Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Produced by Bertha Navarro & Arthur Gorson
Written by Guillermo del Toro
Director of Photograpy Guillermo Navarro
Music by Javier Alvarez
Cast: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook & Tamara Shanath
1993/92 mins/Color/5.1 DD
1.85:1 anamorphic/English&Spanish/Mexico/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Lions Gate Home Entertainment DVD
What comes to mind when you think of Mexican cinema? Most people have probably never seen a film from Mexico and would only conjure visions of Hollywood films which were set in Mexico (and most likely filmed in California). I must admit that I haven't seen that many Mexican films, but I have seen one of the most important, 1993's CRONOS, a big-budget Mexican horror film which broke all of filmmaking rules South of the border. CRONOS opens with the story of a 16th century alchemist who creates a machine called the "Cronos Device", which grants the user eternal life. When the alchemist is killed in an earthquake 400 years later, the Device disappears. The story then jumps ahead to the present, where we meet Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi), an old man who runs an antique shop and cares for his grand-daughter, Aurora (Tamara Shanath). One day, an odd character enters the shop and shows a great deal of interest in an old statue of an archangel. After investigating the statue, Jesus find the Cronos Device hidden inside of it. The Device attaches itself to Jesus and injures him, but leaves him feeling energized. Jesus finds that the Device makes him feel younger and stronger. But, Jesus' tale then takes a dark turn. First, a hulking man named Angel (Ron Perlman) comes to the shop to buy the statue for his industrialist uncle, Dieter de la Guardia (Claudio Brook), a sickly man who seeks the secret to eternal life. Second, despite his rejuvenation, Jesus begins to feel very odd, and starts to crave blood. As Jesus deals with his bizarre physical changes and his urge to use the device again, he must dodge the de la Guardias and their attempts to get the device.
CRONOS has a deceptively simple plot, which unfolds into a beautiful and very deep movie. Writer/director Guillermo del Toro has created a very unique work with CRONOS, which is similar in some ways to his 2001 film, THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE. Whereas that film was a ghost story which was actually a war movie, CRONOS is a supernatural film that is actually about relationships. The film contains themes of vampirism and alchemy, but the movie is really about Jesus and Aurora and their unique relationship. Yes, the film is about a vampire, but anyone expecting an all-out vamp gorefest or an Anne Rice vampy goth-fest will be sorely disappointed. The movie is about a man who finds that his body is changing, and how his young granddaughter cares for him. This is a stretch, but it's similar in some ways to David Cronenberg's THE FLY, wherein that movie wasn't necessarily about the monster, but how the man evolved into the monster and how it affected those around him. The vampire genre has become very cliche-ridden and tired, but CRONOS offers a very unique take on the myths of vampirism.
But, let's not forget that CRONOS is definitely a horror film. The movie isn't gory or even all that creepy, but it will certainly get under your skin. del Toro's subsequent films became more and more overt in the way in which they presented visual information and allowed those visuals to impact the film. (I didn't really like THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE, but there are certainly some creepy shots in that film.) With CRONOS, everything is much more subtle, but del Toro is still able to create an air of doom in the film, and the story is undeniably engrossing. (This isn't to imply that CRONOS isn't a visually stylish film. The "clean room" in which Dieter de la Guardia lives is a feast of symbolic imagery and the hanging, plastic-wrapped angels are very creepy.) del Toro also gets a boost from his cast, especially Luppi, who brings a ton of needed humanity to his role. Many horror fans may be put off by a foreign-language film in which an old man becomes a bloodsucker, but 10 years later, CRONOS remains a very unique work and displays the origins of one of horror's most promising and outspoken directors.
CRONOS creeps onto DVD courtesy of Lions Gate Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only minor grain at times, and only a few defects from the source print, consisting mainly of an occasional black dot on the image. The picture has a great deal of depth, and shows off the film's lush cinematography. del Toro put a great deal of thought into the film's color scheme and the shades on this transfer look fine, with the reds really standing out, and the dark scenes never being overly dark. There are some minor traces of compression artifacting, but otherwise the transfer looks fine. The DVD contains a Dolby Digital 5.1 track which is unremarkable, but provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The surround sound effects are limited mainly to musical cues and major sound effects, and there is very little in the way of bass response. The subtitles are yellow and very east to read (I've always wondered why the dialogue in the film contains both English and Spanish.)
The DVD contains several impressive extra features. We start with an audio commentary by the man himself, Guillermo del Toro, who speaks at length throughout the film. If you were curious as to what themes ran throughout CRONOS, then this commentary will answer every question which you may have had, as del Toro waxes philosophic about the personal, political, and religious imagery and iconography in the film. At times, he sounds more like a scholar who is analyzing the film than the actual director. These topics are interspersed with details about the film's production and how del Toro was able to overcome the limitations to achieve his goal. A second commentary features producers Arthur Gorson, Bertha Navarro, and Alejandro Springall. (Navarro and Springall speak in Spanish, and English subs are provided.) This talk focuses more on the actual production of the film and how the producers worked with del Toro to make the movie that he wanted to see on the screen. This chat is less intellectual than del Toro's, but is still packed with info.
The DVD contains a 15-minute interview with del Toro, in which he discusses his journey into film, and the making of CRONOS in particular. Fans of del Toro will love this segment, as A) it's very informative and del Toro is very open with his feelings about his career and filmmaking in Mexico, and B) it contains clips from a Super-8 film in which del Toro's mother fights a giant fetus. What else do you need? Next, we have a 5-minute segment which contains tons of behind-the-scenes footage from the making of CRONOS, which we view while actor Federico Luppi describes his experiences on the film. The extras are rounded out by a photo gallery and a gallery featuring del Toro's original art. The DVD packaging features the bizarre photo similar to that which accompanied the previous VHS release, showing the Cronos Device attached to the neck of a seemingly naked woman. Did I miss this scene? Then again, I wouldn't know how to market the movie either.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2003. ©