Guillermo del Toro on noir and crime literature: The Treat

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PINOCCHIO (Pictured) GUILLERMO DEL TORO., Cr. Photo by © 2020

Academy Award winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro’s films often have a strong connection to horror and dark fantasy. He won the Oscar 2018 for “The Shape of Water,” and his film “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” is nominated this year for Best Animated Feature. In his late youth in Guadalajara, Mexico, del Toro discovered noir and crime literature by American authors like James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Chester Himes, and English writer James Hadley Chase

Their literature of disillusionment’s “close kinship with the revelatory powers of horror fiction,”as del Toro puts it, were primal forces in shaping his view of the world. He was further influenced by director Alfred Hitchcock’s take on putting seemingly banal characters through an ordeal in order to transcend their everyday existence. 

More: Director Guillermo del Toro on bringing mortality to a children’s story

This segment has been edited for length and clarity. 

I had been interested mostly in horror and dark fantasy growing up, and I found the noir writings and the sort of literature of disillusionment has a very close kinship with the revelatory powers of horror fiction. 

It dealt not with the niceties and artificiality of a nice world, but with the harsh realities of the dark side. The fusing of these things for me created a new perspective that allowed for the social commentary that comes with crime writing and the social commentary that comes from horror fiction to come together into something that, after many many decades, I'm yet to be able to articulate the way I want to.

When you think of the ending of “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” or “Serenade,” or “Mildred Pierce,” there's a gain on the loss, or there is a complete resignation that the loss is actually more illuminating

The thing is that both horror and crime fiction normally end in absolute destruction and in the loss of everything. Alfred Hitchcock, most of the time, takes a couple or a character that are quite banal in their existence, and he considers this a sin, and basically they have to go through a crucifixion of sorts: Either they are accused of a crime they didn't commit, or they got through a terrible ordeal – the kidnapping of their child, the loss of somebody dear – and they get purified by that pain. When they come out, they come out renewed.

And I think in “Nightmare Alley” there is a beauty to the loss, the complete loss of pretense. There is no more simulation. This is who you are. It’s brutal, but in a way, soothing, to know when you hit bottom, because you're not going to sink anymore.

For me, the things that infuse Hitchcock, Luis Buñuel, horror — these are forces that are primal for me, fairy tales in shaping my view of the world.



Rebecca Mooney