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Best known for his unique visionary style and a sweet love for misunderstood monsters, Guillermo del Toro is undoubtedly one of the most celebrated and beloved film directors of our time. A man embraced by the horror community as much as he has embraced the genre itself, who treats horror, the most stigmatized of the major genres, like art. Watch any interview with him and I dare you not to love that man.

A born storyteller, since the moment del Toro stepped behind a camera and typed out his first script he has shared pieces of himself with audiences in a way that manages to reflect what many have felt since the first time they watched The Creature of the Black Lagoon or Frankenstein; what are monsters if not just lonely creatures searching for a connection? Every film del Toro creates follows this philosophy and it all started in 1993 with his very first film, Cronos.

Prior to Cronos, the only official projects del Toro had on his resume were two short films, Doña Lupe and Geometria, both of which can be found on Youtube, but it wasn’t until 1993 that he made his debut on the big screen. Starring Federico Luppi, Tamara Shanath, and Ron Perlman, the film follows an antiquer who unknowingly turns himself immortal after finding an ancient device hidden away inside an angel statue. Things pretty much turn awful for him after that. It’s a horror film not meant to horrify but to detail loss and love, the loss of innocence, humanity, and the sense of self, and the way people can love each other no matter the circumstance. This is–spoiler alert–a vampire tale that is not so much about being a vampire as it is about the sadness of becoming something of that nature. We as humans are not meant to be live forever so when we lose the very thing that defines our existence, our mortality, are we even us anymore?

Hardly anyone seems to know about this film and even if they do, there is a wide disinterest in it. A factor to consider was that it was made before del Toro’s name hit the ears of even the most disinterested of moviegoers. Many people didn’t even hear the name “Guillermo del Toro” until he exploded on the scene with Pan’s Labyrinth in 2006. Probably his first “original” film to get major attention from the festival circuit that was granted the widest release outside of Hellboy, Blade II and Mimic which were all big budget studio films with pre-existing source material. Another factor is just the tone, and how it feels much gloomier than his usual horror fairytale atmosphere.

Upon release, Cronos was a critical success that won many awards including several Ariel Awards and the Mercedes-Benz Award at Cannes. It was also selected as the Mexican entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 66th Academy Awards but was not nominated. Even though it didn’t give him much international attention it certainly caught the eye of those in the industry including the heads at Miramax who gave him his second film, the $30 million dollar monster flick Mimic to both direct and adapt for the screen during a time when “creature features” were hot.

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Yes, Cronos is considered a masterful piece of cinema that would become a blueprint for the films that del Toro would later follow up with, however, despite all that, it not only remains largely unknown but was something of a disappointment for its creator.

If you know anything about Guillermo del Toro you’ll know that all his films are personal. Each film, even the commercial ones contains pieces of himself that he’s exploring. It’s why they feel so visceral, so emotional, so passionate and beautiful, and though not nearly as polished as his later stuff, it’s all there in Cronos.

This is the outline for del Toro’s filmography. A horror-based study on relationships with a touch of mythology. It’s probably the weakest of all his films (in my personal opinion) but there is something so incredibly memorable about it, an image that stays with you like a scar you didn’t feel but can see in the mirror after it’s already stopped bleeding. In a way, it feels almost too organic. The fact that it’s being made by a first time director is not lost on me, the story and every theme it includes are raw and wild in their eagerness. There is almost too much that he wants to say and do.

On one of the special feature interviews on the Criterion Collection DVD of The Devil’s Backbone, del Toro admits that he views The Devil’s Backbone to be his real debut film from which he gained “independence” because he’s never been 100% satisfied with Cronos. Not to say that he hates it, or even thinks it’s a bad film, but that it’s a creation he thinks could’ve been done better. Although significant to his life, a personal project dedicated to his grandmother, the film’s shortcomings are forever highlighted whenever he watches. As he explains it, Cronos features everything he wants to put in a movie, it’s the combined essence of his storytelling. To a certain degree, you can even argue that he’s forever remaking it, from The Devil’s Backbone to The Shape of Water a lot of his work can be seen as variations of Cronos, films that share one universal backbone.

Cronos is a movie that if I ever had a chance to do something else to it, to make a better transfer, to make a better sound mix or to find a little extra. Every time I find something archival almost, I try to put out a DVD or put a new edition, why, because I think the most important movie in your life, there are two that are very important- the first one and the last one. The first movie articulates your universe. To me Cronos contains the essence of what I want to do[….]I think the worse thing that can happen to a filmmaker is to be given everything that he needs. I think it entirely destroys the basic hunger of the storyteller and it quenches the fire to tell a story against all odds.”Guillermo del Toro

As a film alone, Cronos deserves attention, and as the debut feature of Guillermo del Toro, it deserves much more than that. While looking at his career as a whole, too many people omit the film. For whatever reason, whether people think its not as good as his other stuff or not enough people know about it, it’s too often overlooked. Seek out Cronos people, and if you’ve already seen it, watch it again.

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Rachel Roth is a writer who lives in South Florida. She has a degree in Writing Studies and a Certificate in Creative Writing, her work has appeared in several literary journals and anthologies. @WinterGreenRoth

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Movies n TV

Fallout, The End

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Launching with worldwide excitement, Fallout is based on the extremely popular game series of the same name. Fans of the series have waited with anticipation and trepidation to see if the Prime series would live up to the game.

Having now watched the first episode I can say that, so far, it’s successful.

The story

Our story begins with a children’s birthday party. A performer is there with his daughter, giving horse rides and taking pictures with the kids.

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As much as the adults try to focus on the party and the kids, it’s impossible to ignore the looming threat of war that’s on everyone’s mind.

Of course, it’s during this party that war comes, and the bombs drop.

We then cut to after the war and into one of the vaults established to protect humankind and the American Way. For future reference, this is Vault 33. We meet Lucy, our first main character, who’s petitioning to be married to a man from Vault 32 to ensure DNA diversity.

On the wedding night, though, Lucy and the rest of Vault 33 are met with a horrible surprise. The group they let in is not in fact from Vault 32, but is instead a team of raiders from the surface. The raiders kill a lot of the vault dwellers and kidnap Lucy’s father.

We are then introduced to our second main character, Maximus. He is in training to become a Knight in the Brotherhood of Steel. And, well, he’s not doing great.

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Things get worse when his best friend Dane becomes a squire before him. But when Dane is hurt, Maximus gets their spot.

Aaron Moten in Fallout.

We then go back to Lucy, who has decided to leave the vault and find her dad. Of course, the council of her vault doesn’t want her to go. So she is aided by her brother Norm and cousin Chet in a wild escape.

What worked

The first thing that deserves attention is the exceptional character work. Our three main characters are fleshed out and relatable right away. We feel sympathetic for The Ghoul before he’s even introduced as such. We love Lucy’s nativity and selflessness. And we love Maximus for his honesty and passion for his cause.

While these characters are their own people, they also exhibit the three responses we might expect to see in a post-apocalyptic world. We have the hopeful optimist who doesn’t understand how bad things are. We have the aspiring hero who wants to make the world better by force. And we have the self-serving individual who’s given up on the rest of humanity and is only focused on surviving.

Another thing I enjoyed about this episode was the balance of humor and gore. Because there was certainly enough blood and guts for even the most hardcore horror lover. We had a violent sabotage, a brawl with raiders, and even several nuclear bombs.

But there were a lot of funny moments as well. Usually from Lucy. Her overall goodwill and fearless gumption are absolutely hilarious, especially given the horrors she’s facing. It never ceases to amuse me.

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Ella Purnell in Fallout

Both of these aspects are done perfectly. The jokes land and the bloody scenes pull no punches. It was delightful.

All in all, this was an exciting start to a much-anticipated series. Here’s hoping they’re able to stick the landing.

For more tv shows based on video games, check out my review of Witcher. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Movies n TV

American Horror Story Delicate, Ave Hestia

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Episode seven of American Horror Story Delicate was a classic AHS flashback episode. If you were excited to see what Preecher had to say to Anna at the end of the last episode, I’m sorry to say that you will not get that satisfaction. However, we did learn all sorts of other fascinating things about the strange coven hunting Anna. And, we learned all sorts of things we didn’t know about Dex’s first wife, Adeline.

The story

We begin our story with a woman giving birth alone in a barn. When it becomes clear that she’s not going to be able to deliver vaginally, she pulls out a knife and cuts her stomach open to pull out her children.

For whatever reason, this is when the coven of witches decides to make themselves known.

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Ashlie Atkinson in American Horror Story.

We then cut to 2013, when Dex was still married to Adeline. In true Dex fashion, he’s surprised her with a puppy.

While that sounds great in theory, dogs are something a couple should talk about, not gift each other with as a surprise. An adult would know that. A trust fund boy like Dex does not.

Adeline owns a vegan restaurant called Ave Hestia. Love that name. She seems to be living a great life. She has a career she’s passionate about, friends who love her, and a husband she seems kind of fond of.

Maybe that’s why she didn’t want a puppy. She already had one.

Of course, things aren’t as good as they appear. We soon find out that Adeline was one of those babies we saw at the start of the episode. The other baby was Sonia, the painter.

Annabelle Dexter-Jones in American Horror Story.

And yes, both of these characters are played by Annabelle Dexter-Jones.

Adeline has stepped away from their family, and whatever dark things they do. But the family isn’t happy with her decision. And if she isn’t going to come back willingly, they’re going to make her.

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What worked

To start with, I loved the character, Adeline. She is fierce, she is fearless, and relentless. I feel like this would have been a far different story if Adeline had been our main character. It was astounding to see her interact with the same people Anna has, and get a completely different response. It’s clear now, how much everyone around Anna resents her for simply not being Adeline.

I also appreciated that there was just a shocking amount of blood in this episode. From the start when Adeline and Sonia are born, to the climactic end of Adeline, this episode is just drenched in blood.

Finally, I’m fascinated by the changes in this season from the book it’s based on. Because absolutely none of this was in the book. Compared to this, the book is heartwarming.

The book is kind of heartwarming even without the comparison.

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But I love the fact that, even with just two episodes left in the season, I have no idea what’s going to happen. I do not know what Anna is carrying. I do not know if she’s going to survive this. I do not know what these people want with her.

But I can’t wait to find out.

What didn’t work

All that being said, it is a bit frustrating to have no forward momentum in this episode. This was all backstory, and it felt like there wasn’t enough backstory to fill a full forty minutes. Because of that, it dragged. There were a lot of scenes that just didn’t need to be as long as they were. It felt like they could have cut that down considerably, and had some time to check in with our main characters at either the start or the end of the episode.

There are only two episodes left in the season, and I can honestly say I have no idea what’s going to happen. But so far the story has been dark, bloody, and provocative. So I hope they can manage to end it on a high note.

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters launch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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Movies n TV

The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs: An Eggs-celent Time

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The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs returned March 29th for the first ever Easter-themed episode. Debuting the new series format, hosts Joe Bob and Darcy the Mail Girl presented only one film. The Drive-In can be watched on AMC+ and Shudder every other Friday during the season.

This week on The Last Drive-In, Joe Bob Briggs and Darcy the Mail Girl hopped onto our screens to include us in their Easter party. Festivities include decorating eggs, blowing noisemakers, cuddling mutilated stuffies, and of course, swigging down Lone Star beer. You’re invited to consume whatever substances you like best to enhance the viewing experience of this week’s film, Brian Skiba’s Rottentail (2019).  

Season 6 poster for The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs.

As Joe Bob opens the episode, there is hope he will remain focused and on topic. He begins with innocent rabbit behavior patterns before taking a turn into the best methods of hunting them. Darcy grows increasingly uncomfortable as he delights in giving pointers to would-be hunters. She incredulously asks, “Are you talking about killing rabbits right now?” 

Believing the audience is on her side, she throws up a Twitter poll. It was a close split, but 50.2% of viewers who responded do agree with her. See? Every vote does count. (Seriously, make sure you are registered to vote in this year’s elections.) 

Ch-Ch-Changes

Calling out the elephant in the room, Joe Bob reminds viewers about the new one-movie format of the series. Instead of two movies every Friday, this season has been stretched out with one movie showing every other week until Labor Day. 

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If you want someone to blame, Joe Bob says you can point at us tired folks on the east coast struggling to stay awake past midnight. However, between the new format and specials, we have been assured there are actually more movies this season. 

Thankfully for the audience, Rottentail is packed with action and hits multiple genres to the point that it feels like at least a movie and a half. 

A poster for Rottentail (2019) featuring the mutated Peter Cotten and the tagline "Hippity Hoppity Homicide."
A poster for Rottentail (2019).

Rottentail tells the story of unassuming scientist Peter Cotten (Corin Nemec) being transformed into a rabbit-human hybrid after receiving a bite from a genetically-engineered rabbit. He embarks on a journey of revenge against those who wronged him in his childhood such as Pastor Jake Mulligan (William McNamara). He even finds time to rekindle a past romance with Anna Banana (Dominique Swain).

The Drive-In Totals include but are not limited to: 4 dead bunnies, 1 mad army general, mutated bunny rampage, lettuce nibbling, heart tossing, 1 mutant bunny baby, and erection fu. “Four stars. Joe Bob says, ‘Check it out.’

No Animals Were Harmed

It goes without saying that there are a few depictions of animal cruelty within this film. Darcy feels it is prudent to warn the audience. Whenever an animal dies on screen, Twitter is flooded with upset viewers expressing their distaste. Dragging the warning out of Joe Bob, she reminds him of the gentle nature of the #MutantFam. We’ll watch humans be slaughtered all day, but don’t you dare hurt that animal.  

Joe Bob seems to not understand the need for the warning as, “this whole movie is about taking revenge on people who harm animals!” He insists no animals are actually harmed and implies that being bothered is indicative of good effects. To demonstrate, at one point he “snaps” Darcy’s neck with the assistance of a sound effect.

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Joe Bob demonstrates the use of sound effects as he fake kills Darcy.
No mail girls were harmed in the filming of this episode.

Pages to Print

The film is based off of the graphic novel Rottentail by David C. Hayes and Kevin Moyers. Initially self-published, Source Point Press picked up the novel and are responsible for its translation onto screen. The film is very stylized and Joe Bob says it gives Re-Animator (1985) vibes. 

Nemec is a big fan of graphic novels, and had read the story prior to the film’s production. He ended up becoming a co-producer of the film. Joe Bob believes Nemec should get more praise for his role as Peter/Rottentail, and the hosts bemoan his lack of availability to come on the episode.

Furthering my belief that Joe Bob is secretly a huge fan of Lifetime Christmas movies, he highlights that director Skiba is perhaps best known for his work on the network. I am continually baffled at how many of these Christmas movies he can name and refuse to believe he doesn’t actually cozy up to watch them.

Tis The Season?

Speaking of Christmas, this week’s mail call features a letter originally sent back in December. Joe Bob immediately senses what is going on and chides Darcy, “I do not want letters that make everyone cry.” Brad from Loretto, Kentucky writes in to share his Halloween memories with his daughter. Unfortunately, she passed away at the age of 20 before Brad had a chance to share The Last Drive-In with her.  It’s a sobering reminder that we truly do not know how much time we have left to spend with someone.  

No, Wait, Come Back!

It is understandable why some folks were upset with the new format change of the series. However, the episode is still full of The Last Drive-In spirit. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but it feels as if there was more time & space for host segments. At points, Joe Bob and Darcy were breaking in almost every 15 minutes. It’s very much still the same show we love, just now featuring more anticipation.  

My rating for Rottentail: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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My rating for the episode: 4.3 out of 5 stars (4.3 / 5)

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