Guillermo del Toro’s love of vivid colours, beautiful monsters and steampunk

As blog titles go, this one is quite specific. To set the scene… basically, to celebrate Halloween my partner and I have been watching spooky movies. One of those was Crimson Peak (2015) as I’d not seen it, despite being a big del Toro fan.

And whilst I appreciated the movie, I didn’t love it. Mostly because the plot and characters didn’t really get me going, and I didn’t feel that invested in any of their fates, despite good performances from the leads. That aside, one of the things that struck me from the start was del Toro’s use of colour. I begun to realise there’s things he’s been doing as a director since at least the early 2000s, around the time of Blade II (2002) and Hellboy (2004), and perhaps even earlier with The Devil’s Backbone (2001), Mimic (1997) and Cronos (1993).

That is… he loves deep, rich colours on screen, in particular green, red, and gold. He also adores water, steam, brass, copper, and bathrooms. In short: he loves steampunk. Which will come as no surprise to anyone who has watched his movies, but I thought I’d put it out there and serve up some images to illustrate my points.

Let’s investigate…


Use of colour

In Crimson Peak I was struck by del Toro’s use of colour, almost more so than any of his other films. The first third of the movie was lit with red and green, and then later gold was introduced. del Toro often uses warm yellows and golds for the hero: Ofelia in Pan’s Labyrinth as she enters the golden throne room, Princess Nuala in Hellboy II, and Edith Cushing in Crimson Peak as she discovers the secrets of the sinister house and the family she married into. With The Shape of Water he opted for greens, yellows and browns, which were softer and fitted more for that romantic sort of story.

Deep red and eerie green — Crimson Peak
Green and off white-blue — Crimson Peak
Red vat, yellow dress, golden roof — Crimson Peak
Golden throne room — Pan’s Labyrinth
Red, yellow and black — Blade II
Red and yellow background, eerie green foreground — Crimson Peak
Red and gold backround, blues in foreground — Hellboy II

Glorious set design

del Toro’s films are known for their level of detail when it comes to set design. Every inch of the frame is brought to life with exquisite care, with so much thought going into the look and feel. Read 3D artist Jeff Martin’s detailed breakdown on The Shape Of Water and Architectural Digest’s look at the making of Crimson Peak’s house. It’s fascinating to understand the level of craft that goes into his movies – so many scenes can be paused and just enjoyed for how beautiful they look, like paintings.

The apartment — The Shape Of Water
Laboratory — The Shape Of Water
The kitchen — Crimson Peak

Beautiful monsters

Not all monsters are evil, but all monsters in del Toro movies are put together with love, care and attention. From the faun in Pan’s Labyrinth to Abe Sapien in Hellboy. It makes sense, too, that del Toro would put this much care into his monsters. He spent the best part of a decade as a special effects make-up designer before directing.

Amphibian man — The Shape Of Water
Troll market — Hellboy II
Faun — Pan’s Labyrinth
Angel of Death — Hellboy II

Steampunk and bathrooms

Hellboy II is, through and through, a steampunk movie. I mean, look at the image below. And linked to steampunk is, er, steam, I’d argue, and water… so it follows that del Toro loves a bathroom. Particularly an old one, with often dirty and cracked, yet functional tiles. And he loves exposed pipes and pipework, cogs and machinery, often using steampunk staples of tan leather, copper and brass — which, incidentally, are colours that aesthetically work well with greens and blues, if you’re into interior design.

Hellboy, Abe Sapien, Johann Kraus — Hellboy II
Teaching the creature — The Shape Of Water
Throne room — Hellboy II
Ofelia reading — Pan’s Labyrinth
Laboratory — The Shape Of Water
Bath house murder — Crimson Peak

So herein endeth the lesson. Well, if there was a lesson. It was more just me appreciating del Toro’s eye, and the things he likes to put on screen. I’d noticed these things before, but this is the first time I decided to share a few images and the commonalities I’ve noticed in a lot of his work over the last few years.

It still remains a crying shame we never got to see his version of The Hobbit. But he looks to have something tasty coming up in the form of psychological thriller Nightmare Alley (2022), starring Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Willem Defoe, Toni Collette, and of course, Ron Perlman. It looks to be coming out Jan 2022.

By Mikey P

Freelance editor, writer and podcast creator by day. Spoken word poet and screenwriter by night.

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