Cronos – Review of the Criterion DVD/Blu-ray on TCM

The feature debut of Mexican director and budding genre master Guillermo del Toro is an alchemic twist on vampire lore and the price of eternal life.

Federico Luppi examines the bloodthirsty device

Federico Luppi stars as Jesus, a curio shop owner who stumbles upon a clockwork device created by a 16th Century alchemist, who (as we learn in the prologue) used the queasy mix of insect-like mechanics and organic organs to extend his life for centuries. After a hulking American hoodlum named Angel (Ron Perlman) comes searching for the device in his shop, the old man inadvertently engages the device and watches in horror as claw-like spikes unfold and drives themselves into his skin. He also emerges from the experience energized, refreshed, as if this thing gave him back his youth. He’s hooked and only later learns the price of his youth: an insatiable craving for blood, a physical transformation, a whole new meaning to the idea of sun burn. Meanwhile Angel, the nephew of a dying gangster who believes the device can save his life, returns to take the mechanism from the old man…

Made in 1993, Cronos was a fresh approach to the vampire film created just as the Anne Rice books was reviving the moribund genre and long before the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series made vampires hip and the “Twilight” novels spread them through popular youth culture. As in Near Dark (1987), another reinvention of the genre (this one in a southwestern flavor), the word vampire is never uttered and though parts of the familiar lore arise, there is no one to rattle off the explanations of the transformation. He has to stumble across these as new experiences and learn on the way, with the support of his adoring young granddaughter, Aurora, who is wary of his addiction to the device but stands by him unconditionally. Just as Angel becomes his devil, Aurora is his angel: innocent, sweet, always dressed in white and always protective of the old man who will do anything to guard her from evil. It’s part melodrama, part morality play and part thriller, more Dorian Gray as Bram Stoker and infused with a heady alchemic brew of ancient science, supernatural shadows, mutant organisms, demented villains driven by a greed for youth and one man’s struggle for his soul. Yet it is the emotional connection between Jesus, tempted by this fountain of youth, and his granddaughter Aurora, devoted in the face of all mystery and dark magic, that grounds the story.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I’m a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I’ve written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View.

I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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