Director/Screenplay – Guillermo Del Toro, Producers – Arthur H. Gordon & Bertha Navarro, Photography – Guillermo Navarro, Music – Javier Alvarez, Special Effects Supervisor – Laurencio Cordero, Production Design – Tolita Figueroa. Production Company – Producciones Iguana/Ventana Films.
Federico Luppi (Jesus Gris), Ron Perlman (Angel de la Guardia), Claudio Brook (Dieter de la Guardia), Tamara Shanath (Aurora Gris), Margarita Isabel (Mercedes Gris), Daniel Gimenez (Tito)
Jesus Gris, an aging antique dealer in Vera Cruz, Mexico, finds a strange golden clockwork device in the base of the statuette of an angel. Unaware that the device is in fact the clock of the 16th Century alchemist Alberto Folcanelli, he winds it up only for it to dig mechanical claws into his palm. Afterwards, Jesus feels rejuvenated and soon begins to look much younger. The clock is also sought by the dying Dieter de la Guardia, who desires its rejuvenative properties. de la Guardia’s thuggish nephew Angel demands the clock from Jesus and uses force to try and obtain it. When Jesus refuses, de la Guardia warns him of the dire consequences if the instructions, which only he possesses, are not followed. Soon Jesus finds an uncontrollable thirst for blood and an aversion to sunlight. After he is fatally wounded in a fight with Angel, he discovers that the clock can also revive him from the dead.
This fascinating Mexican-made film attained some of the most celebrated reviews of any arthouse genre release when it came out. It gained first-time director Guillermo Del Toro a strong reputation and soon had him brought to the US. Into the 00s and beyond, Guillermo Del Toro has emerged as one of the leading directors of horror/fantasy cinema.
While Cronos may be slightly less than its reputation had it, it is nevertheless a fascinating effort. Modern horror has almost lost the ability of creating atmosphere through slowly accumulating effect and character. Cronos on the other hand builds slowly and with creepy fascination. It is occasionally a little too long in the telling but by the time it reaches the startling image of Federico Luppi following a bleeding man into the toilet at a function and lingering over the spilt blood, even getting down on the floor to lick up the drops that have fallen there, the place the film has arrived at is remarkable.
Of course, Cronos is a vampire film but it is unlike any vampire film that one has seen before. The clock is a unique device and it is fascinating watching while Guillermo Del Toro is telling what is ostensibly a rejuvenation tale to see the aspects of vampirism – the need to drink blood, the aversion to sunlight, the inability to be damaged – all peripherally falling into place around the edges. The end reached is a saddening one.
The film is peculiarly bilingual, seeming to slip back and forth without warning between English and Spanish. Ron Perlman (who has appeared in nearly all of Guillermo Del Toro’s other films) has been brought in to add English-language marquee value and gives a fine performance.
Following Cronos, Guillermo Del Toro next came to the US to make the worthwhile intelligent bug film Mimic (1997), went to Spain to make the Spanish Civil War ghost story The Devil’s Backbone (2001), then returned to vampiric themes in the amazing Blade II (2002) before going on to the adaptation of the comic strip Hellboy (2004), the greatly acclaimed, awards-winning fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), the giant robot film Pacific Rim (2013), the ghost story Crimson Peak (2015) and the amphibian man romance The Shape of Water (2017), which won Del Toro an Academy Award as Best Director, and the fake clairvoyant film Nightmare Alley (2021). Del Toro also wrote/produced Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011) and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019) and co-wrote The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) and The Witches (2020). Del Toro has also produced other genre works like Chronicles (2002), Hellboy Animated: Sword of Storms (2006), Hellboy Animated: Blood and Iron (2007), The Orphanage (2007), While She Was Out (2008), Julia’s Eyes (2010), Splice (2010), Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011), Puss in Boots (2011), Rise of the Guardians (2012), Mama (2013), The Book of Life (2014), Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016), Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018) and Antlers (2021), as well as the tv series The Strain (2014-7) based on his novel.