Fantasy and horror fans, prepare yourselves for the Decade of Del Toro.
On the far side of the globe, in New Zealand, filmmaker Guillermo del Toro is in his seventh month of labor on "The Hobbit," a $300-million epic that will be told over two films to be released in 2011 and 2012. But you can also find the Guadalajara, Mexico, native now on the shelf of your local bookstore with his debut novel, "The Strain," which is the opening installment of a vampire trilogy he has already fully mapped out.
That's only the beginning. The 44-year-old Del Toro, who was Oscar nominated for the dark fairy tale "Pan's Labyrinth" and has shown his crowd-pleasing sensibilities with the "Hellboy" films, also has plans to reanimate some musty and monstrous literary classics by making a "Frankenstein" film as well as an adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft epic "At the Mountains of Madness," a project he breathlessly refers to simply as "my obsession."
That would seem to be a full enough plate for anyone but, in a recent phone interview, he chuckled and admitted he's got another one to add to the pile: "I think after 'The Hobbit,' my next project may actually turn out to be 'Drood,' " he said, referring to the 2009 novel by Dan Simmons that presents Charles Dickens at the center of an occult mystery in 1860s Victorian London. Del Toro has also talked about adapting "Slaughterhouse-Five," Kurt Vonnegut's surreal antiwar tale of time travel.
If you're keeping track, that would have Del Toro tied up well past 2015 and perhaps into 2017. He is also flirting with other projects ("Pinocchio," "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and a third "Hellboy" film have been mentioned at various times), but perhaps only in the role of producer, as he did with the acclaimed 2007 Spanish ghost story "The Orphanage." He also wants to join the increasingly popular quest to find the undiscovered country of interactive 21st century storytelling, which lies somewhere between Hollywood films and video games as we know them today.
It's a dizzying career plan for the father of two (his wife and daughters have moved to New Zealand to be with him during production of "The Hobbit") but right now, no venture has him more enthused than "The Strain," the 401-page novel that was co-written with Chuck Hogan and released in hardcover last month by William Morrow. The book has received generally good reviews and fulfills the earliest ambition of Del Toro, who as a boy in Mexico dreamed of being an author long before filmmaking captured his heart.
"The Strain" presents an unsettling tale of a vampiric virus on the loose in New York City. It was about four years ago that the story started taking shape in Del Toro's imagination, and his inspiration was a surprising one.
"I was watching 'The Wire' on cable and I was addicted to it," the filmmaker said. "I really felt caught up in this idea of doing a procedural, a limited cable series, which married the ideas of biology, of anatomy, of vampirism and evolved through the seasons into the spiritual and mythological aspects of the theme -- and always with the everyday details and prosaic settings, and the rhythms of a procedural."
The plan at first was to present "The Strain" as a television series, limited to three seasons, and Del Toro was gripped with excitement as he got deeper into the tale.
"I prepared a 'bible' of the three seasons and went to the network that I had a deal with, which was Fox. They read the bible and listened to the pitch with the opening scene of the 747 stopping mysteriously on the runway at JFK and the mystery that followed, and I was very happy with it."
And how did the network respond? "They said two things: 'It's too expensive, first of all, and what we would really love is a vampire comedy.' That was my first and only encounter with television. I retreated quickly."
There's a surge in vampires in pop culture right now, a sort of crimson wave of interest with "True Blood" pumping up the ratings on HBO and a second "Twilight" film due this year. The Swedish bloodsucking romance "Let the Right One In" was a hit at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, and an English-language adaptation is scheduled for next year. There's also talk of film revivals for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Dark Shadows." And, on cable and home video, "30 Days of Night" and the "Underworld" films are still in circulation.
The vampires of "The Strain" are not emo pretty boys, not with skin that, on close inspection, reminds one young human character of a "pickled pig fetus" he saw back in science class. "The idea is to keep reminding people that these are undead things. To start with biology and then also help the audience make sense of all the vampire traits that they already know," Del Toro said.