Cronos (Mexico, 1993)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Reprinted with permission from The Vampire Gazette, Volume 348, Issue 5, May 1994.

Throughout the ages, human beings have harbored a not-so-secret fascination about our kind. "Children of the night" they call us, romanticizing the price that we pay for immortality. If only they understood the pain, the hunger, the loneliness... But I digress. We are all aware of those things. They are in our blood.

Human movies made about vampires invariably get almost all of the facts wrong. They see us as demons, beings motivated by evil. They ascribe to our actions an eroticism that is never intended. For the first time, however, a mortal has delved beneath the legends to find some strain of truth. The movie is Cronos, and the director, Guillermo del Toro, has removed all the religious and sexual trappings from his tale -- as well as the fangs (stupid things, fangs -- wolves have them, not vampires).

Cronos follows the transformation of one Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi) from a human antiques dealer into one of us. The stages of his change are familiar to those who have endured it, although not necessarily similar to what other movies show. Who among us has not, like Jesus, bent on hands and knees to lick spilled blood from a floor? And who has not felt the sting of the insect as it tears into our flesh to change us from the living to the undead?

Jesus accidentally discovers the "Cronos device", a golden egg-shaped instrument that, if used properly, unlocks the door to immortality. Whether Jesus operates the gizmo correctly is immaterial. In the end, he gets his desire, although not in the manner he hopes for or expects. Instead of living a full life, he becomes a member of the undead -- the real undead, that is, not the fictitious creations of human storytellers.

A mortal (Claudio Brook) is after the Cronos device for his own use. Dying of cancer, he will do anything to continue his feeble existence. So he sends his oafish nephew Angel (Ron Perlman) to procure the instrument at any costs. Of course, Angel messes up and his actions unwittingly become crucial to Jesus' passage from the mortal world to that where we dwell.

Since we can't be photographed, a real vampire obviously can't play the part of Jesus (more's the pity). Instead, a human actor by the name of Federico Luppi, who reminds one of Geppetto in Pinnochio, is made up to look like one of us. Actually, it isn't a very convincing makeup job. The latex applications aren't all that realistic. I, for one, would never be fooled. One might have hoped that for the first genuine motion picture treatment of vampirism, they would have spent a little more money. Oh well. This wasn't made in Hollywood, after all...

There's one disturbing thing in Cronos that should bother all real vampires. Jesus has a weakness that none of us would dare permit -- his love for his granddaughter. While such an emotion is understandable before the transformation, its presence afterwards serves only to dilute his viciousness and mute his killer instinct.

With the exception of Aurora (Tamara Shanath), Jesus' granddaughter, none of the humans are developed particularly well. This is especially true in the case of Angel, who comes across as a bumbling idiot. Cronos is more concerned with ideas and atmosphere than people, which is fine with me. I don't think much of the human race in general, so why waste precious movie time delving into their personalities?

There's one really frightening moment near the beginning of the movie, where a vampire is shown with a stake through his chest. This scene gave me the shivers and I felt myself reflexively patting my own left breast for reassurance. Other than that, there were no unnerving images in Cronos. There's a lot of blood and gore -- but that's rather routine.

After sitting through countless re-tellings of the Dracula story, it's refreshing to finally see something that gets close to reality. I give all the credit to writer/director Guillermo del Toro, although I wonder where he obtained his remarkably accurate information. Has anyone seen Mr. del Toro between dawn and dusk, I wonder?

Cronos (Mexico, 1993)

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook, Margarita Isabel, Tamara Shanath
Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro
Cinematography: Guillermo Navarro
Music: Javier Alvarez
U.S. Distributor: October Films
Run Time: 1:31
U.S. Release Date: -
MPAA Rating: "NR" (Violence)
Subtitles: Some Spanish with English subtitles
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1