Del Toro latest H’wood recruit

When Guillermo del Toro’s stylish horror picture “Cronos” opened to unanimous raves in London, one critic said of the director: “With an imagination like he exhibits here, he ought to do well in Hollywood.”

The signs so far are affirmative. One of the few Mexican filmmakers to access English-lingo arenas since Alfonso Arau’s 1993 hit “Like Water for Chocolate,” del Toro is hunkering down on no less than six projects now.

Courted by Universal, Fox, Miramax and others, del Toro nonetheless spends most of his time writing in the sanctuary of his native city, Guadalajara. He explains: “If I moved to L.A., I’d be submitting to being an obsessed workaholic. The roots that nurture my work are a normal life.”

“Normal” is one of del Toro’s favorite words, which is odd to hear from a 30-year-old writer/director whose claim to fame is – as he describes “Cronos” – a “Christian vampire fable about blood and love.”

And “normal” doesn’t exactly describe the scripts he’s currently fashioning. “Meat Market: A Love Story,” which he’s co-writing with “Cronos” star Ron Perlman, depicts a romance between a deformed man who inhabits the sewers under a meat market and the daughter of the market’s owner.

With Zoetrope, del Toro is developing “Montecristo,” a reworking of the Alexandre Dumas classic set in 1870s Mexico, blending elements of gothic literature with those of the Western. And he’s completing his third draft of “Spanky,” adapted from a recent bestseller by English horror/fantasy maestro Christopher Fowles, which is in development at Universal.

Not that making pictures in Hollywood is child’s play, del Toro admits. “What I find peculiar about Hollywood is that there seem to be a lot of people with the power to say no, and very few with the power to say yes,” he notes.

Still, del Toro says he’s “blessed” to have found young, creative execs to work with. And he’s young enough to view the debts that “Cronos” saddled him with (despite strong foreign sales) as an investment in his career.

“I still owe $130,000,” he cheerfully admits. “I’ve never been a businessman, and I don’t have any expectations of becoming one.”