PARIS - Haunted house movies are a Hollywood trope. But the latest about to hit our screens, by director Guillermo del Toro, promises a lusher, more gothic fantasy than most, with a sentimental heart.
His "Crimson Peak", which rolls out around the world this month, borrows strongly from Del Toro's love of Edgar Allen Poe stories, especially "The Fall of the House of Usher", and the 1939 film version of "Wuthering Heights", with their complex reflections on human psychology.
And, as fans of the Mexican director of "Hellboy" and "Pan's Labyrinth" have come to expect, the film boasts extraordinarily rich imagery.
"I love the visuals of horror, but I don't like the mechanics of horror," Del Toro, 51, explained to AFP in an interview in Paris. "I refuse to use Judeo-Christian notions of evil... I don't make my ghosts evil, the ghosts are ultimately sad."
'An Anglo-Saxon tradition'
The director, who lives in Los Angeles and who has alternated between big-budget Hollywood popcorn fare such as "Pacific Rim" and more personal Spanish-language projects such as "Cronos" and 2006's triple Oscar-winning "Pan's Labyrinth", said his latest movie "is the first time I do a dark adult movie in English".
That was justified, he said, because gothic romance - which he describes "Crimson Peak" as being - "really belongs to an Anglo-Saxon tradition". Still, much like the house at the centre of the movie, the screenplay took on a life of its own as production advanced, being rewritten and changed to adapt to new ideas - and to casting changes for the lead characters of Edith and Thomas.
"Emma Stone was going to play the part of Edith and Benedict Cumberbach the part of Thomas, so they were very different characters when they were going to play that," Del Toro said.
In the end, an Australian actress, Mia Wasikowska, and British actor Tom Hiddleston, who played the villanous Loki in the "Thor" movies, took the starring roles. They had previously performed together two years ago in another dark romance, "Only Lovers Left Alive", about dissolute vampires.
A 'very Mexican' director
Wasikowska plays a young American woman who is seduced by and ends up marrying a mysterious stranger, Thomas, and goes to live with him and his sister (played by "Zero Dark Thirty" actress Jessica Chastain) in their family manor.
The dilapidated estate, coated in snow and with doors that groan as they open, hits all the notes of gothic storytelling and haunted houses. But, hewing to a theme in many of Del Toro's films, "Crimson Peak" also focuses more on the female characters in an effort to make the well-worn genre "more modern and lively".
Although he is more widely seen through his Hollywood output, Del Toro - who, by the way, says he believes in ghosts - sees his work as "very Mexican".
"The way I accept the extraordinary as something ordinary, and the melodrama you see in all my films, all that is extremely Mexican," he elaborated.
And the fusion of the occult and history that so fascinates him, and which won him such acclaim with "Pan's Labyrinth", is still a source of inspiration.
He said he would now like to look at making a film noir or "something on the Second World War... but it has to be something strange".