Planting bloody handprints is all in a (long) day’s work for Guillermo Del Toro

“In two weeks, this will be gone forever. It’s a f–king shame.”

Those are the first words Guillermo del Toro says on the Toronto set of Universal and Legendary’s Crimson Peak, as he greets Digital Trends on the outskirts of the massive haunted house set constructed specifically for his new movie. Over the next few hours, we will wander through the painstakingly detailed set, its grand foyer, its twisting staircase, its dimly lit library, its decaying third floor.

Until then, we can only take del Toro at his word that the monstrous mansion at the heart of Crimson Peak is a thing of horrible beauty — and it’s not a difficult promise to swallow, considering the love and admiration in del Toro’s voice, as he comes closer to accepting that in a matter of days, the set will cease to exist.

I’m a Victorian nut about Gothic romance, and I haven’t had a chance to do that at all”

On the day of our visit, del Toro is deep into production on Crimson Peak; he has only 68 days to shoot the film, all told. It’s a tighter schedule than he’s used to. (“Pac Rim was 100 days, and Hellboy 1 was 135,” he tells us.) But he’s ready for it, thanks in no small part to his work directing the pilot of FX’s The Strain, the new vampire series based on del Toro’s novels co-written by Chuck Hogan.

“I went into training mode on The Strain, shooting 76-78 minutes in 20 days,” he says. “I came out of that saying, ’68 days? Fantastic!'”

For del Toro, the days bleed together. The man barely sleeps. “Very little; about four hours,” he estimates. When he’s not working on Crimson Peak, he’s on the nearby set of The Strain, casually popping in and out to offer his advice and wisdom, and to occasionally lend a literal helping hand.

“I go as far as to put blood on [the set],” he says. “There’s a scene [in The Strain] with a bunch of bloody handprints, and they’re mine.”

Del Toro is not overworked, however. He’s elated. After smashing giant robots against giant monsters in Pacific Rim (a feat he’ll repeat for 2017’s Pacific Rim sequel), Crimson Peak, and even the horror-minded The Strain, are firmly at the core of what makes del Toro’s heart tick.

“This lands literally in my wheelhouse,” he says. “It flows incredibly easy. I’m a Victorian nut about Gothic romance, and I haven’t had a chance to do that at all [in my career]. So it’s in the same way that I was and am a robot fan; I hadn’t done that [until Pacific Rim]. It’s pretty cool to fulfill the things you wanted to do.”

It’s even cooler to fulfill those dreams with the right team. After some stumbles early on in the casting process, del Toro arrived at an all-star lineup of actors to play the four lead roles at the center of the Crimson Peak chaos.

Mia Wasikowska stars as an American author named Edith, who leaves her home country behind for a new life in England with her new husband, Thomas Sharpe, played by Tom Hiddleston. (Benedict Cumberbatch was first cast in the role; upon his sudden departure, Hiddleston was called upon for the role, and del Toro says an agreement was reached virtually overnight.) Edith and Thomas are not alone; they live in the rotting Sharpe family estate alongside Thomas’ sinister sister Lucille, played by Jessica Chastain. And before long, a man from Edith’s past, would-be suitor Doctor McMichael (Charlie Hunnam, late of del Toro’s Pacific Rim), comes to the Sharpes’ mansion as well.

What Edith and McMichael find is a harrowing horror at the heart of an ancient abode — sickening secrets and twisted turns that slowly unravel and reveal themselves in increasingly insidious ways. As for the exact nature of those secrets? Del Toro’s lips are sealed; likewise, his actors are sworn to secrecy, preferring to let the nastiness at the bleeding heart of Crimson Peak unfold at its natural pace.

For now, at least, del Toro is ready to lead us and fellow journalists through the doors of his haunted house — a house that, sadly, as of this writing, no longer exists in reality. In little more than a year, however, the house of Crimson Peak will etch itself into the hearts and minds of moviegoers brave enough to face del Toro’s latest labor of love. And closer to that release date, we’ll tell you all about what we saw inside.

Crimson Peak opens on October 16, 2015.

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