cronos | guillermo del toro | federico luppi | ron perlman | claudio brook | vampire | vampires | mexico | margarita isabel | tamara shanath | daniel gimenez cacho | mario ivan martinez | farnesio de bernal | juan carlos colombo | jorge martinez de hoyos
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writer: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman and Claudio Brook
This was a film that I read about in Fangoria as they had it listed in their Top 300 horror films of all time. I was intrigued when I learned this was written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, because I’ve seen quite a few of his films. He’s an interesting director. I knew this one was kind of a different take on the vampire and that intrigued me. I’ve also now given this a second watch as a Trek through the Twos.
Synopsis: a mysterious device designed to provide its owner with eternal life resurfaces after four hundred years, leaving a trail of destruction in its path.
We start here learning about an Alchemist, played by Mario Iván Martínez. He comes to Mexico, fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. He is trying to create something that will keep the owner living forever. Since he was also a watchmaker, he makes a contraption that uses gears and a strange insect. The alchemist is killed though when his building collapses and there’s something unnatural about how his skin looked.
It then moves to the present. Jesus Gris (Frederico Luppi) lives with his wife, Mercedes (Margarita Isabel), and their granddaughter Aurora (Tamara Shanath). He runs an antique shop while his wife teaches dance. Jesus goes in to work with Aurora and we notice there’s a statue that belonged to the alchemist in his shop. Cockroaches come out of it. This causes Jesus to check to see where they’re coming from. He discovers a hidden compartment in the base. It looks like a golden egg and there is a way to crank it. He does and then arms come out of the side. They latch to his hand. He removes it and is shocked by what he’s found.
Also living in the area is a rich man by the name of De la Guardia (Claudio Brook). He is dying and he’s searching for the alchemist’s statue. In his employment is his nephew, Angel (Ron Perlman). Angel is sent to the old man’s shop about what was found. He buys and we see this isn’t the first one.
Jesus investigates this item again later that night. Now that he’s prepared, he lets it attach itself to his chest and we see inside of it. It is here that we get to see this strange insect as it stabs into Jesus’ skin with its stinger. The following morning, he feels younger. He even shaves his mustache to the joy of his wife. When he gets to work and finds it’s been trashed. This of course dampens his day. He finds a card for De la Guardia.
He does meet with this man to find out why. That’s when De la Guardia reveals the history of this contraption; about what it holds and that it’s what he’s been looking for. Jesus plays like he doesn’t know anything about it, but De la Guardia can tell from his wounded hand that’s not the case. He will stop at nothing to overcome his own mortally for this item. Jesus also must come to terms with the changes happening to him.
That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is something interesting about seeing this now is that I can see the talent that del Toro had, even this early in his career. This film has a dream, fairy tale feel to it, but it is still much more grounded than ones he will make later. It is interesting to see him already putting his mark on his work this early.
Let me then explore this take on vampirism. We never learn more about the insect that is living inside of the device. The machine is shaped like a scarab, which could equal Egypt, but then again it also looks like it could be a scorpion. It would be fitting since there is Egyptian lore about their leaders living for forever so it could be taken literal. Regardless, I did find this interesting that the cause of all this is from an insect. I do wish we would have gotten more the vampire aspect though. I understand why we don’t as it is so early in the transformation. Jesus stumbles on this. He doesn’t have the ancient text and even if he did, he couldn’t read it. I like that he is reluctant to give into his thirst as he’s a good guy given a curse he doesn’t necessarily want.
There’s also an interesting dynamic here. We have a family that is living a meager, but good life. It isn’t until Jesus is given a taste that he starts to turn and want more. Angel just wants his uncle’s money as he is the beneficiary. De la Guardia is a rich man who hasn’t lived life to the fullest. He’s worrying about his own mortality as people like him tend to do. Now that he is, he wants to live forever, knowing that he’d lose his fortune in the process. It is in line with the greedy mindset. This dichotomy that del Toro explores is intriguing.
I want to then bring in the pacing. I’m always down for a slow-burn if we’re given the right elements around it. The set-up here is good. It builds to the device being found and Jesus being tempted by it. It does meander a bit from there as we see the changes come over him. I do like getting that baseline first and then seeing how losing his true love affects him. There is also protecting Aurora that complicates matters. This isn’t necessarily hindered here either, I did want to set up that.
Next, I want to discuss acting. I liked Luppi in his performance. He starts off as a content older man. When he gets a taste of whatever is in this device, he starts to want more. It becomes an addiction and he starts to act younger again. That is a classic troupe explored in this subgenre. Perlman was solid. He made me chuckle and his opposing size just works for this role. There is a running joke about him being obsessed with getting a nose job. Even more so that he keeps getting hit in this face, which I assume breaks it. Brook was solid as De la Guardia. They don’t necessarily flesh him out, but I like that he’s this old rich man that is villainous in his greed. I’d also credit Isabel and Xanath as the family that drives Jesus to want to survive as well as protect them. Other than that, Martínez and the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.
All that is left then is the rest of the filmmaking. I thought the limited effects we got looked good. I was glad to see that they went practical here for the most part. The blood we get looks real. The effects of attacks are as well. During the ending sequence, how Jesus looks was quite unnerving. I do think there might have been some computer effects for what is happening within the device. That didn’t bother me in the slightest and is well done with how it was used if I’m honest. I’ll also credit the cinematography for hiding the seams. I love seeing inside the device as it is working. This shows how talented del Toro is for sure.
In conclusion, this is an interesting take on vampire lore. I like the idea of this contraption being created to prologue life. It is interesting to go to a man who isn’t looking for it and the changes that come over him. There is commentary about rich vs. the poor with this concept. This is a well-made movie with the cinematography and effects leading the way there. If anything, I want to learn more about this insect, but I get why we don’t. It isn’t necessary for the plot. What we get is enough there. I’d also say here that the acting was good across the board with Luppi leading the way and the rest pushing him to where he ends up. This is a tragic story for sure. I’d recommend this if you’re into del Toro or what a slightly different take on vampirism. This shows the early talents of this great filmmaker.
My Rating: 8 out of 10