Good Vampire Films: Captain Kronos- Vampire Hunter
It’s very hard, in fact probably impossible, to write a series of reviews on Vampire films without mentioning Hammer. The British studio made hundreds of horror films over a period of decades, and many of the archetype vampire movies have either Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee in them- and invariably something-of-Dracula in the title. Later Hammer tended towards the poor, if I’m absolutely honest, but occasionally they did try something different, and usually it was treated with utter disdain by the public. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the attempts to break the mold were bad, quite the reverse as they tended to be better than the stock Hammer fare. Captain Kronos is a fine example of this.
Meet Captain Kronos- probably the most inept vampire hunter ever to pick up a pointy stick. He travels round the countryside killing the “demons” accompanied by his hunchback sidekick, a sack of dead toads, and a severe attitude problem. He’s swashed many a buckle and cut many a jib, but what he’s clearly never done is kill a vampire- he hasn’t a fucking clue how you go about doing this. He’s called in by ex-army buddy Dr. Marcus to deal with a local vampire that’s killing the populace. The vampires this time out actually drain youth out of their victims rather than blood, but nevertheless, Kronos is the man with the sword and the thirst for vengeance. What this actually consists of is him killing far more of the local population than the Vampires ever did, shagging Caroline Munro, and getting in a brilliant old-fashioned sword fight with the vampire. Oh, and burying some dead toads in the wood, because apparently the presence of a vampire brings dead amphibians back to life. What all this amounts to, is a lot of stiff upper lips on display, a huge amount of fun, and a thoroughly underrated little film.
Kronos , as mentioned, doesn’t have a fucking clue how to deal with vampires. He talks a great game, but really when it comes down to it, he just hasn’t the foggiest idea how you actually go about killing one. Neither does his hunchback. They do know a lot about tying bells to ribbons, but they can’t spot a vampire until the fucker is pretty much sucking on them. I admire their gung-ho gumption, but really, they are completely inept. Kronos’ big plan in the finale is to use his wench as bait and then draw the vampire into a sword fight- which he’ll win because he has a sword made from a melted down cross (“god’s blade”). Not that this particularly matters, because the whole film is really an excuse for terribly English sword fighting and everyone involved is up to the task.
On that note, Horst Janson is splendid as Kronos, who is played as a sort of nascent porn star. He’s as wooden as a table, but wonders around a lot with a puzzled look on his face, before throwing the odd cheeky wink at the female population of the film. Caroline Munro as the love interest is superb as well- she’s got a great line in kittenish fake hurt, and is very, very easy on the eye. The rest of the main cast is fine, actually quite good, but some of the minor characters aren’t that great. Overall, I can’t criticise the acting on any significant level.
However, having said that, this film scores big for atmosphere. It’s a pure thoroughbred gothic production with creepy woods, ancient crones rotting in a bed, old inns, atmospheric weather and so forth. It isn’t frightening (that would be a daft thing to say about a Hammer film), but it is strangely effective. The score adds to this, and overall the direction by ex-Avengers alumnae Brian Clemens is frankly superb- it’s always tense and never dull. The vast majority of Hammer films (especially the later ones) veer into the cheesy, but that isn’t the case here- it plays the whole thing completely straight and as a result is far more enjoyable.
However, where it loses points, and it loses them badly for this, is being far too predictable. If you can’t spot the vampire in about 3 seconds then, really, you’re a dumbass. They make a token attempt at throwing the viewer off the scent, but it isn’t just transparent, but sheepishly transparent. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t care about such a thing in a vampire film, but in this case they were obviously going for some big mystery and it’s about as mysterious as a treasure map with a big X marked on it. That doesn’t mean that the journey isn’t fun, because it is loads of fun, but really, it wouldn’t have hurt to drop the pretense.
Which brings me on to the inevitable unintentional comedy. Hammer films always have a huge amount of potential for being laughed at and Kronos is no exception. The scene with the Doctors execution is absolutely hilarious as Kronos and his hunchback attempt more and more desperate measures to end Marcus’ life. In the end, rather brilliantly, they kill him by accident, but still- full marks for effort.
Overall, I have to say that this is a thoroughly splendid little film. It’s a fine example of Hammer at their best, and although they clearly lack both the budget and the ability to make the film that they obviously wanted to make. By 1974 Hammer were in deep shit for mining the vein far too heavily, but the odd gem was still made, and it’s a real pleasure to see a Hammer film from this period that isn’t soft core porn and is well thought out and enjoyable stuff. In a way, it’s probably a good thing that this bombed on release, because if it had been successful they’d have ruined it with a million inferior and downright tacky sequels.
Captain Kronos- Vampire Hunter is good clean fun, a little film with a lot of heart and one that I’m pleased to make the acquaintance of. I give it 2.5 thoroughly justifiable Changs.
Well, that’s the first Hammer down, I’ll return with some shady soft porn and Countess Dracula at some point in this series, but not for a while.
Until next time,