‘There is no such thing’: Del Toro’s metafictional monster rally

Glenn Ward

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Guilermo Del Toro’s films are routinely divided into those that are seen as ‘serious’ (the less action based and consequently more slowly edited Spanish language productions) and those that are not (the Hollywood productions). In this hierarchy of taste the superiority of the former is often measured by the degree to which the films deviate from genre conventions supposedly adhered to by the latter. Hence Jack Zipes notes that Pan’s Labyrinth, Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone “endeavor to deflate and pierce the spectacle of society”, but neglects to mention any of del Toro’s other similarly monster and fantasy concerned films - perhaps because, as action-centred Hollywood films, they appear too close to the ‘spectacle’ that Zipes finds so repellant (since Zipes relies on Debord for his notion of spectacle it is unclear how del Toro’s ‘serious’ but surely spectacular films deflate it). Margaret Yocom likewise praises Pan’s Labyrinth for its “disobedient” approach to genre tropes - an argument that supposes that fantastic genre rules are normally (i.e outside of middlebrow, ‘legitimate’ auteur cinema) rigidly followed. Such distinctions are often assumed rather than examined. They are also overstated. This essay suggests that while differences of language, setting and style exist between, say, Blade II and Cronos, del Toro’s films constitute a thematically connected (but not necessarily consistent) series of explorations of the monstrous and the supernatural. The excessively praised Pan’s Labyrinth contains many of the same issues and themes as the less celebrated Hellboy. More specifically del Toro’s use of gothic, fantastic and fairy tale modes entails questions of belief. As in most fantastic texts, tensions between the viewer’s skepticism and his/her willingness to believe are foregrounded through the fictional interface between ‘ordinary’ and ‘supernatural’ worlds, and mediated through a) characters who have to be convinced b) characters (often children) with unusual insight. Such tensions are stretched to breaking point when the films include cataclysmic realities among their historical referents (e.g WW2 or the Spanish Civil War); in the case of Hellboy, for example, we are problematically asked to believe not in the banality but in the extraordinariness of Nazi evil as a literally hellish force. While a coherent theory of monstrosity does not yet emerge from Del Toro’s body of work, each film attempts to examine the meanings and functions of fantastic beings through pastiche and other forms of cross-media and cross-genre intertextuality. The necessary incorporation of incredulity is suggested in such lines as “there is no such thing” (Hellboy), “do you believe in ghosts?” (The Devil’s Backbone), “forget what you think you know: vampires exist” (Blade II) “magic does not exist” (Pan’s Labyrinth).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Transnational Fantasies of Guilermo del Toro
EditorsA. Davies, D.M. Tierney, D. Shaw
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)9781137407832
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


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