When it comes to imagination and creativity in film, one of the most important names in the conversation is Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. His excitement from bringing immersive worlds to his audiences is nothing short of infectious, and has led to some of the most memorable theater-going experiences in the last few decades.
What del Toro is probably most known for, however, is his ability to bring fascinating new creatures to life. His inventive designs and commitment to his visions have forged images, both beautiful and haunting, that stick with you long after the credits roll. The following are prime examples of the many ghosts, demons, and monsters that came from his beautifully warped mind.
The Faun – ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ (2006)
Pan’s Labyrinth opens in Spain of 1944, where 11-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) travels with her pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil) and stepfather, the ruthless Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), to their new home. One night, she wanders into the woods and meets a mystical faun (Doug Jones). He tells her she is the reincarnation of a princess from years ago, and that if she completes three tasks, she may return to her forgotten kingdom.
Del Toro and frequent collaborator Jones give the Faun a tangible vitality that makes him one of the director’s most jaw-dropping creations. From the carved runes in his forehead to his creaky posture, the mostly-practical costume entirely sells that the horned creature is centuries old. If you pay close attention, you’ll even notice subtle differences in his appearance throughout the film, as his true motives begin to reveal themselves.
Hellboy – ‘Hellboy’ (2004)
Transported from a paranormal dimension by Nazis in World War II, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is adopted by Allied forces. Years later, he works for a secret government agency with other super-powered individuals to rid the world of evil.
Hellboyis adapted from a comic series by Mike Mignola, and no director / actor combo could better capture the dark quirkiness of the source material than del Toro and Perlman. Rather than hindering his performance, the detailed make-up works in perfect harmony with Perlman’s smug charisma to pull the character directly from the page and onto the screen.
Amphibian Man – ‘The Shape of Water’ (2017)
Mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works as a cleaning lady for a secret government agency. When she discovers they are hiding a water-dwelling humanoid (Doug Jones), she plots to rescue the seemingly peaceful creature before the agency carries out their more nefarious plans.
This tribute to classic Hollywood and its central “Amphibian Man” perfectly embody del Toro’s affinity for the misunderstood. The beautifully detailed costume looks like something that could exist in the wild, and is given the range to convey both empathy and ferocity. If the costume was not perfect, the film would fall completely flat. Though considering The Shape of Water won the Oscar for Best Picture, it’s safe to say the creature was a success.
Santi – ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ (2001)
When young Carlos (Fernando Tielve) is brought to an orphanage in the outskirts of Spain during the Spanish Civil War, he soon begins seeing a mysterious ghostly boy with a wound in his head. As a struggle over gold hidden at the orphanage emerges, Carlos slowly uncovers the secrets of the orphanage and the origin of his spirit companion.
Santi’s simple yet elegant design acts as a symbol for the innocent casualties of war and the greed of men. His cracked porcelain-like face with a single stream of blood floating into the air leaves an affecting mark on one of del Toro’s most emotionally resonant stories.
The Forest God – ‘Hellboy II: The Golden Army’ (2008)
As Hellboy struggles with his relationship with the humans he protects, elven prince Nuada rises from his underground kingdom. He plots to steal pieces of a crown that will give him control of an ancient army to unleash upon humanity. As Hellboy closes in on Nuada, the prince summons a massive tentacled forest spirit that lashes out on a city square in its confusion.
The scene is an example of how, even in his most light-hearted films, del Toro can still find moments of genuine beauty and emotion. When Hellboy realizes the titan is wreaking havoc out of fear, he fires the killing shot with reluctance. The creatures explode, and its green blood immediately sprouts a field of vegetation over the city street, making for one of del Toro’s most visually striking cinematic images.
The Pale Man – ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ (2006)
One of the tasks given to Ofelia by a mysterious faun sends her to retrieve a dagger from the lair of a child-devouring monster. She must draw her own door there with chalk and is told not to eat anything on the dining table in the lair. The chalk door will close soon, giving Ofelia limited time to retrieve the dagger safely without awakening the evil beast.
The bony bag of nightmare fuel know as the Pale Man is the sort of disturbing creation that only the mind of del Toro could conjure up. Whether due to his lumbering walk, the eyes embedded in his hands or his screech that echoes with the sounds of screaming children, this monstrosity has horrified thousands of moviegoers and is likely to continue doing so for years to come.
Jared Nomak – ‘Blade II’ (2002)
Vampire hunter Blade (Wesley Snipes) returns in this action-packed sequel to the 1998 hit, where he faces a new breed of bloodsuckers known as reapers. Unfortunately for him, his only chance of stopping the reapers involves teaming up with a motley crew of vampires.
Recruiting del Toro for the Blade franchise was a no-brainer, considering he and vampires go together like peanut butter and more peanut butter. The best evidence of this is in the fact that he came prepared with his own idea for the reapers, led by Jared Nomak (Luke Goss). His Shakespearean backstory and creepy splitting jaw make for a great foil to Blade, and foreshadowed his work on the book series and tv show, The Strain.
Sammael – ‘Hellboy’ (2004)
While investigating an incident at a museum, Hellboy encounters a demonic hound named Sammael. Just when he thinks the creature is defeated, he learns of a cluster eggs in the sewer that will hatch anytime Sammael is killed. He must then venture into the sewers to find the eggs and destroy them.
One of del Toro’s first fully-practical creatures, Sammael is a worthy addition to his pantheon of monstrosities. A throw-down in a subway between the hound and Hellboy is a great example of the director’s penchant for energetic action, and Sammael’s sabretooth tiger-like design is so incredibly tangible, you’d almost think it was real.
Otachi – ‘Pacific Rim’ (2013)
Years after the world is overrun by giants monsters called Kaiju, the “Jaeger” program, involving massive metal exoskeletons that require two pilots, is reinitiated when new Kaiju are spotted. Former Jaeger pilot Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam) and green trainee Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) must band together to stop the new threat and save the world.
It’s clear del Toro had a field day making Pacific Rim, his love letter to the Japanese Kaiju (giant monster) genre. Each of his Kaiju are unique and imposing, but the obvious scene-stealer is the winged Otachi. During a centerpiece fight in Hong Kong, Otachi is seen spitting acid, using her claw-like tail as a weapon, and eventually unveiling her wings to drag a Jaeger into the clouds. She also takes the prize for “coolest death” when she’s sliced out of the sky with a sword.
The Angel of Death – ‘Hellboy II: The Golden Army’ (2008)
When Hellboy is critically wounded, his friends are guided by a goblin to a small chamber, where an eerie angel-like figure resides. The Angel of Death, as it’s called, tells them it can save Hellboy. However, if it does, Hellboy will live on to bring about the apocalypse, and his lover, Liz (Selma Blair), will suffer the most.
Despite its minimal screen-time, The Angel of Death’s haunting appearance is a memorable one. From the rows of eyes on its wings to the cracked crest on its head, the design is nothing short of menacing. Clearly included as a harbinger for events in a third film that would never come to pass, the mystery behind the creature makes this scene all the more mesmerizing.
NEXT: Best Guillermo del Toro Characters