Mama: Guillermo del Toro Talks Terrifying Audiences

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We’re sure it’s so hard to tell, but filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has an affinity for ghost stories. He serves as producer for his latest, Mama, after serving the same capacity with the 2010 scarefest Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Movie Fanatic caught up with del Toro where he let us in on the secrets of creating the scary ghoul that is Mama, what he saw in director Andy Muschietti and what it is about ghost stories that have so compelled him over the years.

Mama Photo

Mama follows the story of two young girls who wind up stranded in an abandoned cabin where they somehow manage to survive for five years until they are found. When they are reunited with family, the two don’t come home alone… along for the ride is the ghostly presence who “mothered” them for five years… Mama!

When it came to creating the ghostly presence, del Toro was taken with director Muschietti's knack for only spooning out a little Mama at a time, all to increase the fear factor. "It is a great construction of a character. It’s not just a ghost. We did three stages with Mama," del Toro said.

"We did one where the girls talk about her and before you see her. When they say, 'Mama is back,' that implies a will and a personality on the ghost before you show it."

Then, filmmakers have auxiliary characters begin to fill out her presence. "The second stage is the speech by the old lady saying a ghost is a twisted emotion like a corpse in the sun," del Toro added. 

As shown in the Mama trailer, things can then get utterly twisted in the most terrifically horrific ways as the entity is more fully revealed. "Then, you do it through the process of action where you show a shadow. You hear a noise, a closet door opens and then the doctor makes the investigation that she was a mother. By the time you reveal Mama, you already have so many emotions and ideas about her, it is personified in that scarecrow of a figure -- it is super scary. You’re not dealing with just a scary figure. You’re dealing with a full-blown character!"

The horror master believes that that means of scary character reveal packs much more of a punch. "That is much more satisfactory. Andy had the wisdom to show just enough... myself, I would have probably shown more," he said and laughed. "I think he made the right choice."

Del Toro is a longtime fan of the ghost story. Just ask him about the books in his home that have been read repeatedly. "The only library in my house that I can guarantee that I’ve ready every book is the horror room. I have read most every horror and ghost story from the last ten years," he said. 

Guillermo del Toro Picture

As a storyteller, he can appreciate that the ghost story can manifest itself in any number of tales. "I can say within that world, you can find a subtle ghost story, a brutal scary ghost story or an antiquarian story feeling. There are so many flavors. Ghosts are a metaphor. They can be interpreted in so many ways. There’s no ending to what you can do. It can be fun, deeply disturbing. You can have The Shining and The Haunting and The Innocent, and those are three different tonalities."

After the giant robots versus aliens sci-fi treat -- that is teased in the Pacific Rim trailer -- hits theaters, the producer-director's next directing project is ghost story based, Crimson Peak.

He cautions it is unlike anything you have seen from him prior. "Crimson Peak is very irrelevant and classic," del Toro said.

His newest producing effort, Mama, is a movie that envelops a completely different feel. "It is very different from what I do. Mama has an incredibility strong base of reality, and emotional reality," del Toro said. "Crimson Peak is a complete confection. It’s a gothic romance. It’s like a piece of cake."

Mama Still

How the filmmaker decides which film to direct, versus produce, he likens to a certain scene from an iconic movie. "To direct, it is harder. People think it’s like the Godfather with people waiting to come in to see you. '[In his best Brando] You bring me a product today.' It’s not like that. You’re hustling. You’re panicked. You’re horrified. The movie you think you’re going to do next, you don’t do. The movie that you think you’re never going to do, you make," del Toro said and laughed. 

"A career is what happens when you are making other plans! As a producer, you know it’s not an affair, it’s a marriage. So you only marry after you date carefully. You know if it’s working with the first week of dailies. I only produce things that have so much in common with what I like. I want to understand what I’m doing. At the same time I only produce movies that have something different so I can learn from the experience of producing."

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