I said I should do a post about Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter, and why not do it now?
It’s always fun to watch the movie again.
If you areinterested, there is an acceptable copy on Youtube, and to give you an idea, here’s the trailer…
The trailer lies.
Or it practices a nice bit of misdirection.
“In the 18th century, in central Europe…”
The cool thing – one of the cool things – about Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter is that it builds an imaginary land that is NOT central Europe in the 18th century.
Not exactly. Not necessarily.
Despite being produced by the “House of Horror”, Hammer Films, Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter is more of a dark fantasy than a true horror. And in true fantasy fashion, the world in which Kronos plies his trade is a mish-mash of late 18th and early 19th century elements, and in the same way the landscape and culture of the place in which the action takes place is a strange mix of Hammer’s standard Transilvania, of central Europe and of Olde Englande.
In the same way, the movie rewrites the vampire folklore, turning the vampire into a creature somehow tied with the practice of forbidden magic, a daylight predator that drains its victims of their vital energy and not their blood.
Indeed, one of the characters will explain that there exist “as many species of vampire as there are beasts of prey.”
Against these foul creatures, a village doctor calls for help his old friend from the army, the cigar-smoking, dual-sword-wielding Captain Kronos, portrayed by Horst Janson as a sort of fantasy Clint Eastwood… the Vampire Hunter with No Name. He uses a katana, just because, and dresses somewhat like a musketteer, or ussar. Or something. His very tight pants bear witness to a bigone era.
In fact the movie owes part of its structure to the spaghetti western that were coming to the screens in the same years (Captain Kronos was shot in 1972 and released in ’74). This is perfectly exemplified by a scene in a tavern in which Kronos faces down a band of desperadoes led by Ian Hendry (as a guy called Kerro), in what is basically a western saloon shootout scene without guns.
The curse of vampirism seems to be somehow connected with the Durward family1, and as Kronos investigates – with the help of hunchback sidekick professor Grost (that is in the habit of carrying dead toads in his top hat) and of gypsy dancer Carla (Caroline Munro, in her second and last Hammer role) – things get more complicated.
There’s swordplay, magic, a modicum of sexy play, and a great mix of horror, swashbuckling and humor: the central scene, in which Kronos and Grost try to find a cure for vampirism using a vampire’s victim as test subject, and basically trying every anti-vampire remedy known to the movier-going public on the poor man, is a cynical, grotesque and pretty humorous interlude.
Laurie Johnson’s score is another noteworthy bit in this overlooked and underrated movie.
Written and directed by the great Brian Clemens, a master of serial narrative on the small screen, Captain Kronos should have been the first in a series or franchise – but it performed poorly, and its failure at the box office contributed probably to the waning of the Hammer star. Had things gone differently, Kronos was poised to be sort of the James Bond of 18th century (or whatever) vampire hunters…
A sequel was produced as a comic book in 1977, and as recently as 2011 a novelization was published. A new comic book series was launched in 2017.
A great missed opportunity and an object of cult, the movie is a fun way to spend one hour and a half on a cold afternoon on the weekend after Halloween.
- there’s no way you’ll have me believe “Durward” is a midlle-European name. ↩