Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1974)
"The only man alive feared by the walking dead"
Expert swordsman and former soldier Kronos and his hunchback assistant, Grost, travel from village to village hunting vampires. Their search leads them to a village where the young girls are being drained of their youth. Suspicion immediately falls upon the newcomers but Kronos' quest leads him to the local aristocrats, the Durwards.
Trying to revive their flagging vampire formula in the 70s, Hammer turned to all manner of weird stories in the hope that something would stick. Ditching the period settings that had served them so well but ultimately grown stale and old-fashioned, they tried transplanting Dracula into modern day England in Dracula A.D. 1972, sexed the stories up with tales of lesbian vampires (The Vampire Lovers) and even mixed it up a bit with the kung fu genre (The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires), all with varying degrees of success both commercially and critically. That wasn't to say the period horrors were finished and very late in their filmography came this curious offering, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, an attempt to combine their traditional vampire formula with the old swashbucklers, creating what was intended to be the first of a series of films featuring the mysterious hunter. Actually filmed in 1972 but not released for a further two years, the film bombed due to poor distribution and all plans for a series were cancelled, which is a shame because despite it's flaws, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter is actually an entertaining film. Think of a primitive version of Blade and you get the idea - ironically, Blade made his first comic appearance in 1973, smack bang between the date this was filmed and the date it was released.
One of the first things you'll notice through watching is how Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter tweaks around and plays with the vampire lore. These fanged-fatales are now able to appear in mirrors. Some are not affected by the sight of a crucifix. The film plays with the notion that there is more than one type of vampire and each is susceptible to different things. So what works on one vampire will not work on another. This leads to the film's most unintentionally funny scene in which Kronos and his assistant have a vampire tied up to a chair and attempt to kill him using their various methods of dispatch until they find one that finally finishes him off. Also, the vampires no longer drain victims of their blood but of their youth. It's a solid attempt by Hammer to pull the rug out from under audiences who had grown accustomed to crosses and stakes and freshen things up, making the film somewhat unpredictable at times. There is obvious sequel potential here, with Kronos going to a different village and facing off against a different kind of threat.
Even the main character of the vampire hunter makes a stark change of direction for Hammer as their previous hunters had all been stuffy old men, full to the brim of knowledge and facts. They were men of words and wisdom, not of action and violence. Kronos is the opposite - he's like a prototype Blade, despatching vampires without the scientific background that the likes of Van Helsing had. In fact many of his gizmos and inventions that he uses to fight vampires could well have inspired Blade in later years. He carries with him a mirrored visor to reflect the hypnotic gaze of vampires and his sword looks like a giant crucifix. Not only that but in attempt to differentiate him from the ‘old men’ hunters of the past, this guy smokes herbal remedies (ahem) and is quite happy to receive "favours" from damsels he rescues. He's not quite an anti-hero but more of a rebellious young man, someone that the youth of the time would have responded to and associated with. Though I mentioned the similarities with Blade, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter shares so much in common with Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy, with a lone hired gun heading into remote, feral villages to deal with some threat.
It's clear why Horst Janson was chosen for the role. He's a big, athletic and handsome guy who looks the part of an action hero and he does all of his own stunts and sword fighting. But the German struggled that badly with the dialogue, that he was eventually dubbed over. Maybe this works in his favour though as he's somewhat aloof and enigmatic - he maintains this aurora of superiority to everyone else - but the actor is hardly someone who grabs the attention of the audience. He's ably supported by a fine supporting cast including John Gater as his hunchback assistant (who provides the token scientific jargon and background on vampire lore) and Caroline Munro who despite being the damsel-in-distress early on, manages to rise above her role as token love interest and adds more than just a gorgeous figure to the film. I'd safely say that Munro was one of the hottest things to come out of the 70s and looks awesome in all of her films at this time. John Carson and Ian Hendry pop up in small supporting roles, with Hendry totally wasted.
Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter's issue is that it's all very flat and lifeless. Whilst the script is brimming with ideas and innovation, it's poorly translated across onto the screen, particularly during a lacklustre final third which could have been lifted from any of the other Dracula films. Director and screenwriter Brian Clemens doesn't know how to deliver the necessary action elements, nor inject any sort of pace or urgency to create any real excitement. Though this was meant to usher in a new era for Hammer, the film feels just as devoid of life, as demotivated and lethargic as some of the later Frankenstein and Dracula films which had caused the rot in the first place.
Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter is one of Hammer's most underrated films, simply for the fact that it seems way ahead of it's time with its ingenious re-writing of vampire legend and a light-hearted tone, even if the final output is nowhere near as exciting or interesting as it could have been. Unfortunately it's more likely to be remembered as the film that contributed massively towards the decline in the box office records of Hammer.
Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter
Director(s): Brian Clemens
Writer(s): Brian Clemens
Actor(s): Horst Janson, John Carson, Shane Briant, Caroline Munro, John Cater, Lois Daine, Ian Hendry
Duration: 91 mins