We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
"Cronos" begins with the legend of a 14th century Spanish alchemist who invents a device both elegant and horrifying: a small golden machine, looking like a scarab beetle from Faberge, which unfolds its beautiful claws and sinks them into the flesh of its user, injecting a substance which will impart immortality. Centuries later, we learn, a Mexican earthquake shakes down the building where the alchemist . . . was still alive.
The body of the alchemist is found dead in the rubble, his heart pierced by a stake, of course. The Cronos Device, hidden inside an ancient wooden statue of an archangel, is purchased by an antiques dealer named Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi), who finds the diabolical toy, winds it up, and watches with terror as it attaches itself to his skin and makes him, he later discovers, immortal.
This is the stuff of classic horror films, and "Cronos," written and directed by a 29-year-old Mexican named Guillermo del Toro, combines it with a colorful Latin magic realism. There is also an undercurrent of fatalism and sadness in the film, flowing from the relationship of the old antiques dealer and his granddaughter Aurora (Tamara Shanath), who loves the old man even after an embalmer makes some gruesome alterations on his undead body.
Elsewhere in the city, a dying industrialist (Claudio Brook, favorite Mexican actor of Luis Bunuel) obtains the journal of the ancient Spanish alchemist, and learns of the Cronos Device. He imports his American nephew (Ron Perlman, of TV's "Beauty and the Beast") to track down and obtain the device, setting the plot into motion. Perlman brings a comic element into the film, whistling "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" in a way that for the first time finds sinister undertones in the tune.