Guillermo Del Toro is a director that interests me. It’s not so much his films but his style and his spirit. Let me put it this way, you'd be hard pressed to find a director I like better, than early Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson. I love these guys work infectiously especially Raimi's. His Evil Dead films are encoded onto me on a deep genetic level, Darkman is the first forbidden fruit I can remember, The Quick and the Dead is one of the first R Rated movies I saw in a theatre. However, all filmmakers must grow up and Raimi and Jackson both did with A Simple Plan, and Heavenly Creatures respectively. These are two films that I deeply love but feel bittersweet about, because they mark the end of two wonderfully adolescent filmmakers. Sure their post maturity output has been good, (The Gift, The Frighteners, oh um and let me think... FREAKING SPIDERMAN AND LORD OF THE RINGS!!!) but it just can't match the messed up revenge of Darkman, or the naughty junior high grader spirit of Meet the Feebles. However, like I said every filmmaker has to grow up, except for Mr. Del Toro, a proverbial Peter Pan of filmmakers. His films are bloody, messed up and as gleefully adolescent as anything to come out of Jackson and Raimi, if less unique and creative. Which brings us here to Cronos, ground zero, Del Toro's Evil Dead and Bad Taste. How does it hold up to those classic films? Well oddly enough it’s the most mature of the three. Odder still it’s the most mature film that Del Toro has ever made. Oddest of all is that it’s also one of the most mature horror films I've ever seen.
Lets get the features out of the way, there are a handful of previews (Godsend looks truly awful BTW) a director’s and producer’s commentary which are both damn near unintelligible thanks to heavy accents, and a standard smug talking heads making of documentary. However, there is an entertaining and enlightening Director discussion with Del Toro, which is thankfully subtitled. He talks with intelligence insight and humor and we see entertaining snatches of 8 and 16mm films that he made as a child and teen. Watch this is a more satisfactory substitute for the director’s commentary.
Cronos is a film that seems out of time. It would be much more comfortable with the classic Universal horror films of the 30's and 40's. Far from being just a body count, it’s actually a highly moral horror film, the rarest of beasts. Cronos is a product of its country and religious convictions. There is hardly a shot in the movie when a religious statue or prayer does not stand passing judgment on the on goings below. At the center of Cronos is a religious question. If as the bible says, the purpose of this world is to prepare for the next, what greater sin could there be then to hold onto this world, to stave off death, to be immortal.
The introduction of Cronos tells of an alchemist and clockmaker who fled the inquisition and created the "Cronos Device." Four hundred years later he is impaled during an earthquake and his mansion is searched. There the authorities found all sorts of occult items as well as a body being drained of its blood. Fifty years later, a kindly old antiques dealer named Jesus, accidentally receives and uses the device while a bitter, dying millionaire obsessively seeks it. When Jesus uses the device (giving himself stigmata) he feels great, he looks ten years younger (great makeup here) and finds himself all around improved. Of course this is a horror movie, so nothing comes without a price. His skin begins to rot, he finds himself craving blood, and is suddenly sensitive to light. He becomes more or less a vampire and in a stroke of genius sleeps in his granddaughter’s toy box as a makeshift coffin.
The greatest parts of Cronos are the performances. Like the classic Universal films, Cronos resists shoving people into black and white categories. The antiques dealer is a good man. He is a doting (but not saccharine) grandfather, faithful husband, and honest business man. His relationship with his granddaughter is sweet. She has unconditional love for him, acting as his guardian angel and keeper of humanity. One scene is particularly touching. Jesus comes home after an embalmer makes some unwelcome additions to his body and his granddaughter, who knows he's alive, is waiting for him with new clothes and a place to rest. Without the profound love and sadness that the two have the darkness that follows would just be meaningless. As such, their relationship is the heart and soul of Cronos.
Of course there are other great performances. Ron Perlman, a criminally underused actor, capable of both complete badassedness (Blade 2) and Chaplinesque lyricism (City of the Lost Children) combines the two here to create a ruthless thug made threatening because he seems oddly enough, to be capable of being a decent human being. The ruthless millionaire, while despicable, is also understandable in his desperate bid to cling to life. He is a pitiful creature, popping pills and shunning food, doing what he does not out of evil, but out of survival need.
Of course this is a Del Toro film, so Cronos is not all seriousness. It has more then its fair share of Evil Dead style Gallows humor. A moment with a rough embalmer is sickeningly funny. However, unlike Evil Dead, it’s also capable of being dead serious and plays on both the humor and horror of the situation.
In the end Cronos is a splendidly great film. A wonderful retelling of the vampire myth (I would venture to say that it is easily the best vampire film since Nosferatu). A film that doesn't revel in death and gore, but mourns it. A film which is incredible both in darkness and light, combining the two into a most unexpected and beautiful absolution.
Post Review Complaint: Look Lions Gate, I like you guys, you've done a good job gambled on some risky projects and are becoming pretty good players. But please, what the hell is this cover? You know the cover that features a buxom naked woman getting her neck chomped out by the Cronos. The woman that doesn't actually exist in the film. The attack that doesn't happen, in a way that the Cronos doesn't attack? Come on Mc Fly Think, do you really have to trick people into seeing this wonderful film with the promise of run of the mill boobs and gore? Is that really how low we've sunk? Dumkoff!!!