…and I promise it won't make you sparkle in sunlight. Love, The Alchemist
Cronos (1994) is a Mexican movie filmed in English and Spanish directed by Guillermo del Toro. It is different from any vampire movie you’ve seen, and bonus! No angsty teenagers. It begins with the following creepy narration:
In 1536, fleeing from the Inquisition, alchemist Huberto Fulcanelli disembarked in Veracruz, Mexico. Appointed official watchmaker to the Viceroy, Fulcanelli was determined to perfect an invention which would provide him with the key to eternal life. He was to name it the Cronos Device. Four hundred years later, one night in 1937, part of the vault in a building collapsed. Among the victims was a man of strange skin, the color of marble and moonlight. His chest mortally pierced, his last words: “Sua tempore.” This was the Alchemist.
The introduction has a bit of a steampunk and clockpunk feel as does the antique shop of the old man (Federico Luppi) who stars in the film. Yes! An old man can star in a vampire film, and it can be good thank you very much.
Eventually the owner of a shady corporation, De la Guarda (Claudio Brook), finds the instructions for the Cronos Device and fixatedly seeks the device itself that has been lost. All he knows is that it is in an angel statue. His nephew, foulmouthed and oddly obsessed with rhinoplasty Ángel de la Guarda (Ron Perlman), is in charge of searching for any angel that might have the device within.
Our old man Jesús Gris lives a conventionally boring life with his dancing instructor wife Mercedes (Margarita Isabel) and little granddaughter Aurora (Tamara Shanath) who has an endearing relationship with Jesús. He finds the Cronos Device, and not knowing what he is doing, activates it. He starts to feel more energetic and looks younger, but at a price of course- he starts craving blood. Since he doesn’t have the instructions, he doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing and he seeks answers. Gris and the elder De la Guarda’s complementary searches clash violently as we unravel the mystery of the device.
The movie has a very international feel with the use of different languages in signs, buildings, and newspapers. It is set in 1997. The names of most of the characters have interesting meanings and have deep symbolism relevant to the story. Their use is typical of magical realism and the use of Christian imagery in Latin American fantasy. To not spoil anything I will just say that literally, Jesús Gris is Jesus the Gray, and Ángel de la Guarda means guardian angel, Mercedes is short for María de las Mercedes (Mary of Mercies), and Aurora means “dawn.” Knowing those meanings may enhance your enjoyment of the film. Or confuse you a bit.
Besides the unusual (for Hollywood) protagonist, the movie doesn’t depend on cheap thrills to scare you, uses plenty of dark humor throughout (the cremation scene is particularly funny) and realistic dialogue. This movie’s been around some time so forgive me if I’ve just discovered it- have you seen it? What did you think?