Guillermo del Toro Is At Home With Monsters by Steven Bereznai (exhibit review).

November 2, 2017 | By | 1 Reply More

It’s everything. It’s the single thing that I have done that expresses me the most completely, more than any of my films. Bleak House is the best thing I’ve done.’ —Guillermo del Toro.

Guillermo del Toro inside the AGO exhibition. Photo: Craig Boyko / Courtesy of the AGO

‘At Home With Monsters’ is the aptly titled exhibit that gives an insider’s look into the heart and mind of horror and dark fantasy master Guillermo del Toro.

Image of del Toro’s house with the Frankenstein Head:
Guillermo del Toro’s Bleak House

He writes and creates in Bleak House, a residence in Malibu, California that’s home to his private art collection. Bleak House contains thirteen thematic libraries, each stuffed with books, fine art, comics, paintings, drawings, toys, prints, sculptures, magazines and models. The ‘At Home With Monsters’ exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario, in Toronto until January of 2018, explores content from seven of these rooms, offering insight into the themes found throughout del Toro’s creations.

Film Still from Hellboy II: The Golden Army, 2008

My favourite del Toro works include ‘The Strain’, the ‘Hellboy’ movies and perhaps his most lauded work, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’. While this background isn’t necessary to become immersed in the display of statues, memorabilia and video collages, it does amplify the appreciation for the exhibit, as these works derive from del Toro’s penchant for comicbooks, death and beautiful yet disturbing tales of fairies. Fans will be delighted by life-sized replicas of the Faun and the Pale Man from ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ and the Master’s mammoth casket from ‘The Strain’. Selfies and are encouraged.

Notebook sketch of Hellboy:
Page from Notebook 2

Walking through the exhibit, I am at times mesmerised by Bleak House’s whimsy. As a fellow author, I stand in the ‘Rain Room’ and wonder what it would be like creatively to have a library that is perpetually surrounded by a gloomy storm outside, rain constantly smacking at the windows. It fulfils del Toro’s childhood fantasy of a retreat where it rains 24 hours a day, allowing him to enter into ‘a delicious trance’ and write for hours.

Visitors enjoy other fascinating, if at times grim, insights. Part of del Toro’s focus on death and the afterlife may stem from seeing his first corpse at the age of four. It was headless at the side of the road. He sees the ‘sinister’ side of Disney, such as an evil queen sending out her huntsman to carve out a girl’s heart. Del Toro’s insect collection displays a Victorian sensibility for the natural sciences. This includes the vampiric mosquito with its tubular mouth designed for piercing flesh. It brings to mind the terrifying vampires from ‘The Strain’ with their projectile sucking organ. It’s a far cry from the pretty boys of ‘Twilight’ or ‘The Vampire Diaries’.

portrait Image of del Toro with mannequin from “Freaks”
Portrait of Guillermo del Toro at Bleak House

Del Toro’s appreciation for what so-called polite society might deem ugly or freakish is further explored in his collection of mannequins of characters from one of his favourite films, ‘Freaks’ (1932), featuring real sideshow circus performers. As one walks beneath a giant Frankenstein head or gazes at the statue of Mary Shelley’s monster frolicking with a little girl, del Toro muses that it is Shelley’s creature that is ‘instrumental’ in the way that he sees existence. ‘It is the essential narrative of the fall of man into an imperfect world by an uncaring creator.

The range of emotions I experience veer from wonder to horror to the childhood angst of the outsider. I’m guessing this is precisely what del Toro intended for himself when he designed Bleak House, fuelling a creative vision that often focuses on those living in the periphery. Overwhelmingly, the thought that goes repetitively through my mind is I have got to watch more of his movies.


Steven Bereznai is the Amazon bestselling author of How A Loser Like Me Survived The Zombie Apocalypse And I Want Superpowers. You can follow him on Instagram.



Category: Cons, Horror

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