Brian Clemens, 1974
Starring: Horst Janson, John Carson, Caroline Munro, John Cater
Two professional vampire hunters — Captain Kronos and his sidekick, a knowledgable hunchback named Hieronymus Grost — are called upon to examine a series of strange deaths in a small village where the victims are young women found rapidly aged. Kronos and Grost believe that the perpetrator is merely another type of vampire, one who feeds on youth instead of blood. With the help of their new assistant, a girl named Carla that they rescued, Kronos and Grost are led to the trail of an aristocratic family who may not be what they seem.
Written, directed, and produced by The Avengers primary scriptwriter Brian Clemens, Captain Kronos — Vampire Hunter was yet another, late in the game attempt by Hammer to revitalize their vampire films. After they tried moving Dracula to present-day England (Dracula A.D. 1972), adding kung fu to the mix (Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires), lesbian vampires (The Vampire Lovers), and even Satanism (The Kiss of the Vampire), this blend of swashbuckling adventure flick and supernatural horror film is surprisingly one of the studio’s last great efforts. It’s a shame that Hammer’s financial situation didn’t allow them to make any sequels, because I imagine the further adventures of Captain Kronos could have been a lot of fun — sort of a precursor to something like Hellboy.
And one of its best elements is the completely new use of vampire folklore. Grost, a font of supernatural knowledge, explains that the world is full of many types of vampires and part of the challenge of hunting them is that it’s necessary to discover their vulnerabilities. He says, “There are as many species of vampires as there are birds of prey.” Their friend Dr. Marcus is actually turned into a vampire and there is a scene where they run him through a gamut of tortures, trying to figure out what will kill this particular variety of the undead. Of course Marcus begs to be put out of his misery, but the scene is absolutely hilarious, as he’s tied to a chair with some flimsy knots and run through conventional ways to kill a vampire with a near farcical tone.
Despite — or maybe because of — its unintentional humor, Captain Kronos is light-hearted and entertaining. The stern Kronos is little more than a comic book character that bests monsters and beats up bullies and there is plenty of sword fighting, decent effects, and fun action sequences. There’s also a fair amount of gore and Hammer’s trademark lush visuals, complete with lovely rural shots and ornate period scenery. This is also one of Hammer’s most visually poetic films, with moments that build off the supernatural aspects of the plot, such as flowers shriveling and dying in the path of the vampires, time slowing down when they attack their victims, and blood inexplicably dripping from inanimate objects.
Prolific German actor Horst Janson has gotten a lot of guff for his wooden acting and lack of charisma, but I actually love him in the role of Captain Kronos. That could be mostly nostalgia based, but I also find his performance to be a mix of endearing bravado and a pleasing source of unintentional humor. Caroline Munro (Dracula A.D. 1972) basically steals the film as Carla, the girl Kronos rescues from the stocks. She had been imprisoned by her own village for DANCING ON A SUNDAY and while she does become his love interest, her courage and tenacity keep her from being another milquetoast Hammer heroine. There’s also a nice supporting cast that includes Wanda Ventham (The Vampire Beast Craves Blood), Shane Bryant (Demons of the Mind), and the always enjoyable Ian Hendry (Theater of Blood).
Despite the messy plot, accidental humor, and plenty of campy moments, Captain Kronos — Vampire Hunter is one of Hammer’s best final films. This unique take on vampire mythology should please anyone tired of the same old formula and chances are you might find a lot to love even if you don’t consider yourself a typical Hammer fan. Pick it up on DVD or Blu-ray, particularly if you like a healthy blend of action and horror.