The film begins with the story of a great alchemist who creates a strange device. After its completion the alchemist dies in the collapsing of a building with his skin a strange color. As his estate is looked over by the police, they find buckets of blood throughout with a body hanging from the rafters bled dry. Cut to present day where antique's dealer Jesus Gris and his young granddaughter are opening their shop and discover one of the Angel statues they have is hollow and upon inspection come across the device created by the alchemist, not knowing what it is or what it can do. Meanwhile a rich dying business man, Dieter De La Gaurdia has spent forty years with the legend of the device and it's supposed ability to prolong life. He knows it is hidden within a certain angel statue and has collected many over the years trying to find it. He sends his nephew Angel to procure the one from Jesus's antique store and discovers that the device has already been taken. While tinkering with the device trying to discover what it is, Jesus activates it and it delves into his hand stinging him like an insect. Jesus notices he is getting stronger and younger and uses the device more and more. Angel destroys the antique store trying to get the device from Jesus as a bitter rivalry develops between Jesus and Dieter. Dieter will stop at nothing to procure the device and Jesus obsessively uses it like a miracle drug that may cost him his humanity.
I love all of Del Toro's movies but this one in particular seems so different from the others. At this point in his career he had a pretty big makeup FX studio in Mexico as he was a big believer in practical FX. It really shines through with the device especially as we see inside of it there are all the cogs moving and at the core of the device is a particularly cool looking little creature. The look of the "vampire" is so different than his future vampires such as in Blade 2 and The Strain which both have very similar takes on vampires. In Cronos the vampire is a very pale creature with its former skin from its former life rotting off of him like a corpse. Over the years he's gone a bit more CGI for good reasons with Crimson Peak being my only real complaint for unwarranted CGI FX, but the work he does here is just hauntingly beautiful.
The other thing I love is this film is a bit more light hearted than his gothic horrors from Mexico. Pan's Labyrinth is a dark children's tale just like Devil's Backbone, but to me Cronos is the closest to Del Toro making an Amblin film. This is his E.T. At the core of this story is a granddaughters undying love for her grandfather combined with a contemporary vampire tale. The two bring the drama and the heartfelt moments with him teaching her the ways of life and in a sense her teaching him the responsibilities of death. The granddaughter, Aurora only speaks once in the film but the line carries so much meaning to it you almost can't help but cry. There is the drama but there is also a bit of comedy from of course Ron Perlman. Perlman plays the nephew Angel and though the film is told in Mexico with most of the characters speaking Spanish, a lot of Perlman's scenes are in English. He delivers a lot of quirky dialogue and is fun to watch even though he becomes the main antagonist in the film. The funniest bits are throughout the movie he is trying to learn about plastic surgery so he can get a new nose. So much to the extent that he even carries around cards in the shape of noses to ask people which nose looks better on him! He switches from goofball to villain a lot in the film and plays both parts very well. If Perlman isn't enough comedy for you, we also get a bumbling grease ball mortician who prides himself on his artistic ways of making the deceased look pretty. He very much reminded me of a character from Dellamorte Dellamore in how absurd he was.
It's almost like Del Toro took a lot of fun cues from his favorite directors of horror and put nods to their technique in the film which makes it a bit more fun than his other non big budget popcorn films. I would love to see him return to something like this. Cronos is a very compelling and heartbreaking film with a lot of fun and great FX that will make it last a long time as one of the top films in Del Toro's catalogue to me!
13 Days til' Halloween! Halloween!
13 Days til' Halloween! Silver Shamrock!