Why del Toro's At the Mountains of Madness Will Probably Be Terrible

Categories: Film and TV

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.


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$120 million still cannot convey the existential horror waiting for them in Antarctica.  It is very difficult to properly portray Lovecraft's mythos since the creatures in it are supposed to be horrifying on the deepest, most primordial level...just knowing about them in the books can drive you insane, and the Elder Gods can make entire towns turn crazy just by visiting every few thousand years.

But visually, if anyone can pull it off it's del Toro.

Personally, I am greatly disappointed in WWZ since it so departed from the book it shouldn't even have the same name.  The book is also kinda political, with "Plan B" being the original South African Apartheid disaster plan if the "blacks" had ever risen up in revolt.  But the book had many chapters, over a long period of time, slow zombies, specialized weapons and unit formations to fight them, and it took several years for the "still alive" to actually win.

del.martinis topcommenter

Legend and Z did very well, in both categories! At least it's getting made, so reserve my place in line!

Venessa Singh
Venessa Singh

I am excited to see the movie. Even if it's a flop. I am a huge Del Toro fan. By the way, both world war z and I am legend were top movies and grossed double their budgets. I felt I am legend was unique and well world war z.. Who doesn't love a zombie movie? I will definitely check out the 13 Del Mars 1941. Foreign horror movies are great.. Another great movie made in Sweden is let the right one in ( Låt den Rätte Komma In).. Book is pretty great too

Aldo Aceves
Aldo Aceves

I was happy to hear about this recently because this is one of my favorite books. I'm so glad it's Del Toro making the film adaptation and will enjoy the movie even if it bombs at the box office.


It'll fit in with a long line of terrible film adaptations of Lovecraft stories. It is as it should be.



They might have made much money but WWZ (the movie) missed the entire point of WWZ (the book).


@Smedley yes, it's really hard to get across that whole "this entity will consume your soul" and "you'll go insane just being near it" level of anxiety with a movie.  Your too busy watching the creature effects (that are usually horrible) and never get to that level of subconscious, reality-ending fear the HP mythos conveys in the written word.

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