When I learned that Guillermo del Toro had won the best director and picture Oscars for The Shape Of Water, I intended to dust off an interview I did with him in 1994 (when he was publicising his feature debut Cronos) for this Blog. The relevant data file proving resolutely elusive, I’ve decided to dust off my contemporary review (here slightly modified). It’s fair to say that I feel vindicated in my prediction of great things for Senor del Toro (who struck me even then as an intelligent and amiable dude). We Freudsteins are even contemplating a rare cinema visit… to watch a film so mainstream that it won an Oscar. Strange times indeed…
Cronos (1993). Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Produced by Arthur Gorson, Bertha Navarro, et al. Written by Guillermo del Toro. Cinematography by Guillermo Navarro. Edited by Raúl Dávalos. Art direction by Brigitte Broch. Production design by Tolitga Figuero. Music by Javier Álvarez. Special FX by Laurencio Cordero. Starring: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook, Margarita Isabel, Tamara Shanath, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Mario Iván Martinez, Juan Carlos Colombo.
Cronos begins with antique dealer Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi) acquiring the statue of an archangel, which has apparently been missing for four hundred years. The appropriately named but distinctly menacing Angel de la Guardia (Ron Perlman) turns up at his shop, very keen to acquire the artefact for his dying uncle Dieter (Claudio Brook), a Howard Hughes-type so anally retentive that he keeps his surgically removed tumours in glass display cabinets. Nice. Gris and his little granddaughter Aurora (the spooky Tamara Shanath) soon discover why he’s so intent on buying the piece – it contains the legendary Cronos Device (shades of the Lemarchand Configuration), a small, elaborately engineered metallic sphere which incorporates a worm-like organism whose secretions confer the gift (or is the curse?) of eternal life… along with an overpowering urge to drink human blood.
To gain possession of the alchemical contraption, Angel does away with Gris… or so he thinks. The antiques dealer has already experimented with the device and, unpicking his mortician’s stitches, wanders out of the crematorium, visibly decomposing, for a confrontation with the bad guys. After finally destroying the Cronos Device, Gris goes to blessed oblivion, surrounded by those who love him. “I am Jesus Gris” he states, and that’s enough. Mortality is acknowledged as an essential component of humanity.
I knew doodly-squat about Guillermo del Toro when I first watched his feature debut, apart from the fact that he is Mexican. For all I knew, Cronos might have been some kind of masked wrestler smack down or something akin to the loony likes of Night Of A Thousand Cats. Instead, it emerged as that kind of horror picture which comes along every so often and gives you new hope for the future of the genre. “As far as I’m concerned, Cronos is a world-class gem of a film” says one of its stars, Ron Perlman and while there’s a touch of “he would say that, wouldn’t he?” about this pronouncement, it just so happens that he’s right.
You could call Cronos a vampire movie, but it’s a revisionist one that continually confounds your expectations by reversing the conventions of the genre. Never mind Tom Cruise mincing around in Interview with the Vampire, Cronos cuts the crap and delivers the kind of new blood the genre has been crying out for… and in supplying it, del Toro announces his arrival as a major new Horror auteur for the nineties and beyond.