production office for the film, which would have cost $150 million and had an R rating – two factors in Universal Pictures’ decision to shelve the film. Instead, before the end of the year, del Toro will start production on “Pacific Rim,” another sci-fi-thriller about an alien invasion.
“I was literally scouting locations in the frozen north of Canada in a helicopter, looking at the most inhospitable locations on Earth,” he says of “Mountains of Madness.” “I got a call saying that the studio wanted to see me on Friday. The studio never wants to see you for good news. I understand their business position. But from a creative position, it was a big blow.”
Not that del Toro has hard feelings: “I’ve never fit comfortably in the Hollywood system,” he says. “I don’t follow the trades or know the names I need to know. I’m entirely ignorant of the politics. I just do my bull-in-a-china-shop thing and am not that concerned. I can always find a way to make a movie.”
And he understands the concerns about making an R-rated horror film for $150 million dollars. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t sees the studio’s decision as short-sighted.
“In fact, there used to be big tentpole horror films like that – ‘The Shining,’ ‘The Omen,’ ‘The Exorcist’,” he says. “But since movies like ‘Saw,’ ‘Blair Witch Project’ and ‘Hostel,’ Hollywood has learned the wrong lesson. They’ve decided: ‘Let’s make it cheap and make a lot of money.’ But successful movies like that are rare.
“The great white hope for me now is ‘Prometheus’ (Ridley Scott’s “Alien” prequel, reported to cost in excess of $200 million). If Ridley Scott makes as much of that on a horror and sci-fi level as ‘Alien, we’re in for a treat. And that could change things as well.”
Still, del Toro isn’t ready to give up on “At the Mountains of Madness,” even if he does have to put it on hold for the moment.
“Nothing is dead if I control the rights,” he says with a smile. “I don’t give up.”Print This Post