WW photo illustration, PHOTO: Karoline Webb

From The Devil's Backbone and the Oscar-winning Pan's Labyrinth to the comic-book mayhem of Hellboy and Blade II, Mexican director Guillermo del Toro is a one-man monster squad. Fresh off of relinquishing the director's chair on The Hobbit, del Toro unleashes The Fall, the second in his Strain trilogy of gore-filled, anti-Twilight-style vampire horror novels. He hits the Bagdad Wednesday, Sept. 29, to talk about the books, but first del Toro took time to chat with WW about vamps, Hellboy and his upcoming flick, an adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft novella At the Mountains of Madness.

WW: How the hell did you find time to even write these books?

Guillermo del Toro: The first one we wrote pre-Hobbit, and then the second one, because preproduction took so long, I was able to write it briefly. The third one, we are hectically working on, because if, Cthulhu willing, we film [H.P. Lovecraft's] At the Mountains of Madness in June, so we need to finish by May or the beginning of June.

Why vampires?

It's something that I am really attracted to, the parasitic, nasty part of the myth. The big vampiric surge is going almost entirely on the melodramatic, romantic thing. We try to make ours scary, and little by little we are getting a really good foothold on the extremely terrible things.

When you're writing, do you think the same way you do as a director, in a visual sense?

In some sections, yes. In action sequences, I would do a little layout on a piece of paper and think about it like I was staging an action sequence. But other than those big action moments, I almost physically feel a different part of my brain switching and I don't think in images. This is a vacation for me. No budget, no studio notes.

As a person so well known for his imagination, does this allow your imagination to go crazy?

Absolutely. This is literally the most instant gratification and absolute thrill. This is the most let-your-hair-down, go-crazy experience I've ever had creatively.

Do you intend to turn these books into films?

We have carefully avoided any offers. We had many offers after the first book. Now, with the second book the same guys are coming again. We are giving the same answer. We will not even think about it until the trilogy is published. We don't want to think of it as a TV series or a movie, because it will interfere with the way we proceed.

Is there anything about vampire lore that you just hate?

When you really delve into it—I've been reading vampire folklore since I was a kid—I can say safely that I am pretty familiar with all forms of vampires in any given culture of humanity. If you read everything, there are very few strands in common. Now, if we're talking about literary and movie vampires, I'm happy with the conventions, but I am happier to play with them or go against the grain. Throughout the ages, many of them walk in daylight, many have reflections and cast shadows. Many were not staked but nailed or decapitated. There is no real 10 commandments of vampirism. If you go to Asia or Latin America, or ancient Greece, they have very little to do with how we conceive modern vampires.

Your monsters are always so original. Where do they come from?

I try to take a very biological approach. I like to know what they eat, how they are born, how they gestate. Then I take what I call a National Geographic approach. I try to imagine them in their environment. Not as movie or literary monsters, but as real living creatures.

Do you think you could have created creatures like those in Pan's Labyrinth or Hellboy if you were working 20 years ago?

No. Absolutely impossible. For all the complaints people have about CGI, it's a magnificent tool. The only problem is that it gets overused, and many times it's a lazy solution to lazy filmmaking. I am a champion of practical effects, but there are many moments in movies I've made that would have been impossible to do in the same manor with physical effects.

You always give me nightmares. Do you sleep well at night, or is every REM terrifying?

People ask this often. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of my dreams are boring. I have two recurring nightmares. One is of zombies chasing me on a rooftop. The other is I'm under water and sharks are chasing me.

As for your movies, what about Hellboy? Are we ever going to get a finale?

I'd love to, but I truly think that Ron [Perlman, the actor who plays Hellboy] is done with wearing makeup. I'm very guilty of it. But I'm happy to say he had no makeup on Blade II, and, god willing, he will be on Mountains of Madness with no makeup. We will continue our friendship and collaboration.

Are you still involved with The Hobbit after you left the project due to MGM's money woes?

I am at their service if they need me. But I am far more involved with Mountains of Madness. I get updates, and I am very optimistic that it will happen very soon. I am far away from being a spokesperson.

What can you tell me about At the Mountains of Madness?

It's a massive, massive, massive monster extravaganza. R-rated, period. We are trying to bring to life creatures on a scale never attempted before.

GO: Guillermo del Toro reads from The Fall at Bagdad Theater, 3702 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 467-7521. 7 pm Wednesday, Sept. 29. $26.99, includes a copy of the book. All ages.

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