Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters


A surprising and unusually strong rain storm rolled into normally sunny Los Angeles on Thanksgiving Weekend, snarling traffic and bolstering plans for long naps on the couch.

But inside a wing of the LA County Museum of Art an even stronger storm had been raging as part of a horror exhibition for almost four months.

Angelenos could hardly wait to see it.

“Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters,” which opened to stellar reviews in August was now in its final weekend. Tickets were sold-out. So, long lines of people stood in Saturday’s cold, wet and windy weather near LACMA’s box office. Some were hoping for a miracle, “Are there any tickets left?,” while others more fortunate with tickets in-hand patiently waited to get in.

Del Toro, the Mexican born director of the films Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Hellboy (2004), Crimson Peak (2015) and others, is known for his spectacularly creative and ground-breaking style in the horror, science-fiction and fantasy film genres. The exhibit, as described in several plaques posted throughout its various sections, was designed to reveal del Toro’s world view and creative process rather than chronicle his distinguished career. It was arranged in sections that included: “Childhood and Innocence,” “Freaks and Monsters,” “Death and Afterlife,” “Frankenstein and Horror,” and “Movies, Comics and Pop Culture.”

Once inside those with tickets were rewarded by an extensive display of macabre art, film monsters, sets featuring mannequins of Frankenstein and other scary characters, flat-screens showing film sequences, and an enormous collection of artifacts, notebooks, paintings, pen and ink drawings, illustrations, photographs, masks, books, concept pieces, sculpture, fantastic clocks and timepieces, statues, and one very large head of Frankenstein hanging above a dark doorway. All of it was accompanied by ominous rumbling sound effects and music that was almost imperceptible but that enhanced the gloomy, elegant and suspenseful atmosphere.

“He lives in a dream life,” said a girl carrying an umbrella as she carefully navigated her way through the spellbound crowd.

Hundreds of ticket holders meandered through an expansive maze of long hallways and rooms that had been designed to feel like the dark and luxurious chambers of a creepy old mansion. Ornately framed paintings, drawings and illustrations were hung on oxblood red walls. Opulent antiquities and very old illustrated books were on display behind glass-paned cases standing on caramel-colored wooden floors.

“I love his work. I’ve seen Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s so imaginative and beautiful and dark. So, I just wanted to see more of it,” said Carol Katz. Standing near a lustrous wooden case containing curiosities that included a medical assortment of glass-eyes in a mahogany box from the 1860’s, Katz described the appeal of del Toro’s creative vision. “There’s a very dark beauty. There’s something compelling about it, and it’s also very moving,” she said. “There are some things where he has some really tender touches, especially with children, when there’s a really tender, poignant moment,” said Katz.

Katz made a note to see the exhibit’s “Rain Room,” where a life-sized mannequin of Edgar Allen Poe that looked like it might stand up at any moment sat in an old armchair reading a book while heavy rain fell. The book’s pages were open to an illustration of a vengeful angel visiting earth. Peals of thunder and flashes of lightning special-effects illuminated a dark and stormy night as heavy “rain” created with silicone pelted the false windows behind the chair. High overhead the museum’s ceiling had been transformed into the broken, black rafters of a decaying pitched roof silhouetted against a threatening grey sky churning with storm clouds.

The scene was beautifully frightening. So, it wasn’t a total surprise to learn that this room emulates Del Toro’s workspace at his Los Angeles home, “Bleak House.” A plaque explained that del Toro used his previous experience as a special effects designer to create the room at his house in the suburbs and that when he’s in it he works with a non-stop thunder soundtrack. The plaque read, “I dreamed of having a house with secret passages and a room where it rained 24-hours a day. The point of being over forty is to fulfill the desires you’ve been harboring since you were seven,” he said.

As a child in Guadalajara del Toro loved fantasy, horror and monsters. He watched Universal Studio’s monster movies on TV, was a fan of director Alfred Hitchcock, devoured horror comic-books and taught himself English so that he could understand the slang and jokes in film fan magazines. Del Toro was even given exorcism's by his devout Catholic grandmother in attempts to drive out his love of monsters and fantasy.

Now, he is one of the most respected and admired directors in the history of filmmaking. As a plaque at LACMA’s exhibit described Del Toro has said “I really think I was born to exist in the [horror] genre. I adore it. Embrace it. I enshrine it. I don’t look down upon it or frown upon it in a way that a lot of directors do,” said del Toro. “For me it’s not a stepping stone; it’s a cathedral.”

See highlights of “Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters” at LACMA’s website: