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CRONOS (1992)
[aka Chronos aka La Invencion De Cronos]

"My God, so much blood. And it’s all coming from me...."

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Director: Guillermo del Toro

Starring: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook, Tamara Shanath, Margarita Isabel

Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro

Synopsis: In 1536, an alchemist fleeing the inquisition arrives in Mexico, where he dedicates himself to creating the Cronos device, which can bestow eternal life. Four hundred years later, the alchemist is killed when part of his house collapses and he is impaled through the heart with a piece of jagged wood. His house is closed, and his belongings auctioned off.

In modern day Mexico, the antique shop owned by Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi) is visited by a man who examines the statuette of an archangel and abruptly leaves. Jesus and his granddaughter, Aurora (Tamara Shanath), are disgusted when cockroaches suddenly emerge from the statuette. Jesus examines the piece; inside its hollow base, he finds a strange, golden object. Meanwhile, the man who visited Jesus’ shop contacts Angel de la Guardia (Ron Perlman), who obeys the orders of his rich, dying uncle, Dieter de la Guardia (Claudio Brook) and buys the statuette. Jesus cleans the golden device. When he turns a winding mechanism on its outside, the device extends leg-like projections which impale Jesus’ hand.

Later that night, Jesus suffers pain and burning in his injured hand, but is driven to use the device upon himself again. Immediately, he begins to look younger. Jesus discovers that his shop has been wrecked, and finds one of Angel’s business cards. Dieter de la Guardia tells Jesus about the Cronos device, and shows him the alchemist’s notebook which explains how to use it. Jesus escapes without giving up the device, and uses it upon himself again. At a New Year’s Eve party, Jesus becomes excited by the sight of a man with a nosebleed. He follows the man to the bathroom, where he is knocked out and abducted by Angel, who later beats him savagely and pushes him over a cliff in a car. Jesus is presumed dead, but regains consciousness after his funeral. Narrowly escaping cremation, Jesus returns home, where he regenerates himself with the device, then goes in search of the alchemist’s notebook.

Synopsis: In his debut feature, writer-director Guillermo del Toro has succeeded in doing what so many have failed at in recent years, finding a genuinely new slant on the venerable vampire myth. Del Toro posits a man-made immortality, one bestowed by the marvellous Cronos device, which is part mechanical, part organic, and in so doing has the opportunity to allow his passion for insects and spiders to run riot. Cockroaches inhabit the statuette which hides the device; Dieter de la Guardia makes a speech about insects as God’s chosen creatures; eternal life is bestowed by the living denizen of the device which, once activated, extends its eight legs and impales its user with spikes described as being "like a bee sting". After using the device, Jesus Gris develops a strange, rubbery skin which he must shed as he regenerates.

Mixed with these factors is more traditional vampire lore. It is human blood that Jesus needs, while the "way out" he seeks turns out to be a stake through the heart. The film ends on an ambiguous note. Having fed without compunction upon the blood of the mortally injured de la Guardia, Jesus is driven to destroy the device after having to fight the urge to feed upon Aurora. He is then reunited with his wife, and left facing an uncertain future.

Horror and a certain bizarre humour are well mixed throughout, the moments of violence contrasted with such touches as the nosebleed sequence, the near fate of Jesus in the crematorium, and the fact that he goes through the final part of the story wearing his suit backwards.

Where the film fails somewhat is in the shallowness of its characterisations. Having bestowed heavily symbolic names upon his creations (Jesus, Angel, Aurora), del Toro seems content to leave it at that. We do not even find out for certain that the woman that Jesus lives with is his wife until about halfway through the film, and it is not until after his "death" that we learn her name. This produces a certain detachment in the viewer; we watch Jesus’ evolution, but we do not really participate in it. The most memorable performances are given by Ron Perlman as the thuggish Angel, forever in search of the perfect nose-job (in the course of the film we learn why), and Tamara Shanath as Jesus’ all-seeing granddaughter - oddly, because she barely speaks.

The film’s greatest success is its production design, which is truly exquisite, from the Cronos device itself to the interiors of the alchemist’s house with its suspended, exsanguinated body; the stuffy, overcrowded antique shop of Jesus Gris; Aurora’s playroom, illuminated by a myriad of lightbeams; and the chilly sterility of Dieter de la Guardia’s lair, where the dying millionaire stubbornly lives on surrounded by plastic swathed archangels and his own excised, pickled tumours.