Guillermo del Toro is the man. That’s been firmly established with Pan’s Labyrinth, the Hellboy movies, and Pacific Rim. There hasn’t been a film that del Toro made that I really haven’t liked, so I was more than ready to check out his debut film from 1993, Cronos. This is a vampire story with a kind of twist to the genre that only a film maker like del Toro could make, in fact I’m sure that he’s the only one who can make something like this. It’s an amazing debut film.
Jesús Gris (Federico Luppi) is an antique’s dealer who mildly spends his days in his shop with his granddaughter who seems to never leave his side, Aurora (Tamara Shanath). Things change when he finds a mysterious device inside a statue of an archangel that latches itself to Gris’ hand so hard that it draws blood. This begins changing Gris into a much more invigorated man who has acquired an unquenchable thirst for blood. This draws the attention of the dying businessman Dieter de la Guardia (Claudio Brook) who sends his nephew Angel (Ron Perlman) to retrieve the device, but Jesús isn’t willing to give it up, especially after discovering what it really does.
Let me get this out of the way, if you’ve seen any other movie by Guillermo del Toro, you know pretty much what this movie is going to feel like. Think of Pan’s Labyrinth and how it mixed reality with fantasy in a way where it felt like a fairy tale is coming to life. That’s what Cronos ultimately is as well: a fairy tale. It’s also not a very overt fairy tale, which really makes the movie feel special. The word “vampire” is never even used in the movie once. It’s simply alluded to through the images that we see and the prior knowledge that we already have about vampires. It also recreates the myth of the vampire through the alchemical device inhabited by an insect.
So, since there’s vampires in the story of Cronos, it’s pretty fair to label it as a horror movie. There are some pretty icky gore effects with the device digging into skin or flesh being peeled off of the body. Those scenes work very effectively at the body horror that del Toro does very well. Still, this is more than a horror movie because there is so much more to it than that. It’s a movie about dealing with age, facing death, and the importance of family. Gris’ family is close and a model of happiness while Angel is miserable being in the same family as Dieter. There’s also the paranoia of dying, but the reminder that death is the natural order of things and eternal life may not be so pleasant if the body can’t support itself.
I kinda wanted more out of Cronos since there was so much in there to love. Sadly, the story kind of begins and ends. I’m one to complain if a movie’s run time goes too long, but I was so into this one that I wasn’t ready for it to end. I felt like there was a lot more to be explored, especially when the resurrected Jesús comes home after escaping from his own cremation. There were a lot of places the film could’ve gone from there, but instead that’s when the movie begins moving towards the ending. The make up looked awesome at this part too, and the bond between Jesús and Aurora also got a lot more interesting at this point.
Guillermo del Toro said that the most important movies in a film maker’s life are their first film and their last film. His reasoning is that the first film sets the stage for what they will be making throughout their career and the last film is the one that closes the book on their work. Cronos perfectly set the stage for del Toro’s career, even though it’s a minor entry into his filmography. Vampires would come back to del Toro when he made Blade II, and his take on fantasy can be seen in almost all of his movies. This is a really beautiful and relatively quiet look at vampires and horror that may not have the most prestige or biggest budget, but is obviously superior to many other vampire movies being released now.