7 – CRONOS
Del Toro’s directorial debut was, fittingly, a spin of the vampire genre. The story of an antique store owner finding a device in his store, one that contains an insect that grants eternal life – but as a side effect, it gives you an allergy to sunlight, pale skin and a taste for human blood. This is suitably gothic and weird for the now famous Del Toro. It also works as a way of demonstrating what was to come from the make-up artist turned film maker.
The atmosphere is fantastically gothic – well, for the most part. The story moves at a brisk pace and is strangely accessible for a film of its nature. We also have roles from Del Toro regulars Federico Luppi and Ron Perlman. Topping that with a fairy tale tone and a focus on insects and themes of Shelly, Stokes and Lovecraft. Cronos is also the shortest of Del Toro’s films, reaching a 90-minute run-time. The acting is strong and there is a good balance of dread and black humour.
The only thing that lets Cronos down is that it is Del Toro’s first film. The budget was much lower than his following films, and that does show in some flat, un-atmospheric sets and scenes. Action-wise, while this is far from being an issue now, some of the action in Cronos does feel sloppy. But that’s not what the film is about, it’s about a gothic tale with sympathetic characters. And in that Cronos is a success. It’s an interesting watch and is a great demonstration of the talent yet to come.
6 – HELLBOY
Based on a comic that nobody had really heard of at the time. Hellboy follows the titular character, not just played but embodied by Ron Perlman, and his team as they try to stop an unkillable hellhound from wrecking the city and Rasputin (yes, that Rasputin) from summoning the ancient gods unto the world. It also happens to be one of the best pre-MCU superhero films ever made.
I cannot praise this cast enough. Perlman steals the show, but when you have cast members like Doug Jones, Selma Blair, Jeffery Tambor and John Hurt behind you, you are onto a win. Everyone is perfect, they don’t play the characters – they ARE the characters. The story, and the fact that we are following Agent Miles throughout a good chunk of the film, helps us understand and get immersed in this world. And in true Del Toro fashion, the monster designs and effects are top notch. There isn’t much blatant CGI, with many of the monster scenes being practical – hellhound Sammiel is Brain Steele in a thick latex suit.
The action is amazing, the story goes at a steady pace and it the heroes and villains are all enjoyable to watch. Sadly, the film’s good idea of focusing on Miles and slowly moving us from the city and into Hellboy’s world is as much a burden as it is a benefit. The first half of the film, while entertaining, does feel restrained and Miles as a character is as interesting as a wet flannel. Of course, it all comes together at the end, and the writing is a huge help, benefiting Del Toro’s direction. If it weren’t for our next entry, this would be the director’s most mainstream film. Though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.