If director Guillermo del Toro has a single passion project — although he seems to have many — it’s his movie adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft novella At the Mouth of Madness. He’s been working on it for 15 years, to no avail, but it turns out that might have inadvertently worked in the Academy Award-winning director’s favour.
First, a little backstory: del Toro and screenwriter Matthew Robbins wrote an At the Mouth of Madness screenplay back in 2006, only for Warner Bros. to realise it had no desire to release a faithful adaptation of any Lovecraft stories, which usually swap heroes and romance for monsters, mounting dread, and insanity. However, Universal Pictures nabbed the rights to distribute the movie and hired Tom Cruise to be the lead… only for Universal to realise it also had no desire to release a faithful adaptation of a Lovecraft story, but rather a PG-13 action blockbuster version of it, which del Toro refused to do.
But on Fangoria’s Stephen King podcast the Kingcast, hosts Eric Vespe and Scott Wampler recently had a chance to check up on the project, which they very much did. Del Toro’s responses were very interesting:
“The Kingcast: Given your relationship with Netflix, could you loop
back around to At the Mountains of Madness at some point?
Guillermo del Toro: Well, listen… take a wild guess which were the
first projects I presented, you know? [laughs] I went through the
cupboards and found [The Count of] Monte Cristo, [At the] Mountains of Madness. Those were a couple of the ones I presented first. The thing with Mountains is, the screenplay I co-wrote 15 years ago is not the screenplay I would do now, so I need to do a rewrite. Not only to scale it down somehow but because back then I was trying to bridge the scale of it with elements that would make it go through the studio machinery.
The Kingcast: Yeah, blockbuster-y.
Del Toro: Blockbuster-y. I don’t think I need to reconcile
that anymore. I can go to a far more esoteric, weirder, smaller
version of it. You know, where I can go back to some of the scenes
that were left out. Some of the big set pieces I designed, for
example, I have no appetite for. Like, I’ve already done this or that
giant set piece. I feel like going into a weirder direction.”
Directors can rail against streaming services all they want for forcing (allowing) people to watch movies at home, but these services are all so hungry for content — especially Netflix and Amazon Prime Video — that they’ve allowed all sorts of projects that wouldn’t be made in the normal studio system, or at least not without copious notes designed to give the film the broadest appeal possible, which inevitably makes it less unique. We could have had another horror movie turned into a crappy action flick, like Tom Cruise’s The Mummy. Instead, we might get an adaptation of one of H.P. Lovecraft’s most famous works directed by a man who wants to do it as much (horrific) justice as possible.
I know which movie I’d prefer. And if you want to hear the rest of del Toro’s interview, head over to the Kingcast — it’s definitely worth a listen.