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Comic-Con 2010

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Panel Report: Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark

Posted on Saturday July 24, 2010, 08:32 by James White in Comic-Con 2010
Panel Report: Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark

There is no getting away from it: Guillermo del Toro is one of the true kings of Comic-Con.

Even when he’s the surprise guest (such as Thursday’s Tron Legacy panel), he can command the audience like few other filmmakers, blending raw, funny language with passion and insight into the business. So when the event is focused on a film that the beloved Mexican multi-hyphenate has co-written and produced, it was hardly a surprise that he dominated the time and got the lion’s share of the questions.

Despite the presence of director Troy Nixey (who was introduced as “from Canada, so be gentle”), it was del Toro’s domain. The reaction was nothing less than rapturous as he was announced and arrived on stage to proclaim that he was delighted with the chocolates left waiting for him. “That’s how they attract fat people,” he quipped. “They put f****ng chocolate here and I’m driven.”

But ever the magnanimous collaborator, he was quick to acknowledge how impressed he was with Nixey’s work in comics before they ever worked together, and to single him out as a solid talent behind the camera.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a modern update of a vaguely obscure 1970’s TV movie that had a big impact on the young del Toro and his brothers, who for years were convinced that they were the only kids who had seen the thing. The basic plot finds a girl named Sally sent to live with her father and his new girlfriend, who discovers that the creepy old house that she’ll spend her days has an even darker, fairy-flavoured secret in the basement. And, tapping into classic stories of stolen children and changelings, these little monsters aren’t as friendly as they claim to be.

As producer/moderator Nick Nunziata kept things moving (though even he yielded the lion’s share of the mic time to the man that everyone wanted to talk to), del Toro cued up a first look montage that set the scene for the film’s tone more than the plot. Whispery voices bring the fairytale feeling, and there’s a distinctly creepy feeling to everything. The big scare moment comes as the young heroine of the film (Bailiee Madison) exploring under her covers, only to be confronted by a sudden beast. Cue loud jump scare and cut to black…

“Did you s**t your pants?” del Toro asks the crowd. “I did.” He goes on to explain how it’s been a long, tough journey to the screen for the movie, which he wrote with Mimic co-scribe Matthew Robbins back in 1997. He’s been struggling to get to a place where he has creative control. But that’s not the only thing on his mind. While he announces, far too late given the salty language so far, that children should leave the room, admitting, “It’s like Sesame Street, but Motherfucker is the word of the day. I’m not Elmo…” The man is a born entertainer. The warning, however late, is well intentioned, since the director/writer/producer next assures us all that no-one associated with the film is “f*****g chickening out.” He goes on to relate the comical tale of the film’s rating: “we didn’t have any profanity, except on the set, and no sexual situations, just lots of scares. The MPAA struck back an "R" for "pervasive scariness" and when they asked if anything can be done, the board said, "Why ruin a perfectly scary movie?" Del toro says that horror is like a pirate ship, the more "R" the better… Cheesy, but he made it work.

Oh, and this too: “Horror movies need to have balls and those balls need to be sweaty and wrinkled!” Quote of the day, anyone? Possibly only matched by “this movie is as serious as a case of Gonorrhoea…”

Most of the rest of the panel was a parade of fans asking the cinematic icon about every aspect of his work (with a few throwing Nixey the chance to answer). But it was del Toro’s candid, easygoing style that won the day once more, including stories about nearly going broke making Chronos.

And should you be harbouring your own ambitions to crack into movies or comics via his patronage, you can approach him in public or email him. No, honestly… he invites it.

The panel wrapped up with another look at the movie; this time, the entire prologue, set in 1918. We’re introduced to an ill-fated maid whose master has a rather urgent need for her “beautiful precious teeth.” Which he proceeds to chisel out of her mouth in a scene that, even if it doesn’t linger on the violence, had most of the audience grimacing. Which, we’re guessing, was exactly what Guillermo was hoping for…

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