'Monsters will save my soul': director Guillermo del Toro finds spirituality at Fantasia film fest

Fantasy film director likened his first appearance at the Fantasia International Film Festival to a spiritual calling.

From dark fantasy to action films, del Toro has faith fantastical creatures are real

Guillermo del Toro accepted the Cheval Noir Award before a screening of the documentary Creature Designers: The Frankenstein Complex. (King-Wei Chu/Fantasia International Film Festival)

Fantasy film director Guillermo del Toro likened his first appearance at the Fantasia International Film Festival to a spiritual calling.

"This is a shrine. This is where the faithful will come to pray. So this is why I'm here," del Toro said in a news conference on Friday.

The Mexican director is famous for his Academy Award-winning dark fantasy Pan's Labyrinth, as well as big-budget hits like Hellboy and, most recently, Pacific Rim.

He received the festival's Cheval Noir Award before a screening of Creature Designers: The Frankenstein Complex, a documentary which explores the world of monster creation in cinema.

Fantasy aficionados are 'nuts'

Del Toro openly identifies as part of the "monster-geek" generation and says the Fantasia International Film Festival is devotional gathering.

"We're not here because its chic or it gives us caché. We're here because we're nuts. We are truly in love with a thing which is, for a lot of people, unlovable."

He said attendees have been drawn into the Fantasia fold because it's where they find kindred spirits.

"If you're a swinger you need to go to a swinger's party. And we're here swinging."

Saint Frankenstein

For many genre film aficionados it all started with Frankenstein. Del Toro is quick to call up religious imagery again when he links the monster with a saint. "The way Christians believe that Jesus will save their life, I believe monsters will save my soul."

"It's an inventory of saints: the Creature [from the Black Lagoon], the Frankenstein monster … People say I'm a collector. I'm not a collector, I'm a religious man."

The Gill-man (pictured), the Creature of Frankenstein and the Xenomorph in Alien are del Toro's three favourite creatures, or 'saints' as he calls them. (

Del Toro adds that the fantastic is the best way to address real-life issues, which is why he is so drawn to supernatural figures in cinema.

"We live in a very brutal world and you deal with it by creating creatures which serve a symbolic function — which illuminate the human tale."

He illustrated his point by referencing the characters of Pan's Labyrinth. "The faun illuminates the human condition. But it's not the scariest thing in Pan's Labyrinth — it's the captain."  

He went on to say that reality isn't particularly interesting to him, since he thinks true reality can only be achieved through the honesty of genre film.

The faun (left) is a frightful creature in Guillermo's 2006 film Pan’s Labyrinth, but the sadistic Captain Vidal is worse. (FilmGrabber)

CGI versus puppets

Del Toro says that with his genre the assumption is often that he's leaning on computer-generated imagery to create his striking monsters. He doesn't have a problem with using CGI — as he did in creating the 25-foot-tall robots for Pacific Rim — but he thinks it's important to use the right tool at the right time.

"It's not 'makeup versus CGI' it's 'creative versus lazy,'" he said, adding that a lot of the Hellboy audience thought he had used CGI when instead he and his team endured massive headaches trying to get the giant, mechanical puppets to work.

"People now use CGI because they're lazy. They deal with it in post [production]. They just throw money at it."

Del Toro directed the fictional superhero films Hellboy and Hellboy II. (FilmGrab)

'Creatures are real'

Del Toro says his belief in things that go bump in the night can be traced back to his Mexican roots.

"For me, ghosts are real. Everything weird I think is real."

He said despite some people interpreting the creatures in his work as being part of a larger, "ambiguous, psychological drama" they are always genuine players in his story lines. He "believes in them completely."

"I'm not a fan. I'm a deranged creature," he explained.

"I've never seen a movie where I want the monster to be destroyed. I want the villagers to die. I want the scientists to explode. Everyone can die except the monster."

Good vibes only

Del Toro also took time to express how he sees people engaging with each other online.

"The discourse we have right now allows hatred so easily, and it's so hard to express love. It's a difficult time. Emotional is the new punk. Being emotional is 'punk.'"

He said he makes a point to never condescend to that hatred when he shares his thoughts.

"I'll talk about books I love, the films I love, artists I love. There's enough of the other crap. You know it's a lot easier to sound intelligent by shitting on something then praising it. We have supplanted intelligence with cynicism."

The 20th edition of Fantasia runs until Aug. 2.

With files from Melissa Fundira