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Our writers honor the man responsible for some of the genre’s most emotionally affecting and visually stunning films of modern times, Guillermo del Toro.

Born on this day, October 9, 1964, Guillermo del Toro is a Mexican director, screenwriter, and producer known for imbuing horror and fantasy films with emotional and thematic complexity. His passion for film and horror developed as a small child, and he is now widely regarded as one of the most influential and visionary filmmakers and storytellers in modern cinema. He’s a man of monsters, with a deep love for darkness and a heart that beats for all that is often seen as “other” — the grotesque, the broken, the misunderstood. However, it’s not the horror but rather the humanity of his films that truly elevates them in a way so few films can come close to, delivering the kind of movie magic only del Toro can create.

In honor of his birthday, our team celebrates the contributions of this remarkable creator — from his awe-inspiring feature films, to his important work in television, fiction, and even video gaming. We pay tribute to a man who has helped redefine the genre by loving, celebrating, and empathizing with the misunderstood monster.

Guillermo del Toro may be a master of horror, but he also champions the power of love to conquer fear… which just makes us love him that much more.

1. CRONOS (1993)

Recommended by The Angry Princess (Stephanie Malone, Editor-in-Chief)

Cronos is a 1993 independent horror film written and directed by a then 29-year-old, first time Mexican filmmaker named Guillermo del Toro. It’s a stylish and sophisticated spin on the age-old vampire tale, an ode to classic horror infused with tremendous heart and intoxicating Latin magic realism.

In a striking prologue, a 16th century alchemist crafts a beautiful but grotesque device, resembling a scarab beetle, that violently injects the owner with a substance that grants immortality. However, like all gifts too good to be true, this one comes with a hefty price: bloodlust. Fast forward 400 years, and the Cronos Device, which has been hidden inside a statue, is inadvertently purchased by an antiques dealer named Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi). When he discovers the golden bug and starts tinkering with it, the living vampiric insect nested inside starts feeding off its new host. Soon, Jesus discovers he is healthier, more energetic, and younger looking than ever.

Meanwhile, a dying millionaire (Claudio Brook) obtains the journal of the ancient Spanish alchemist and learns of the Cronos Device. He demands his brutish nephew Angel (the great Ron Perlman, in the first of many future collaborations with del Toro) track down and obtain the device for him. Perlman is as wonderfully funny and charming as he is sinister, and it’s clear why del Toro fell in love with the versatile actor.

After a terrifying encounter with Angel turns deadly, Jesus returns from the grave looking much worse for the wear. But though he’s now a rather gruesome undead vampire, his granddaughter Aurora (Tamara Shanath) still adores him.

In fact, the enduring bond between the young girl and the immortal old man is at the heart of this tender, heartbreaking tale.

Atmospheric and haunting, this half-horror, half historical fable served as a promising debut for the young auteur — heralding the brilliance just ahead on the horizon and introducing the world to an incomparable visual storyteller.

Cronos won the grand prize in the Critics’ Week at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, and nine Mexican Academy Awards, including best picture and director. While he may not have yet had the resources to fully realize his extraordinary vision, Cronos is a mini masterpiece that demands to be seen.

Stream Cronos for free with HBO Max, The Criterion Channel, or Kanopy.

Where to Watch

2. THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (2001)

Recommended by Michael Benevidez

Guillermo Del Toro’s Devil’s Backbone is often praised and well regarded, but it somehow gets left out far too often from discussions about the long list of Del Toro’s impressive cinematic achievements. Whether it’s because it’s a Spanish language film, or because it got lost in the shadow of its twin sister, Pan’s Labyrinth — often regarded by Del Toro as being the feminine sibling to Devil’s Backbone — is up for debate.

What isn’t up for debate is how extraordinary this film is. With the frustrations of Mimic behind him, Del Toro successfully set out to make a movie that would become a blueprint for his future films.

Devil’s Backbone is very much a labor of love, and it shows.

A Gothic tale set in an orphanage deep in a desert, while a war wages far and away — but still remains a lurking threat throughout, Del Toro weaves a story about the scariest monster there is: man. Despite the ominous long shadows, a ghostly child with wisps of blood floating out from a head wound, and a live bomb in the center of the plaza that failed to detonate upon impact, Del Toro creates a wonderfully dreary world where human beings generate the most tension and unease.

With an impressive cast featuring talented child actors, the story is allowed an innocent point of view and lens that depicts the many threads at play as they come crashing into scares that feel earned and character moments that read true.

Forever one of my favorite of Guillermo Del Toro’s works, Devil’s Backbone is a must-see for anyone who wants to witness the seeds of the visionary director’s signature style and penchant for provocative ideas taking root, before he was a household name or an Oscar-winning filmmaker.

For best possible viewing, pair it as a double feature with the heartbreakingly beautiful Pan’s Labyrinth.