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CRONOS (1993)

Directed by Guillermo Del Toro

Starring Ron Perlman and Federico Luppi

Del Toro's debut was apparently a big hit at the Cannes Film Festival and helped solidify the Mexican director's status as one of the world's premier "art horror" filmmakers, as I like to call them, and if you don't what that means, you'd better learn before you rent this movie.

Art horror is generally slower paced, in a foreign language, more serious and just about as un-Freddy Krueger as a film can be. There isn't a lot of it out there. I guess Jean Rollin would qualify, although his films can also sink into fun schlock as much as any fear filmmaker's can. Actually, it may in truth be a genre all Del Toro's own. His films are horror, but not quite.

Although Del Toro would go Hollywood and make "Mimic" and "Blade 2," two of his films still qualify as art-horror, pure Del Toro: this one and the exquisite "The Devil's Backbone." Of the two, I prefer "Backbone." But "Cronos" actually qualifies a little more as a horror film.

Not to spoil anything for anyone, but "Cronos" essentially turns out to be a vampire tale. Federico Luppi plays Jesus, an aging antiques dealer whose store is robbed after a strange customer (Perlman) buys a statue, which used to contain a gold device that Jesus removed before selling it. The mechanical scharab appears to suck the blood of anyone who uses it, and also delivers youthful energy. Jesus quickly becomes addicted to it. The device turns out to be a kind of fountain of youth, which Perlman wants for a wealthy client (his sick uncle). Naturally, the device also turns the user into a vampire. Jesus' transformation is slow, and it doesn't affect his relationship with his adoring granddaughter, who helps him recover after he rises from the grave and begins transforming into something less than human.

As in "The Devil's Backbone," Del Toro uses the innocence of childhood to maximum impact. The most moving parts of the film have Jesus' granddaughter helping him survive as a walking dead man, whose friends don't want to have anything to do with because, as far as they're concerned, he's dead and cremated. Perlman is also a lot of fun as the tough-guy nephew obsessed with getting a nose job and waiting impatiently for his uncle to croak so he can inherit his fortunes as he's forced to locate a device that promises to give his uncle eternal life!

This isn't a balls-to-the-wall horror film that your typical teen fear lover would be into. It also isn't the perfect arthouse picture for PBS watching brie eaters to check out. As such, it (and the similar "The Devil's Backbone") may have a tough time finding its fan base. "Devil's Backbone" wasn't a big hit in the U.S. and neither was this. But both films are outstanding, and for horror fans who love exquisite filmmaking, a must see. This film, in particular, given its low, low budget, is a marvel to witness.

Dubbed and Spanish versions were release, with the dubbed version getting the widest play in the U.S. video market. If possible, locate a Spanish version.

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