The last Mexican vampire movie we saw was Samson (The Silver Masked Phantom) vs. the Vampire Women. Mexican horror movies are often known for their ludicrous concepts, lackluster production, and laughable dialogue. While we're at it, let us not discount the blustery heroes, melodramatic leading ladies, and bumbling-yet-sinister villains with incomprehensible motives. ("We must attach this woman's head to a chihuahua! It is for science!")
Unlike those classic films of yesteryear (including Face of the Screaming Werewolf and Swamp of the Lost Monster), Cronos is a much more serious and literate attempt at true horror. Not content with cheap shock tactics, this film takes the time to set up an actual premise and characters with real relationships. We learn that Jesus Gris, an aging antiques dealer, enjoys raising his grand-daughter Aurora, long before a vampire plot intrudes upon the scene. When Gris' shop comes into possession of a statue once owned by a 16th-century alchemist, the plot begins to unfold.
The statue houses a scarab-like device within its base. When Gris is alerted to its presence by the inquiries of several suspicious characters, he removes the scarab from its hiding place and allows the villains to purchase the statue anyway. He then attempts to discover its secrets, while evading the attentions of Mr De La Guardia, a dying tycoon who wants the device for himself.
The Cronos Device.
Horror movies are good guides for life. You should never ever follow the example of a character in a horror movie, because they always find the correct thing to do and then do the exact opposite. Cronos is no different. After the scarab injures his hand, Gris goes back for more punishment from the gleaming torture device. In some ways, this reminded us of Hellraiser, only the scarab makes no up-front promises about ultimate experiences. Seemingly just a toy at first, the scarab insinuates itself into Gris' life by renewing his youthful vigor. Later, he will learn the terrible price it exacts.
Despite the fact that the above synopsis sounds like the back of the video box for every horror film ever made, Cronos is quite different from most films of the genre, Mexican or otherwise. Instead of horny teenagers, Cronos presents us with an older man and his granddaughter. Overly dramatic music is replaced with an understated score, a move which greatly enhances the creepiness of the story. The sets, too, are masterfully done, from the sterile chamber which houses the dying De La Guardia (and its archangels, wrapped in plastic and hanging by their necks) to Aurora's rooftop playhouse. Cronos is a class act, and it's been a long time since we've seen one of those in the arena of horror.
Because of De La Guardia's obsession with the scarab, Gris' accidental boon of immortality actually hastens his demise. Without the appearance of the device in his life, Gris might have gone on to live years longer, watching Aurora grow up. Instead, the machinations of De La Guardia and his scheming nephew (played by that foreign-film favorite, Ron Perlman) subject Gris to mortal injury not once, but twice. It is a wonderfully ironic twist.
Grandpa vampire settles
down for the day.
Cronos gets high marks for managing to come up with a new spin on the vampire legend. Frankly, we're geting a little tired of the current crop of vampire books/TV shows/movies, all of which claim to be putting a new spin on the vampire legend, all of which have the same 'new' spin: That vampires live in societies of their own, often at the fringes of normal society. This has gotten as old as your average brain-eating zombie. In Cronos, vampirism is associated with a possibly immortal insect. Where this insect comes from is never really explained, though De La Guardia does posit that insects may be God's chosen creatures.
Cronos is almost unique in the pantheon of recent horror movies in that it succeeds on the strength of its atmosphere and story, not by trying to fill the screen with gore and sex. If you have even a passing interest in the horror genre, Cronos is a film you must not miss.