Cronos, Blu-ray (1993/2010)
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman
Studio: Tequila Gang S.A./The Criterion Collection 551 [12/7/10]
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 color 1080p HD
Audio: Spanish & English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Extras: Optional voice-over Spanish introduction; Commentary track by del Toro; Commentary track by producers Gorson, Navarro & Springall; “Geometria” – 1987 del Toro horror short, with interview; “Welcome to Bleak House” – del Toro takes viewers on a tour of his arcane personal collection; New video interviews with Ron Perlman, del Toro, and Navarro; Video interview with actor Federico Luppi; Stills gallery with del Toro’s captions; Theatrical trailer; Printed booklet with essay by film critic Maitland McDonagh and excerpts from del Toro’s film notes.
Length: 92 minutes
First of all, don’t confuse this with the Ron Fricke dialog-less film Chronos. Forgetting that “h” could lead to quite a shock. Cronos is probably the most unusual vampire film ever made. The word vampire is not even used. It was Mexican director del Toro’s first feature and the villain is not the kindly old antique dealer Jésus Gris – who becomes a vampire without realizing it – but the deranged American hood played by Ron Perlman. Del Toro was sure he wanted Perlman, even though Perlman spoke no Spanish. So he had Perlman speak English part of the time and poor Spanish the rest.
The lure of the idea of immortality is at the basis of the tale, which starts with background on a medieval alchemist who created a device in the shape of a scarab with a mysterious insect and clockwork inside. The antique dealer finds the scarab in a statue and when he winds it up it attaches itself to his hand and digs in. Later he finds himself looking younger and feeling more fit, and even shaves off his mustache – impressing his wife who has grown apart and invests most of her time in her tango lessons.
The crude Angel (Perlman) is the henchman for his wealthy industrialist uncle, who is dying and has searched for the scarab for years to prolong his life. The uncle also has the book which instructs exactly how to use the scarab, which Jésus lacks. Angel threatens not only Jésus but also his beloved granddaughter Aurora. Cronos is packed with the highly individual haunting fantasy images for which the Mexican director is famous (Pam’s Labryinth, HellBoy I & II). (He shows off more in the extras tour he takes us on thru his home office – it’s a kick.)
The film is a visual cornucopia of dark fantasies, with the emphasis on the characters and what they choose to do, rather than on the typical blood and gore – though it does have a few moments of that too. The relationships between the characters are fascinating, and one becomes almost empathic for the plight of poor Jésus, who has accidentally become the victim of the sinister powers of the ancient scarab. Seeing this first effort of del Toro’s makes me want to see Blade II which he also directed. He already made Hellboy my favorite superhero.
The extras are all worth viewing. His early horror short Geometria has a hilarious premise: the teenager has flunked a geometry exam and doesn’t want to ever take it again, so he conjures up an evil spirit from the Other Side. However, the ghoul kills him in spite of the protective pentagram he thought he drew around him in his blood; before doing so the ghoul points out that instead of a pentagram the kid made a hexagram – which doesn’t work. It’s interesting to see in the booklet del Toro’s notes and changes on Crono’s basic concepts and the back stories of his characters. For example, originally Jésus’ wife Mercedes replaced their failing relationship with immersion in right-wing religious groups. But del Toro crossed that out and wrote in “obsession with tango classes.” As a result the soundtrack music sometimes turns to the tango. I think this is the first Blu-ray with only 2.0 DTS-HD instead of the usual 5.1 sound, but the fidelity is excellent. And of course the Blu-ray image transfer is perfect.
— John Sunier