"There are as many species of vampire as there are beasts of prey. Their methods and motive for attack can vary in a hundred different ways."
"And their means of destruction."
Fun and stylish late period Hammer film from Brian Clemens, one of the main architects of TV's The Avengers, and there's more than a whiff of that great spy show's spirit on hand in Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter.
Something is stalking the young lasses of Durward village and sucking the youth from them, leaving them dying old crones with blood on their lips. Dr. Marcus (John Carlson) suspects a supernatural agency and summons his old army comrade Captain Kronos (Horst Janson). Kronos arrives soon after, accompanied by his hunchbacked assistant, Prof. Heironymus Grost ("What he doesn't know about vampirism wouldn't fill a flea's codpiece.") Along the way, Kronos frees a gypsy girl, Carla (Caroline Munro), from the stocks ("And what crime have you committed?" "I danced on a Sunday") and she joins up with them.
John Carlson as Dr. Marcus
While Kronos mostly sits around smoking cheroots and looking pensive, Grost gets to work, burying dead toads around the woods where the various girls have been attacked. Apparently, if a vampire passes by, the toads will come back to life.
In the meantime, Marcus meets the blond, effete Durward siblings (Shane Briant and Lois Daine) as they visit the graveside of their dead father. Their reclusive mother, Lady Durward (Wanda Ventham) harbors a grudge against Marcus for allowing her husband to die under his care.
Caroline Munro and her "come hither" eyes.
Some ruffians, led by Kerro (Ian Hendry, far overqualified for such a small role) are paid to pick a fight with Kronos in the village tavern, but are no match for his skills with a samurai sword (how and why a former member of the Imperial Guard got ahold of a Japanese katana is never explained). As Kronos and Carla get more intimately acquainted, additional corpses pile up, and Dr. Marcus pays an ill-fated visit to the Durward estate.
This leads to one of the highlights of the film, as Kronos and Grost test various methods on a vampire captive to find out the precise way to kill it. When the traditional stake through the heart doesn't work, they try hanging. Eventually they find it's cold steel that does the trick, which paves the way for a final dramatic sword duel between Kronos and the master vampire in his lair.
While Captain Kronos is never particularly scary, it is a ton of fun, full of clever ideas, plenty of buxom ladies, a few moments of pathos, and fine period detail and atmosphere. Clemens direction is nimble and full of interesting camera angles and playful, comic-book framing. He also wrote the script, which focuses more on enjoyable riffs on traditional vampire lore than the usual Gothic Hammer chills, although the various vampire attacks are cleverly staged and the creatures' modus operandi, of draining the youthful essence from their victims, was fresh for the time. While never pretending to be anything other than an entertaining lark, there is a mild undercurrent of social satire here, as once again in a Hammer film, the local aristocracy is feeding off the poorer classes.
Viewers might grow a tad annoyed at just how slow our main hero is to swing into decisive action. Seemingly most of the village's pretty young maidens have to bite the dust before he finally straps on his sword and takes on the monsters responsible. In fact, Kronos is a strangely indolent swashbuckler, letting Grost and Carla do all the grunt work while he's supposedly "saving his strength" for the final confrontation. At least when the final battle does come, it's a pretty good one, choreographed by, and featuring, veteran fencing master William Hobbs.
German-born Horst Janson makes a handsome and physically capable leading man, if perhaps not quite as charismatic as one might wish. He does manage a fine line in sullen brooding, and takes his shirt off a lot. He's OK, but the supporting cast is terrific, and easily bolsters up the rest of the film.
Caroline Munro has one of her best parts here, and is ravishing as the loyal Carla. Easily one of the most beautiful and memorable of all Hammer horror starlets, Munro made equally striking appearances in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and At the Earth's Core, as well as briefly playing femme fatale against Roger Moore in The Spy who Loved Me. She's a charming presence and does her best to humanize the aloof Janson.
John Cater, as vampire expert Prof. Grost, provides some ready wit and acts as a further humanizing influence on our hero. John Carlson is also good as the earnest Dr. Marcus (Hammer fans will remember him as the baddie from the studio's earlier Plague of the Zombies). Ian Hendry has limited screen time but is effective as tavern bully Kerro. Briant, Daine and Ventham especially make for an appropriately creepy family.
Clemens brought in another Avengers alum, Laurie Johnson, to do the score, which mostly consists of variations on the catchy, heroic main fanfare for our intrepid team of fearless vampire killers. Apparently Captain Kronos was made on a very modest budget, but it looks very nice and sufficiently lavish to these eyes, mostly due to careful art direction and Clemens and crew's adroit use of a few picturesque locations around Buckinghamshire and Ellstree Studios.
Clemens had plans to turn Kronos into a film series, ala James Bond, with the Captain and his right-hand man Grost facing different adversaries, and romancing new leading ladies, as they traveled on to new adventures (with perhaps even a time travel element involved). A good idea, but alas, it wasn't to be. Kronos' was shelved by an unhappy studio and released two years later as part of a double-bill. Its box office failure thus ensured, it proved one of the final nails in the coffin for the once-vibrant studio, and no sequels ever got made.
That's too bad, because it's clear, watching now, that the movie was ahead of its time.Viewed today, Kronos seems one of the progenitors of a now wildly popular subgenre which includes Blade, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural and other such monster hunting properties.
Kronos certainly was a clear departure for Hammer, with a look, feel and tone far removed from their earlier, more Gothic horrors. Its tongue-in-cheek genre-blending and pulpy sense of fun easily elevate it to the best of the studio's 70s output.
And, of course, it's worth watching for Ms. Munro's presence alone.
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