Missed it! is a new editorial topic designed to present thoughts, ideas, and analysis on horror films that this writer has personally let slip through their fingers with no valid excuse anywhere in range. We all have movies that we haven’t seen for some reason and this is a segment that aims to take into account hype, time, word of mouth, and plain old intentions and applying them after the movie has finally been viewed. For this installment of Missed it!, I caught up with a film I have been subconsciously putting off for entirely too long for no real reason at all: Cronos (Dir: Guillermo del Toro)
Spoilers: yeah that’s gonna happen.
Cronos is the debut feature film from the fascinating director Guillermo del Toro who has since given us both Hellboy films, Blade II, and Mimic as well as currently producing a billion more films in the next few years (seriously,. Look here). The film is about an elderly antique dealer who accidentally finds an intricate golden scarab that purposely stabs whomever is holding it causing them to extensively turn into a vampire. That is the most condensed version of the synopsis that I could give you, however it really doesn’t do the film justice.
We always say that as viewers, we want to see something new and original in the world of horror and for all intents and purposes, Cronos is a very different retelling of the vampire myth. First off, the movie is very deliberately placed (slow) but that isn’t a strike against it. For most of the screen time, del Toro is building an elaborate atmosphere of tension and uncertainly that hangs heavy just behind the veil of every sequence. It’s so well hidden that upon the initial viewing you may think that the movie took forever to get where it was going and completely miss the point of the pacing. That is a shame because after multiple viewings it becomes very apparent that every single moment and direction happens at the perfect pace for a reason. Other than painting and authentic and haunting atmosphere, there are major story revelations and actions that make this a very interesting take on the vampire mythos.
The undertone of vampirism in the film doesn’t necessarily follow previous films’ use of the typical character study of vampire. When we think of vampires most likely we all think of the same traits such as inability to go out into the sun, holy water kills them, and they live forever while only drinking blood. On the surface, these are the widely understood rules of vampires which aren’t always followed to a T, but for most pictures, they exist in a very close relevance to this. Taking a step back and looking at these traits, some interesting conclusions can be drawn (and have been, not by me) such as the blood acting as the life force of the young and the general obsession with youth and nostalgia. The best way for me to articulate to you what del Toro has done with this film is to say that these reasons, or allusions to what the popular expression of a vampire stand for were the basis for the character metamorphosis, not the traditional characteristics of vampires themselves.
After Jesus originally gets bitten by the golden scarab beetle, aside from having a few brutal cuts, the first trait that becomes visible to both Jesus and the viewer is a noticeable difference in age. Jesus hides this from his wife very coyly by shaving his mustache which for most people will make them look a bit younger (that was a great trick). Vampires are often portrayed as being eternal from the moment they become a vampire. In a film such as the Lost Boys, they really hype up the fact that these young people are going to remain young forever and in all reality who wouldn’t want to live out the rest of their life in the body of their teenage self? I mean, you’re constantly healthy and immune to all disease while still gaining all the life experience and knowledge of growing up? Sounds awesome to me. In Cronos however, these traits and all are bestowed upon someone who is in their twilight years and in all likelihood seems to be fairly healthy for their age. Right away we have an unlikely candidate for vampirism but since its never explicitly called vampirism…
Sunlight does become a factor, but that isn’t until after Jesus has actually died. On the other side of the coin, the antagonist of the film is a slowly dying magnate named De la Guardia who has apparently been looking for this scarab for a very long time. De La Guardia sees this as the only possible way to survive the cancer that is taking over his body is to find this magical piece of eternal life. While his irrational means for discovering the scarab seem excessive, I felt that they were justified at least on some level considering that the man was so close to death. He was doing what he had to do to survive and who is saying that with their backs against the wall wouldn’t do that exact same thing, especially if they found that on some level the scarab is working on someone else. That being said, I feel that one of the most interesting aspects of the vampire transformation was that after Jesus has transformed his skin begins to feel
off and he is visibly deteriorating. De La Guardia says that this is because he hasn’t been drinking blood but since this is never shown and hasn’t been available to human kind, how do we know that it would even work? How do we know the person wouldn’t become a completely heartless monster? None of these questions are ever answered and the uncertainty is what makes the story so compelling.
Did it surpass expectations? I feel that it was pretty interesting considering the fact that despite it was released much later, Let the Right One In was my big epiphany on how the vampire genre can be manipulated and changed into something wholly original. However, I can easily see how this film was so groundbreaking and eye opening back in 1993 and that accompanied with the stellar pacing shouldn’t make us ignorance to its place in history.