Bob Bloom is a founding member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob and Rotten Tomatoes. He also Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Links to his reviews can be found on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
By the early 1970s, Hammer Films was having commercial and financial difficulties. The studio’s attempt to resurrect its Frankenstein franchise with 1971’s Horror of Frankenstein, which was played more as a black comedy than a traditional horror movie, did not succeed.
Hammer also attempted to revitalize its Dracula movies by setting them in the then-contemporary swinging London of the early 1970s. But mixing Christopher Lee’s vampire count with young, mod men and women did not blend well. And after two attempts, Dracula A.D. 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula, the count was buried for good.
Hammer also tried adding graphic violence, hints of lesbianism and sex — mostly in the form of bare-breasted young women — to spice up its movies.
The studio then embarked on its “Karnstein Trilogy,” based on the vampire story of Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu. The trio of films, The Vampire Lovers (1970), Lust for a Vampire (1971) and Twins of Evil (1971), initiated Hammer’s new course of movies.
However, financing was difficult to come by, with many of the American studios that helped finance the movies by purchasing distribution rights, no longer interested in the style of Gothic films produced by Hammer. One of the foundering studio’s final attempts to reboot a vampire franchise was Captain Kronos — Vampire Hunter. This 1974 feature was an unofficial continuation of the Karnstein saga, as the female vampire antagonist hails from that family.
Captain Kronos — Vampire Hunter was written and directed by Brian Clemens — his sole directorial credit. The result is an entertaining blend of swashbuckling swordplay and vampiric horror that features a different type of vampire — one that drains its victims’ youth instead of their blood.
After witnessing a plague of young people’s deaths marked by rapid acceleration of aging, Dr. Marcus (John Carson), calls in his old Army companion, Captain Kronos (Horst Janson). Along with his companion, the hunchbacked Professor Grost (John Cater), Captain Kronos is a professional vampire hunter. After conducting some tests, Grost makes the initial determination that the killings are, indeed, the work of a vampire.
Marcus visits the castle of his late friend, Lord Durwood, where he speaks with the nobleman’s son, Paul (Shane Briant) and daughter, Sara (Lois Daine), but is unable to speak with Durwood’s widow, the bed-ridden Lady Durwood (Wanda Ventham). On the ride home, Marcus encounters a cloaked figure in the forest. The meeting leaves him dazed, and the doctor also finds blood on his lips.
At the same time, Kronos and Grost go to a tavern where some thugs, led by the sinister Kerro (Ian Hendry) — hired by Lady Durwood’s coachman — start a fight so they can kill Kronos. In a barroom scene worthy of a 1930s-’40s B-Western, Kronos vanquishes the thugs with a couple of lightning-fast swipes of his sword.
Later, a large bat attacks and kills a young woman, causing Marcus to realize he has become a vampire. He begs Kronos to kill him, but the various methods Kronos and Grost attempt fail — including a stake through the heart and hanging. But when Kronos accidentally pierces Marcus’ chest with a cross of steel the doctor has been wearing, his friend dies and his soul is saved.
Realizing they have found the method to kill the vampire, the two go to the local cemetery to obtain an iron cross. There, Kronos is attacked by a group of angry villagers, whom he easily defeats. Grost forges the cross into a sword for the vampire slayer, who holds a vigil to gather strength for the upcoming confrontation. Kronos, having seen the Durwood coach quickly flee the site of a vampire attack, suspects his adversary is in the castle.
Ready for battle, Kronos sneaks into Durwood Manor, where Lady Durwood reveals herself as the youthful vampire. She hypnotizes her children, as well as Carla (Caroline Munro), a young woman rescued by Kronos who has become his lover. Lady Durwood has used her powers to raise her husband from the grave. She offers him Carla, and it is then that Kronos confronts the pair. Using his sword’s mirrored blade, he turns Lady Durwood’s hypnotic gaze against her. He then defeats Lord Durwood in a duel and destroys Lady Durwood. With the evil eradicated, Kronos and Grost ride off to new adventures.
On his minuscule budget, Clemens created a very atmospheric feature. And in Janson, he found the perfect Kronos — an arrogant and deadly swordsman with a sense of humor, who had dedicated his life to defeat evil wherever he found it. The voice of Janson, who was born in Germany in 1935, was dubbed by Julian Holloway.
Captain Kronos — Vampire Hunter offers a new and exciting take on the vampire saga. It also showcases a new hero who could have been the protagonist for a series of movies had Hammer not run out of funding and folded.
And here is the aspect of Captain Kronos — Vampire Hunter that saddens me. Outside of 1958’s Horror of Dracula, this is my favorite Hammer movie. It combines horror, adventure, a touch of the western genre, the supernatural, beautiful women and some romance. It would have been fascinating to see other adventures starring Janson as Kronos. Supposedly, one of the ideas for a continuation of the franchise dealt with time travel — having Kronos and Grost visit various centuries to fight evil. That would have been an interesting concept that could have laid the foundation for many imaginative storylines.
Two of the assets that raise Captain Kronos — Vampire Hunter above the run-of-the-mill Hammer vampire sagas is the cinematography by Ian Wilson, who utilized many subjective, point-of-view shots, and the score by Laurie Johnson, which had a more swashbuckling sound than the usual heavy music used by James Bernard.
Watching Captain Kronos — Vampire Hunter never grows old. But, when the movie ends, you also let out a sigh for what could have been.
For most of his life, Evan Dossey has generally avoided horror films. The genre makes him profoundly uncomfortable. This means he has enormous gaps in his cinematic knowledge. Each year, he asks friends and family which essential horror movies he needs to see in order to fill those gaps and spends the better part of October agonizing over them, tossing and turning over them … and writing about them. This year, he’s sharing the month with those friends and family — letting them offer their own thoughts about the tales that terrify (or perhaps just titillate) them. This is our No Sleep October.
NO SLEEP OCTOBER 2019
Pop Skull – Richard Propes
The Ghost and the Darkness – John Tuttle
Graveyard Shift – Eric Harris