This April, I was lucky enough to partner with both my local movie theater (shout out to Story Screen Beacon) and a good friend (Alana Sawchuck) to host a talkback series featuring five of Guillermo del Toro’s monster flicks (stylized as MONSTER FLICKS… get it?).
Over the course of the month, Alana and I showed the following films: Hellboy and Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (in a double feature that lasted until nearly 1 am); Pacific Rim; Blade 2; and Pan’s Labyrinth. Before you say “What about Shape of Water?!”, my response is simply that film studios suck and they wouldn’t give it to us without an inordinate amount of money. So we showed Blade 2 instead. If you want to ask why we didn’t pick Cronos or Devil’s Backbone the answer is that we only had four Wednesdays to work with and we wanted to make Story Screen some money.
It worked like this: after the usual trailers (some hand-picked; we showed the Constantine trailer before Hellboy and Godzilla before Pacific Rim) my co-host and I would get up in front of the audience and present the film. We’d go over notable actors, timelines, awards, and end with some themes to watch for. A few themes came up repeatedly—who gets to be a monster? What does storytelling mean within this narrative framework? Why does Guillermo del Toro love Ron Perlman? Some of these questions are unanswered, but here are five things I learned from hosting this Monster Fucker series.
1. Audiences enjoy a metric (or Ron Perlman is just a Big Guy)
Before every film we asked our audience two questions: “Is Ron Perlman in this film?” and “Can we recognize Doug Jones?” The answers were usually yes, and always got a laugh, but it turns out Perlman didn’t make the cut for Pan’s Labyrinth and Jones wasn’t cast in Blade 2. This was a great way to break the tension, to remind people that this is going to be fun, that there are going to be familiar touchstones, and that we’re not standing up there to do a weird lecture. Alana and I were there to facilitate a discussion, not teach people. When someone asked why del Toro casts Perlman so often, Alana whipped out her notes, where she had written that GDT has said on multiple occasions, more or less, I just like the man. He’s just a big guy.
2. GDT loves a clockwork Leather Daddy
They show up all the time! All the time. GDT loves clocks and gears and ticking noises, they’re in almost all of his films without fail. Hellboy had Doctor Kroenen, who had a tick-tock heart. Captain Vidal from Pan’s Labyrinth was always working on his broken watch and even had his main office/base of personal operations in a mill, amongst big turning gears. And it’s a stretch, but Pacific Rim’s Hannibal Chau had big cyberpunk daddy energy, which is at the very least adjacent. (Also watch Cronos for GDT’s OG clockwork Leather Daddy.) Don’t believe me? Here’s what our weird king said about Kroenen, taken from an interview collected in Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities:
“I was thinking, strangely enough, that Kroenen needed to be sexy. And I know an eyeless, lipless guy is not sexy, but I thought, “There needs to exist some kind of really, really, really twisted girl that is going to get off on Kroenen.” So I said, “For that, my minuscule audience, we have to make him sexy.”
3. Pacific Rim is a good film
This is a divisive one, but I’m going to say that we learned this definitively in April of 2022. Some previous Pacific Rim naysayers even rescinded their previously held opinions in favor of the truth, which is that Pacific Rim slaps. The soundtrack is excellent, the plot is pulpy, there are some absolutely stellar lines (“Anyone can fall,” is Alana’s most obsessed-over bit of dialogue), and it takes guts to present a 20-minute backstory-heavy cold open before slamming to the title card and starting the film. Everything about this film is keyed into the emotional trauma of recovery; del Toro has said multiple times that he didn’t want this to be seen as a War Film, but as a chance to explore humanity on the edge of crisis. Even the ending isn’t about beating the aliens into submission, but rather about sacrifice, loss, knowing when it’s time to give up, and when it’s time to fight to just live another day.
4. Everyone remembers that Blade 2 review
If you don’t remember that Blade 2 review, god, I want what you have. Basically, Ain’t It Cool News published an incredibly lewd review of Blade 2 penned by the notorious Harry Knowles. I am not using the term lewd lightly, the review goes into detail about how Blade 2 is analogous to del Toro giving a woman head. The worst part is that it’s such an over-the-top critique of a film that is not nearly as sexy as its first installment that it makes a fool out of the film it attempts to encourage viewers to see. The visceral nature of Blade 2 is found in cracking skin and mottled flesh, not in the pornographic interpretation of the cinematography, which is, again, decidedly tame for del Toro. Most of the talkback discussion revolved around body horror, not pleasure, but some argued that the two go hand in hand. Well, del Toro is a brilliant little freakazoid of a film director, so who knows. Both things can be true.
5. Know your auteur
Showing five films over four weeks and coming up with new things to talk about each time really emphasized the fact that one of the things that makes del Toro unique is his staunch commitment to his own aesthetic, regardless of the material he has to work with. Here’s a quote from del Toro, again taken from his book:
“I haven’t made eight movies. I’m trying to make a single movie made of all those movies. To me, it’s like Bleak House. I’m building room by room, and you have to take it as a whole in a way. Does that mean that maybe Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth make Mimic a little less terrible? I think so. Or the echoes of those may make Blade II more interesting? I think so.”
This was something that I loved exploring over five films. We didn’t watch the films in chronological order at all, and by getting this piecemeal examination of del Toro’s work we were able to see kaiju designs appearing in Hellboy, think about how eldritch monsters changed over the course of his movies, and how the character archetypes and actors that del Toro used repeatedly changed their approach depending on the film, or how they didn’t. Thinking about having a single film on display was a brilliant way to examine these films, and there were a few people (shout out to Kevin for coming to every single screening) who were able to really dig into these themes with us, creating a talkback series that wasn’t just about Alana and I asking questions, but about creating a community of film lovers in a small town in the Hudson Valley.
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