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flick pick | Cronos 1993
Directed + written by: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook, Margarita Isabel, Tamara Shanath
Language: Spanish and English
Look for it at the video store under: foreign [Mexico], horror, suspense/thriller, drama
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: artsy-fartsy
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: ½/5 

Plot synopsis Jesus Gris is an aging antiques shop owner whose greatest treasure is his young granddaughter, Aurora, who lives with him and his wife. Jesus and Aurora are alone in the shop one day when they discover that one of Jesus' latest antique acquisitions, a small archangel statue, is actually hollow. When Jesus opens it up, he discovers a beautiful egg-shaped golden object nestled inside. Intrigued, he winds it up, only to discover that he's set a mysterious machine into motion. Three pairs of sharp metal legs shoot out from either side, piercing his skin as the beetle-like device clamps onto his hand. Aurora watches in fear as her grandfather wrests himself free of the object, his hand dripping blood from the wounds. But when her grandfather later tells his wife that he hurt himself in a fall, she says nothing, despite the fact she's worried about what has happened. Late that night, Jesus finds himself irresistibly drawn back to his new discovery, and this time, he lets it continue to feed on him until it shuts off on its own. The next morning, he wakes up feeling better and younger than he's felt in years. In the machine, it seems, he's found a fountain of youth. But as it turns out, he's not the only one who knows of its existence. A wealthy eccentric by the name of de la Guardia has the diary of the alchemist who created the device, and he's been searching high and low for the golden beetle. Soon, Jesus finds himself dodging de la Guardia's henchman nephew, even as he begins to realize that there's a price to be paid for his newfound immortality -- namely, the thirst he seems to have developed for human blood.

Review I'm generally not much of a fan of horror flicks. Scary isn't a quality I go out of my way to seek in my entertainment -- I'm chicken enough about all sorts of real-life things -- and besides, the monsters and ghosts that are the staple of the genre tend generally come off as pretty silly to me. Cronos has all the elements of your typical cinematic scarefest -- blood, disintegrating flesh, an evil machine, a vampire, a protagonist who makes one really stupid decision after another -- but presents them in a way that feels nothing like a standard horror movie. For one thing, Cronos offers its own original take on the tired old vampire mythology: vampirism is transmitted via an insect, not by the sexualized neck-feeding described in most vampire lore. It's a neat idea, but it's not the only thing that makes the movie more interesting than I would have expected from reading the back of the box. While most horror flicks concentrate on spooks and special effects over character development, director Guillermo del Toro (Blade 2, Hellboy) took the opposite tact in crafting Cronos (his first feature film, which he wrote at the age of 21 and filmed at 28). At its core, Cronos is the simple story of the relationship between a flawed old man and his adoring young granddaughter, with the vampire aspect serving as a symbol for what's going on between the main characters rather than as a means of eliciting shrieks of terror from the audience. Ultimately, this isn't a horror movie at all, but a magical realist character drama shot with a gorgeous art-house visual style. In del Toro's richly textured, amber-hued world, monsters seem as every day normal as breakfast with the family and playing tea party with your granddaughter. Though the movie's far from perfect -- the dialogue is sometimes embarrassingly clunky, and the acting, especially from Ron Perlman as the nephew, sometimes succumbs to the cheese -- Cronos reveals a director with a genuinely original personal vision. And like its main character, Cronos is kind of lovable despite its flaws. —reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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