Why del Toro's At the Mountains of Madness Will Probably Be Terrible
Wall Street Journal reported over the Independence Day weekend that Guillermo del Toro would be moving forward on his adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's At The Mountains of Madness after all. Previously, del Toro had interest from Universal to make the film, but they balked at making such a huge, R-Rated movie based on the work of an author that has honestly never really made Hollywood any money directly (Ripped off, uncredited ideas is another matter).
Now Legendary Pictures, flush with all that Pacific Rim cash, is happy to pony up del Toro's budget and del Toro has mellowed out enough to turn in a PG-13 finished product. Lovecraft fans everywhere rejoice in hopes that finally the master of weird tales gets the A-list treatment he deserves.
It's almost certainly going to be a failure.
First thing's first... that budget. Del Toro wants $120 million to make it, and that is insane on so many levels. At The Mountains of Madness is a horror story, and the list of big budget horror films that end up on Best Of lists is vey, very short. World War Z and I Am Legend come to mind. Both based on beloved books and starring top talent, and both critical failures mostly because expansive budgets put too many chefs in the kitchen tweaking things to try and recoup all those dollars.
Great horror films are one of two things. They are either trashy spectacles of excess for excess sake or they are deeply personal experience. The foremost is fine, of course, but the great horror films know that you can only truly unsettle a person by tapping into something inside them that fears on a primal and possibly irrational level. Making a movie like that on a $120 million budget is simply impossible.
What's weird is Del Toro knows this better than anyone. The Devil's Backbone and Cronos are both amazing early horror outings from him that remain critical successes and addressed very personal terrors. Compare them to 1997's Mimic, which had a lot of Hollywood meddling, and you see the difference. It's almost a scientific principle that the more money you sink into a horror film the worse it's going to be.
"This is different," you say. "This is a post-Pacific Rim del Toro. He'll be able to make the perfect giant monster movie! Look at Godzilla. The world is ready." Great, but the problem is that At The Mountains of Madness isn't a giant monster movie.