These are a few of my favorite things... of UNSPEAKABLE HORROR!
They might be unspeakable, but I can still write blog posts about them.
This month I am attempting 31 blog posts in the 31 days of October to celebrate Halloween. Among these posts will be a new series called "My Favorite Horror Things," which will feature various aspects of the horror genre that I want to spotlight and offer a small piece of appreciation. First in the series is "The Pale Man."
In Guillermo Del Toro's highly innovative fairy tale/horror film, Pan's Labyrinth, Del Toro creates two interlocking story worlds: 1940's fascist Spain and a timeless fairy tale realm populated by monsters and fantastical creatures, and the two worlds reflect each other in subtle and fascinating ways. One of the monsters is the Pale Man, a re-envisioned fairy tale ogre.
Ofelia, the hero of the story, must journey into the lair of the Pale Man in order to complete a test, a test that she simultaneously passes and fails. However, I will save that for another time--this blog post focuses on the monster himself.
The Pale Man sits at the head of a sumptuous banquet table, which I interpret to be a lure for starving children, much like the gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel. The Pale Man appears to be in some kind of hibernation, which suggests that the banquet table must be enchanted since the food is not spoiled. As soon as a wayward child eats from the table, the Pale Man awakens and eats the child like a spider that catches a fly in its web.
What makes the Pale Man so horrifyingly awesome is a combination of factors: the monster design, the brilliant physical performance by Doug Jones, the resonant themes of the fairy tale tradition, and the set design, which features subtle and disturbing details.
The Pale Man is an excellent example of the uncanny in monster design. When the audience looks at him, they expect to see eyes, but there are no eyes--the monster's face is disturbingly blank; later the audience discovers that the eyes are on a plate in front of him, and the eyes must be placed in the creature's palms and then worn like a mask. This has a very unsettling effect.
More than this, the creature displays the loose skin of someone who has lost a lot of weight. I assume the weight was originally gained by eating children, as depicted in the mural painted on the ceiling of the Pale Man's chamber.
The set design also features a disturbing mountain of children's shoes, which hearkens to the piles of confiscated belongings during the Holocaust. From the mural and the mountain of shoes, we know that our fairy tale monster is imbued with historical horror.
The performance by Doug Jones is amazing. The special features on the DVD show the level of difficulty involved in this performance, and Doug Jones shines.
The Pale Man is one of my all-time favorite monsters for his fairy tale origins, his uncompromising Grimm-ness, and his off-the-chart level of horrifying. If you haven't already, you need to see this film.