Immorality has always been appealing subject for movies and other arts. May be it is because, humans feel frustrated that our time on earth is limited and beyond our control, or they may fear death and what lies beyond. Whatever it is, immortality always has a price to pay (in movies). It is also a subject matter always connected with the vampires. Guillerme del Toro's (his feature-film debut) enjoyable gothic yarn, "Cronos" (1993) transfuses the old tale of immortal vampires with humor and irony. With Cronos, del Toro has made a tangible film which increases the tension between history, science and religion. The tension forged ideas about mortality that evolved beautifully in his later movies like "Hellboy" series, "The Devil's Backbone" and "Pans Labyrinth."
The story begins in 1536 and tells about the "Cronos" device, an invention created by an alchemist, which prolongs and regenerates life. He dies 400 years later, leaving his legacy in a detailed diary. The device looks like a gold-plated scarab, which holds a series of mechanisms and a mysterious insect that feeds off blood, transferring its immortality to the human host. 60 years after the Alchemist's death, the device shows up mysteriously in an antique shop. Jesus Gris (Frederico Luppi), a kind and old antique dealer discovers the device hidden in the base of an archangel statue, along with his granddaughter, Grace (Tamara Shanath).
At the same time, a terminally ill bitter old industrialist, Dieter de la Guardia (Claudio Brook) wants the Cronos too. He lives in hermetically sealed apartment, which resemble a huge-sized tomb. Few years before, Dieter has discovered the alchemist’s diary, and since then he is searching for the Cronos device and its promise of eternal life. Jesus watches the device with a mixture of anticipation and bewilderment and soon the device latches onto his hand, penetrating him with its stingers and begins the devastating symbiotic process of vampirism.
Grace silently watches her grandfather, who is growing younger and gradually learns to live with his new condition. In one of the memorable moment, Jesus sees a puddle of blood on a men's room floor, for which he lowers himself and hungrily laps at it like a dog. When Dieter finds out that Jesus has the device, he threatens him by sending out Angel de la Guardia (Ron Perlman), a hulking, square-jawed bully. The obsession with the device leads Jesus to learn the hard way that the chance to live life eternal isn’t worth that price (a tragedy, since he never looked for immortality, but rather stumbled into it).
At that time, Cronos was the highest budgeted Mexican movie ($2 million), which went on to collect nine Golden Ariels, Mexico's equivalent of the Oscars (and a special prize at Cannes' film festival). In "Cronos" there is religious allegory. In one scene, Gris and Dieter, discuss the overlap of insects and the Bible. Dieter says, "Jesus walked on water, like a mosquito" (del Toro is a fierce atheist). There is also a light touch of political satire. But, mostly this is a poetic horror movie about immortality. Director/writer Del Toro deftly moves from one unexpected setting to another: antiques shop, Dieter's apartment, where he keeps his excised tumors in bottles and later to a cremation parlor, which becomes a setting for black comedy.
The script takes a morally ambiguous position by not having good and evil divided in such a way that you get black and white. In the movie, some of the actions of good guy are completely reprehensible, whereas the bad guys (Dieter and Angel) are really nothing but innocent children trapped in a big men's body. The plot development is a little clumsy, but for a debut film, the filmmaker joyously dissects core thematic obsessions with through the use of everyday elements. The director is at his best when harvesting the most complex moments from one genre universe and smashing them into another ("Pans Labyrinth" and "Devil's Backbone"). "Cronos" serves as the introductory course for all those dark fairy tales of Del Toro. Cinematographer Guillermo Navarro gives the movie a unique look -- a mixture of mundane and fantastical. Since "Cronos", Mr. Navarro has shot all of Del Toro’s films (up to the recent "Pacific Rim").
Frederico Luppi does the nosferatu character with touching dignity. His responses are so measured that the audience can share his sense of wonder once the device proves to be much more than an golden-plated scarab. Tamara is perfect as the sober, innocent granddaughter. Apart from these two characters. all the others are not developed particularly well. Ron Perlman's villainy comes across as a exaggerated act. Since the movie is all about atmosphere, we can definitely overlook these flaws.
This is not a horror movie that is out to scare the viewers. It is a refreshing retelling of a classic horror tale that gets close to reality. "Cronos" might be appreciated more by a non-genre viewer than by hard-core horror fans.
Cronos -- IMDb