Of all the horror directors working today, Guillermo del Toro is easily my favorite. The man has a gift for blending the simple elegance of fairy tales with his own unique visions, infusing a timeless quality into all his best work. His 1993 film, Cronos, is a perfect example of del Toro’s imagination and skill firing on all cylinders to share his love for one of the classic movie monsters while making it his own.
Cronos quietly relates the story of an alchemist in its opening sequence. Fleeing from the Inquisition and settling in Mexico in 1536, the alchemist sets about creating a device designed to grant him eternal life. Four hundred years later, his marble-white corpse is found in the vault of a building following its collapse–as well as basins of blood and a drained body.
An elderly antiques dealer, Jesus Gris, finds the Cronos device hidden in the base of a statue that comes through his shop. Accidentally injecting himself while examining the machine, Jesus soon finds his old vitality returning, as well as a taste for blood. Meanwhile, an ailing millionaire sends his nephew on a search for the Cronos device which leads him right to Jesus’ shop.
Cronos is the rare monster movie that cares far more about character than gore. The viewer gets to know Jesus as a kindly grandfather before his transformation begins to take hold, making his growing addiction to blood all the more painful to watch and its inability to sever his bond with his granddaughter that much more touching. Del Toro even manages to make one of the villains (played with real comedic flare by Ron Perlman) extremely likable before his more brutal side is revealed. The film is beautiful to look at, with the Mexican locale on display providing a welcome change in setting from typical horror fare.
While gore hounds and more action-minded viewers might not be the right audience for Cronos, anyone more interested in exploring the nature of monsters–and human beings–should be thoroughly engrossed.