Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974)
“Evil Ends Here.”
Director: Brian Clemens
Cast: Horst Janson, John Carson, Shane Briant
Synopsis: A master swordsman and former soldier and his hunchbacked assistant hunt vampires.
Captain Kronos — Vampire Hunter was the ailing Hammer studio’s attempt to revive its fortunes by creating a new franchise to replace the Dracula and Frankenstein flicks which had grown increasingly tired and outdated since the end of the 1960s. The movie received its rating from the BBFC in September 1972, so why Hammer waited until April 1974 to release it is something of a mystery. By the time they had, The Exorcist, which was released a month earlier, proved to be an even more formidable adversary than the life-sucking vampires with whom our hero battles here. Despite Hammer’s attempt to re-invent itself, in the wake of Friedkin’s horror movie, Captain Kronos — Vampire Hunter still looked like a redundant relic from a bygone age, which is a shame because, for all its faults, it’s a bright and inventive twist on the old vampire legend.
Kronos (German actor Horst Janson — Escape from East Berlin) is a former soldier of the Imperial Guard who now roams the British countryside in search of vampires, which is why his former comrade Dr. Marcus (John Carson) has sent for him. It seems that some mysterious cloaked figure is literally sucking the life from his local village’s virginal young maidens, leaving them looking like withered old crones before quickly expiring once their assailant is done with them. Traveling with his loyal companion, the hunchback Grost (John Cater — The Abominable Dr. Phibes) who’s an expert on vampire lore, and the comely young Carla (Caroline Munro — The Abominable Dr. Phibes), a spirited wench Kronos found imprisoned in stocks for dancing on a Sunday, Kronos immediately answers the distress call of his old friend.
Although Kronos finds little solid evidence of vampire activity in the area, Marcus impresses on him the fact that not all vampires must stay out of the sun, or can be cowed by the sight of a crucifix. And the fact that someone hires a trio of local thugs to kill Kronos clearly indicates that someone is growing increasingly unsettled by the vampire hunter’s enquiries…
Captain Kronos is an odd movie which is difficult to categorise. It has the feel of a comic book hero brought to the screen — in fact, it borders on the camp at times — and there’s a sense of smugness about its self-conscious reassembling of vampire lore. The intention of writer and director Brian Clemens for this to be the first instalment of a franchise is evident in some of the extraneous detail to which he would have presumably returned in later chapters. For example, in a tavern scene prominence is given to a blindfolded woman sitting at a table but she is never referred to by any other characters and no explanation is ever forthcoming as to her significance; conversely, the rich back stories of its lead characters are only briefly touched upon, whilst even when minor characters have a significant contribution to make to the plot they are paid only the scantiest attention.
The film boasts an intriguing opening scene, and is boosted by Clemens’ pleasing visual flair. The initial attack is handled in a way that heightens the shock of its aftermath on the victim who, this being a Hammer movie, is always a fresh-faced young maiden — honestly, the picturesque woods around the village is fairly teeming with them, all with clean faces and perfectly coiffured hair — and by abandoning the old rules of vampirism, Clemens provides himself with considerably greater room for manoeuvre than he would otherwise have had. In the title role, German actor Horst Janson fails to make any kind of impression whatsoever. He looks like James Hunt, but the fact that he has no real muscle definition does nothing to discourage him from wandering around with his top off for half the picture. It’s a shame the same can’t be said about the luscious Caroline Munro, who for most of the film is given little to do other than gaze admiringly at Kronos’ skinny arms and sunken chest. Mind you, watching Caroline Munro doing nothing is certainly no hardship, and she provides a soothing balm for the eyes whenever the vagaries of the plot threaten to skewer the film’s nicely realised atmosphere. The film does deliver an unexpected twist in the last ten minutes which leaves us with a villain who’s even wimpier than the guy we thought was the bad guy up to that point, and it leaves you with the feeling that, had Clemens been given the opportunity to shoot a couple more Captain Kronos movies, he could have developed it into a worthwhile franchise. Sadly, we shall never know.
By the way, keep an eye out for Ian Hendry, who pops up in a cameo role which proves to be one of the movie’s highlights, if only for his terrific death scene.
(Reviewed 23rd June 2014)