by Mark Ahn
In celebrating the movies of 1993 this week, and having already come out of the woodwork about not having watched True Romance, I decided to find more 1993 movies that I’d missed, finally landing on Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish language horror flick Cronos.
I have some sizable holes in my del Toro filmography (I haven’t seen The Devil’s Backbone or The Orphanage) but what I consistently appreciate and notice about his work is that he imbues it with a sense of wonder and enthusiasm. It would be easy to call del Toro’s attitude child-like, but I think it’s more than that; it’s a worldview where the magical, the horrifying, and the mundane exist in an easy juxtaposition. This worldview is probably why many of the characters in his worlds are children or have the purity of purpose that many children have.
Cronos is often described as a “vampire” movie, and the parallels are there in the movie to support that, most overtly in the bloodthirst and aspects of immortality. However, the movie feels closer to the story of Frankenstein rather than Dracula. The elderly antique dealer lacks much of the invasive, violent, and obsessive vibe of traditional vampire characters. Frankenstein’s monster always struggles with the nature of his existence, not understanding why he was created and growing more frustrated, melancholy, and empty as time passes, realizing that his uniqueness makes utterly him alone in the universe. As the antiques dealer investigates and discovers more about his condition, he finds that his immortality and indestructability is no miraculous preservation, but always comes at great personal cost. His horror at the nature of his own existence makes him a more sympathetic character, and thus feels closer to the inherent dilemma of Frankenstein’s monster, rather than Dracula.
Ron Perlman mentioned in an interview that he was intrigued by characters that are unusual and deformed but who are actually endearing, because personal experience made him empathize with the complexity of those characters. I think Guillermo del Toro shares Perlman’s fascination with complex and seemingly contradictory characters who come in the form of sympathetic monsters, steady-eyed children, and cryptic medieval devices. Although del Toro broadened his artistic palette by taking on bigger and more energetic projects like Hellboy and Pacific Rim, he has not lost the enthusiasm and the wonder of his original voice in Cronos.