While Pan’s Labyrinth may not be a traditional horror film, it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t belong in a Halloween themed series of articles. While the movie itself is a tragic tale of war and lost childhood, there are some definite moments of terror. The one that sticks out in my mind, and the minds of most folks who have seen the film is the sequence with the Pale Man.
Guillermo Del Toro is one of my favorite directors and I don’t think there’s anyone working today who does creatures better than he does. I love that he doesn’t rely on CGI in most cases, and instead turns to make up and animatronics to create his fanciful beasts. It really helps to create a sense of scale and mass that sometimes isn’t there with pure CGI creatures. I consider the Pale Man to be one of Del Toro’s best creatures, and certainly the creepiest.
Ofelia, the young protagonist of the film is tasked with retrieving an item from the Pale Man’s lair. Part of the magic of the movie, and certainly this sequence, is the lack of information that the audience is given. The creature, sitting still in front of a huge table of food appears to be sleeping or dead, but it’s not clear what the situation is. The walls are painted with images of the monster chasing and eating children (never a good sign). Finally, the monster awakens, taking its eyes from the plate before it and placing them in its palms. A typically horrifying chase scene ensues with the monster’s jagged, uneven movements adding to the overall creepiness.
Del Toro does such a masterful job creating the scene, leaving just enough to the imagination of the viewer, making everything just a little more unsettling. The credit does not go to the director alone, however. His long time collaborator Doug Jones, who plays the role of the Pale Man deserves some as well. He has such amazing physicality that a director like Del Toro must just love working with him. It’s one thing to dream up the creepy monsters that Del Toro does, but it’s another to find an actor who can get into the costume and make the beast come to life. Jones does it well, and my spine still tingles when I watch the scene.