December 7, 2010

Love at first fright

Revisit the Mexican movie maverick's 1993 debut feature with the new Criterion release of Cronos

Also this week: Videodrome, Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor & Other Fantastic Films, Inception, Soul Kitchen

Long before giving us Blade 2, Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth and other freaky fantasies (next up, Frankenstein!), Mexican movie maverick Guillermo del Toro jump-started his career with a comparatively modest, comparably eye-catching, debut. Making no mention of the “v” word, 1993’s Cronos (Criterion) was an unusual spin on the well-worn vampire mythos. When an elderly antiques dealer acquires a mysterious relic in the form of a golden scarab, he finds himself seduced by the thing inside of it that’s sampling his blood in exchange for immortality. And he's not the only person aware of its existence — an unstable brute (embodied by a young and very amusing Ron Perlman) and his soon-to-expire uncle are in hot pursuit of the artifact. 

As del Toro explains in one of the disc’s many interviews, much like his latter work, Cronos’ creature is also its most sympathetic character. Neither elegant nor menacing, our protagonist’s pitiful transformation is best illustrated in one of the film’s most harrowing sequences, where he desperately licks a stranger’s blood off a public washroom floor. 

Criterion has once again gone the distance in terms of faithfully capturing the film’s lush visuals for DVD and Blu-ray. Both editions hold the same set of extras, including director’s and producers’ commentaries, new and lengthy interviews with del Toro, Perlman and longtime cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, a tour of the director’s geek-gasmic home office and collection of morbid memorabilia, and a previously unreleased 1987 short horror comedy — heavily influenced by Mario Bava’s and Dario Argento’s audacious colour schemes — that ultimately helped shape his own amber-hued pallet. 

Also available 
Attention Criterion-collecting horror buffs: this week also sees the high-def upgrade of David Cronenberg’s 1983 Can-cult fave, Videodrome (Criterion), in which a seedy Toronto TV honcho (played by James Woods, obviously) develops a fixation with torture porn resulting in kinky sex, political scandal and grotesque hallucinations courtesy of special effects wiz Rick Baker. Already-perfect extras remain the same, but the new flesh has never looked newer thanks to a substantial A/V boost.

Keeping in line with this week’s theme of mind-fuck cinema, Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor & Other Fantastic Films (Zeitgeist) contains dozens of bizarre animated shorts by one of Japan’s most admired indie animators, Koji Yamamura. From the late ’80s up until his latest accomplishment in 2007 (see title), every one of these sad, scary and hilarious titles impress, but 2003’s Oscar-nominated Mt. Head is the collection’s true gem.

If you prefer a sleeker sheen of surreal, Chris Nolan’s sci-fi actioner Inception (Warner) is poised to be as much of a home-video hot ticket as it was on the big screen. Those who found the film too convoluted might be sold after multiple viewings. If that doesn’t work, the Blu-ray is chock-full of interviews, shorts and behind-the-scenes goodness.

Best enjoyed as an antidote to this week’s brainier fare, 2009 Venice Film Fest Special Jury Prize winner Soul Kitchen (Mongrel) is a conventional culinary comedy from German director Fatih Akin about a lowly restaurateur who converts his crusty food shack into a trendy gastro-pub with the help of his ex-con brother and hot-tempered chef.