Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter - review

Director: Brian Clemens

Release Date: 1974

Contains spoilers

Reviewing this, the last film to be reviewed in the “Hammer Project”, I feel in a little bit of a quandary. So far I’ve, in the main, gone for a blow by blow synopsis of the Hammer movies. As well as reviewing them, I am looking at the lore they created and we can only do that by examining them fully. Thus each review has spoilers aplenty but that doesn’t really matter, the formula they used were often fairly standard, with some very clever inventions as well in all fairness, and the two main cycles were based on two of the standard reading materials for any vampire genre fan i.e. Dracula and Carmilla.

Captain Kronos is a little known piece and very underrated and this is where my quandary comes in. Many people will have seen most of the mainstream Hammer vampire films anyway, but Captain Kronos is one that many viewers will not have seen and the plot is so rich I do not want to give too much away. However the lore it introduces is, in many ways, so unique that I feel I must open some of the movie out.

The film opens with two girls in the woods; one is looking in a mirror and declares that she is sinful for vanity is a sin. This is important, for as we will see, the vampire in this is driven by vanity, the vanity of youthfulness. However, Ann (Elizabeth Dear), her companion, laughs at that and leaves the girl to go and get flowers. Something moves up behind the girl, a hooded figure. She sees it and breaks into a smile, holding out her arms lovingly. They kiss, the figure still obscured by the hood, but she becomes distressed. We see blood across the mirror.

A few things of note here. The girl is wearing a cross, the hooded figure can be seen in the mirror and it is daylight.

A man comes by on a horse, we later discover that it is Dr Marcus (John Carson), and sees Ann stood still amongst the trees. He calls to her and, getting no response, goes to her. She is staring over at her friend who turns to camera. There is blood on her lip but, more distressingly, she has aged tremendously – I’ll examine this shortly.

We see a man riding across country, with another man, hunchbacked, on a horse and cart. We will soon discover that they are Captain Kronos (Horst Janson) and his assistant Professor Hieronymus Grost (John Cater). They stop next to a woman in stocks. Kronos asks her what her crime was, dancing on a Sunday she replies and he frees her. Carla (Caroline Munro), as we later discover her name to be, goes with them. They arrive, eventually, at the house of Dr Marcus, an old army comrade who has summoned Kronos in order to gain his help. This is, so very early on, where I really want to leave the plot as the film is a pleasure of discovery. Also, unlike many Hammers, this does successfully build a mystery and also manages to keep you guessing as to the identity of the vampire. However, I do wish to explore some of the lore.

Grost is an expert on vampires and tells Marcus, “You see, doctor, there are as many species of vampire as there are beasts of prey. Their methods and their motive for attack can vary in a hundred different ways.” Kronos adds to this, in regards slaying, “As are the methods of their destruction!” They actually list some of the methods that might work. A stake through the heart – we actually discover that the stake was the method used by Kronos to kill his mother and sister, after his sister met him with a “kiss” when he returned home from the wars. Beheading might kill some, hanging others, fire some and water others.

I mentioned the aged girl earlier; again Grost tells the doctor, and thus us, “it is commonly supposed that a vampire attacks only in one way, by biting the neck and draining the victim of blood.” In this case the vampire drains youth and vitality, rather than simply their life, hence my comment regarding the motivation being the vanity of youthfulness.

The effects that vampires have on their surroundings are also interesting. The vampires in this movie cause flowers to wilt as they pass. There is also a scene in a church where the shadow of the arms of a cross wilts. As you can guess this also means that some vampires can enter hallowed ground. I also mentioned the fact that the girl in the prologue wore a crucifix; Grost informs us that crosses only protect those who firmly believe, an interesting device that is used in later genre movies, for example "Fright Night" (1985).

To try and track the vampire Grost buries boxes, containing dead toads, around the forest. The reason for this is explained in an old rhyme that Kronos quotes,

“If a vampire should bestrode
Close to the grave of a dead toad
Then the vampire life shall give
And suddenly, the toad shall live.”

Indeed, the toads do come alive when a vampire crosses over them. Thus Kronos and Grost know which way the vampire headed.

Given the reaction of the girl at the beginning it is clear that these vampires can mesmerise their victims. Later in the movie, when Kronos prepares for battle with the undead he places a mirror upon his sword. The reason for this was so that he could reflect the vampire’s mesmiric gaze back and capture the vampire in its own trap.

Other preparations that Kronos makes are putting garlic flowers on, so garlic must work in some cases, and have crosses painted onto his neck. We also discover in the film that some vampires can transform into bats.

One interesting aspect of the film, and I tread very carefully around spoilers here, is that we discover that one of the vampires, for we see more than one, is of the Karnstein family. Even more interesting is the idea that Ingrid Pitt claims that she turned down the role. This brings a nice tie in with Hammer’s Carmilla cycle, though the film was never meant to be part of the cycle as far as I am aware. That said it makes for an interesting connection.

The lead actors are great. Caroline Munro is both feisty and, of course, devastatingly beautiful, whilst Cater is excellent as Grost, managing to find the line between smart, resourceful and vulnerable due to his physical disability. If I have a little quibble here, it is that Munro might have been used more in the movie, whilst she is often in shot, her character could have been more proactive.

The showstopper of the film, however, is Janson as Kronos. He is a swashbuckling, cheroot (made with 'Chinese herbs'!) smoking heartbreaker with a steel edge of anger and violence. At one point Carla says to Kronos that she will stay, if he’ll have her. “Oh, I’ll have you.” Kronos replies with a twinkle in his eye. Yet it is clear that he is also a man of honour. The film is played with a degree of humour, as is to be expected from the writer/director responsible for many of the Avenger teleplays and Janson camps the role up marvellously.

The sad thing is that Captain Kronos was meant to be the first in a series, either a cycle such as the Dracula or Carmilla cycles or, it has been suggested, it might have become a TV series. Neither was, sadly, ever to happen. The pity was that in the space of this one film Hammer created a fantastic character in a film unlike any of their other vampire movies, with a rich tapestry of lore to work through – given that they could pull together variety after variety of vampire. There is also a loose thread in the film that deserves following up. At one point a mysterious stranger arranges for a group of thugs to attack Kronos. Whilst it opened up an excuse to see, albeit very briefly, Kronos’ swordplay skills I can’t help but wonder if, had the sequels to this been made, we would have found out who this stranger was and why he wanted Kronos and Gorst dead?

Score wise I’ll give this 8.5 out of 10 and I hope I have given you the merest hint of a teaser with regards the genius that is Captain Kronos, I truly urge you to go out and watch the movie if you haven’t seen it. Another review is available at Exclamation Mark's Vintage SciFi/Horror Review and the imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...

An underrated gem, this is. When I was a boy of 12, Kronos held little appeal for me. But when I watched it again as an adult, it became one of my favorite vampire flicks.

You did a fine job reviewing this film without tarnishing the mystery for the uninitiated. Great reading, too.

And congratulations on completing the Hammer cycle reviews! It would have taken me forever to get through all of these films.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Thanks Mark.

I really wanted to preserve the mysteries in this one as so many people haven't watched it and that seems such a waste of such a good movie to me.

Anonymous said...

I look forward to discovering the mysteries of this film myself, if only I could put my hands on a copy!

Eismann said...

Excellent! I really enjoy this entire page from the concept to the detail in each review.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Crabstix, lets hope you get to view the film.

Eismann, many thanks, I'm glad you enjoy it