5 Reasons Why Guillermo Del Toro Is A Master Of Horror And Fantasy

One of the monsters in Pan's Labyrinth.
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

In this day and age, there are so many directors in Hollywood that have truly become icons. Names like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and more have delivered outstanding films. But one name I’ll be talking about today, in my opinion, stands above the rest, and that is Guillermo del Toro

As someone who grew up watching fantasy films and some of the best horror movies, Guillermo del Toro is a director that has contributed to both of those genres. And honestly, he is a master at his craft. As someone who has followed his work for several years, whether that be directing, writing, producing, or anything else, del Toro knows exactly what he’s doing, and I’m here to tell you why. 

In honor of del Toro’s latest film, Nightmare Alley, here are five reasons as to why Guillermo del Toro is a master of horror and fantasy.

One of the monsters in Pan's Labyrinth.

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

His Use Of Practical Effects Is Off The Charts 

I mean, is anyone surprised I’m including this? Guillermo del Toro has done so much for the fantasy and horror industry in terms of practical effects, from makeup to its monsters to everything else. The first movie I always think of whenever this comes up is Pan’s Labyrinth. 

The dark fantasy film is stunning for so many reasons, and one of them is the fact that del Toro doesn’t stray from using some of the best practical effects in Hollywood, creating monsters that not only look real but feel real. You just can’t get that same effect from CGI. It’s just not as thrilling, in my opinion. 

Another movie I want to talk about with practical effects is, again, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. In this film, the practical effects are off the charts, mainly due to del Toro also producing this film and wanting to make sure these children’s horror tales truly looked terrifying. Insider did a whole behind-the-scenes look on how they did the practical effects, and the hours it took to create them. It’s truly amazing the time and effort he makes sure to put into every single monster.  

The monster in The Shape of Water.

(Image credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures)

His Fascination With Monsters Is What Makes His Characters So Interesting To Watch

Guillermo del Toro is a man that loves monsters. His love for monsters is what led him to enter into the film industry, working in both make-up and practical effects until he ended up breaking into directing via TV and Cronos, which came out in 1993. 

He talks about this in an exclusive interview with The Hollywood Reporter, telling how he had a sign up in one of the rooms at his grandmother's house that said "Monster Club."

I was already into monsters, ever since I was in the crib, so one of the rooms in her house had a sign that said ‘Monster Club, Do Not Trespass,’ and it had a vampire bat that I had cut out of artificial fur.

The famous director broke into the film world by studying the craft while also working on special effects makeup, and later on, producing his first film - but through his past and how much he loves monsters, he's able to show them in their own light.

With a lot of monsters from movies and TV, I always feel that they’re just made for scares and never humanized or given personality or a story. Guillermo del Toro turned that on its head and redid that whole perception, creating monsters that you not only want to care for but root for in the end. 

For example, in The Shape of Water, the only del Toro film thus far to win Best Picture, the creature in there is, arguably, hideous. It’s a fish-creature that looks half-humanoid and is dangerous (at first) until he starts to form a close bond with Elisa. But over time, we as the audience start to view this creature not as a monster but a tortured soul that wishes to be free, rather than something that is terrifying. 

In truth, the real villain of this ends up being the humans, not the monsters, something that del Toro often likes to do with his movies. He gives monsters the chance to tell their story, and I think that’s why I like them so much.

The device in Cronos.

(Image credit: Prime Films S.L./October Films)

He Often Draws Inspiration From His Cultural Background 

As a Latina who loves movies like Coco or Roma that tell Spanish stories, del Toro has always been one of my go-to's, as he embraces his culture - often returning to it to direct smaller, low-budget Spanish horror films. One of my favorites that he’s ever done is The Devil’s Backbone. 

This horror film is set during the Spanish Civil War, and you can clearly tell that it was made by a man who loves his culture, and it reminded me largely of Cronos, both of which have clear influences from his life in Mexico. It’s also fun for people who aren’t familiar with Spanish culture to watch these films and learn about certain things that they never might have known, if not for the movie.

Some of the characters in the Devil's Backbone.

(Image credit: Warner Sogefilms A.I.E.)

He Knows How To Properly Build Suspense In His Horror Movies

Another thing I wanted to go over when it comes to Guillermo del Toro is his approach to building suspense. Oftentimes in a lot of modern horror movies, such as the Paranormal Activity franchise or even The Conjuring franchise, a lot of these movies rely on jump scares to infuse terror into the audience. While that’s all good and dandy, I really don’t like that kind of horror and never have. 

But Guillermo del Toro has always had this way of creating the perfect amount of suspense that is paid off wonderfully near the end of his horror movies. Like in Cronos, for example. I won’t say any spoilers, but there’s a clear slow-build of what happens to the main character, until everything comes together near the very end and creates a well paid-off climax that leaves a little for questioning.

If you haven’t seen any of his pure horror films, like Cronos or The Devil’s Backbone or even Mimic (which is more sci-fi horror, but still), you should really check them out, even if you aren’t the biggest horror fan. Guillermo del Toro has such a fantastic way of building horror that I would re-watch his scary movies over and over again. Truly some of Guillermo del Toro’s best movies.

The scarecrow in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

Even When Guillermo Del Toro Isn't Directing, He Tells Brilliant Stories

Guillermo del Toro has directed many films in his years in the movie industry, but the man is a famed writer and producer as well within Hollywood. Even when he isn’t directing films, he's able to contribute to brilliant stories that I adore watching to this day, ones that I feel can only be matched by some of the other icons of horror and fantasy in Hollywood, like John Carpenter or Peter Jackson

For example, in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, which is based on a children’s horror novel. Repeat - children’s horror novel. I’m sure as a kid I was terrified of those stories, but re-reading the novel as an adult doesn’t terrify me. However, when I saw the film adaptation in the theaters, I was terrified

For the first time in a while, I felt that unease, because it felt like these tales were carefully executed in a way where the kids who grew up reading the novel were adults now, and they needed to somehow still make this adaptation scary. I looked up who had done the story, and lo and behold, Guillermo del Toro worked with Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan to develop that story. Not only that, but Guillermo del Toro also acted as a producer on Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, which was directed by André Øvredal.

Nightmare Alley is in theaters as of December 17, and if you can see what critics have to say about the new movie. It'll be exciting to see what the master of horror and fantasy does next. Only time will tell. I can’t wait until his adaptation of Pinocchio

Alexandra Ramos
Content Producer

A self-proclaimed nerd and lover of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire, Alexandra Ramos is a Content Producer at CinemaBlend. She first started off working in December 2020 as a Freelance Writer after graduating from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in Journalism and a minor in English. She primarily works in features for movies, TV, and sometimes video games. (Please don't debate her on The Last of Us 2, it was amazing!) She is also the main person who runs both our daily newsletter, The CinemaBlend Daily, and our ReelBlend newsletter.