Guillermo Del Toro has directed several iconic horror and fantasy movies, but what makes him legendary is his monster design. In honor of Del Toro’s 51st birthday, let’s take a look at some of his unique takes on that most classic of monsters: The Vampire.
Discussions of the following movies may contain minor spoilers, particularly where it comes to the details and mechanics of the monsters and transformations.
In Cronos, an elderly antique dealer discovers a strange palm-sized clockwork device hidden inside the base of a small statue. When he manages to activate the device while examining it, it springs sharp mechanical legs which latch on to him, drawing blood. As time progresses, he finds himself growing younger and stronger, but hungrier…
The device is revealed to contain an immortal parasitic insect. Fresh blood revives the insect, and in turn it produces a solution that is introduced back into its host’s blood stream, providing immortality and a craving for blood to keep the cycle going.
Cronos was Del Toro’s first movie, with a starting budget of $1.5M which Del Toro raised partly by mortgaging his house. It premiered at the Cannes film festival in 1993, which Del Toro could not afford to attend. It won the Critics prize at Cannes and several Mexican film awards, gaining Del Toro critical and leading to his selection as director of Mimic in 1997.
Here’s an obscure bit of trivia for you: Cronos apparently takes place in the same universe as the (wonderful) cannibal movie Somos Los Que Hay (We Are What We Are). At least, they share the character “Tito the Coroner”, played in both films by Daniel Gimenez Cacho.
Cronos is part of the Criterion Collection and is available streaming through Hulu.
The first Blade movie introduced the concepts of Vampires and “Daywalkers” (otherwise known as Half Vampires or Dhampirs). Blade II, directed by Del Toro, introduces a new strain of vampires known in-universe as “Reapers”, which prey upon and turn both humans and vampires.
Reapers are stronger and more difficult to kill than traditional vampires, with hearts encased in bone and an immunization to silver weapons (silver is often considered an effective tool against werewolf and vampires due to its anti-microbial properties). Instead of traditional fangs, Reapers have a long lamprey-like tentacle, which is revealed when they unhinge their three-part jaws.
The Strain was a storyline first envisioned by Del Toro as a television series, but when he was unable to find a buyer, he teamed up with author Chuck Hogan to turn it into a series of novels. The books were widely popular and the series has since been adapted into a comic series (2011) and a TV series by FX Network (2014).
The Strain attempts to explain vampirism through purely scientific means - so these vampires aren’t deterred by religious iconography and they’re not worried about getting invitations. Silver again plays a role in this mythology, vampires can be injured or killed by silver weapons, and they can be revealed by antique mirrors backed with silver.
The vampires themselves have a lot in common with Blade II’s Reapers, with a stinger-like tentacle as their primary method of feeding. Vampirism in The Strain is transferred through tiny worms that exist throughout their hosts' bodies. When a new host is cut by a vampire’s stinger or comes in contact with a vampire’s blood, the worms enter their bloodstream and rapidly begin to reproduce.
You can find more information about creature design in The Strain at the links below: