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.

July 23: Jessica Mitford died on this day in 1996.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).

Watching Them Be

What makes a film actor into a larger-than-life movie star? James Harvey's passionate, freewheeling essays explain why there are some faces (from Greta Garbo's to Samuel L. Jackson's) from which we cannot look away.


What if you called up the spouse on the verge of leaving you -- and instead found yourself magically talking to his younger self, the one you first fell for?  Rainbow Rowell, author of the YA smash Eleanor & Park, delivers a sly, enchanting take on 21st-century love.