Guillermo Del Toro has certainly evolved as a director since Cronos, his 1993 film debut, but the seeds of his dark vision were already pushing twisted vegetation to the screen's surface. Here is a director who positively revels in ooze, rotting flesh, icky insects, and in-your-face violence complete with a requisite amount of blood, not to mention a taste for disturbing religious imagery, psychosexual unpleasantness and baroque plots that could only be culled from the worst of nightmare narratives.


Yet what makes Del Toro a cherished auteur rather than a cheap thrills horror schlockmeister is his uniquely arresting visual imagination and uncanny ability to tap into both uncharted landscapes of childhood wonder and dread, and adult existential terror. Laced with black humor and a touch of camp, Cronos, a creepily poetic take on the quest for immortality, demonstrates Del Toro's consistent obsessions; it's fun to cross-reference images and devices from this breakout film with his 2006 masterpiece, Pan's Labyrinth (note the innocent child caught in a malevolent adult world, as well as Del Toro's strange obsession with applying needle and thread to the face, and—what do you know—the presence of those nasty bugs).


While no Citizen Kane-like burst from the gate, Cronos still displays more than enough visual inventiveness and sheer cinematic vigor to have us once again mourn Del Toro’s recent decision to step away from the upcoming production of The Hobbit. His gloriously twisted visions would no doubt have stirred those cute little fellas up a bit.

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

A pair of linked stories finds that, as translator Ann Jefferson relates, "[Pierre] Michon's great theme is the precarious balance between belief and imposture, and the way the greatest aspirations can be complicated by physical desire or the equally urgent desire for what he calls glory."