Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1974) [31 Days of Hammer Horror Review]

Jules picks up where he left off in October by running through some of the choice horror offerings from the fantastic Hammer back catalogue.

You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of Hammer” by CLICKING HERE.

Starring: Horst Janson, Caroline Munro, John Cater, Wanda Ventham
Director:  Brian Clemens

Hammer’s twilight years would see them at their most experimental, trying new things and reworking old ideas to try and recapture that magic for a new generation of horror-loving cinemagoers.

There’s no film that quite sums up this era of change than Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter. On the surface, it’s business as usual with vampires terrorising villagers, foreboding gothic mansions and mysterious deaths in the woods.

This is a film that’s radically different from anything the studio had attempted before though. We’ve never seen vampires like this before, just as we’ve never seen such inventive ways of dealing with them.

Former Imperial Guardsman and now professional vampire hunter Captain Kronos (Horst Janson) is called into a village plagued by unexplained deaths by his old army friend Dr. Marcus (John Carson). Assisted by his hunchbacked companion Hieronymus Grost (John Cater) and the beautiful peasant girl Carla (Caroline Munro) who he rescues from the stocks, Kronos begins an investigation into the deaths, realising that the young women were having their very youth drained from them by a particular breed of vampire.

Up at Durward Manor, the Lady Durward (Wanda Ventham) is geriatric and bedridden, cared for by her staff and adult children Paul (Shane Briant), and his sister Sara (Lois Daine). The Lady is not what she seems though and Captain Kronos is soon aware of exactly what is happening and what he needs to do about it…

Well, this is a breath of fresh air. Writer/director Brian Clemens (The Avengers) brought a real new pair of eyes to the hackneyed old vampire myth and the results are tangible.

First off, the idea that there are many types of vampire is brilliantly simple, but resets the whole game board. They don’t drain blood, but youth and life itself. That’s marvellously horrific and works really well here, while keeping you on your toes for what else is different. They can’t be staked either, as Kronos finds out when trying to administer a mercy killing to his old friend Marcus. Hanging doesn’t work either and it’s only through accidental trial and error that they discover steel is this particular strain’s weakness. It’s a great scene too, dragging out what should be a swift kindness to ugly lengths.

It’s not just a horror film either. There’s elements of action and even spaghetti western vying for attention too, all combing to create something completely original, much like the team’s methods of detecting and dealing with vampires. Burying dead toads in the road to see if they are reanimated by the presence of the undead? Bizarre, but it’s fascinating too and feels right, like some obscure folklore forgotten by history.

As the titular Captain, Horst Janson does a fine job with what could have been a fairly wooden part. Sure, he’s tall and handsome, square-jawed even, but there’s a sharp wit and a fierce intelligence there too, as well as barely-concealed rage towards the undead. This is a man who’s first vampire kills were his own mother and little sister. He’s not messing around and Janson sells such a complex character perfectly, while proving more than adept as an action hero in the film’s thrilling sword fighting set-pieces.

He’s backed admirably by his own team of Avengers, with neither Grost, Carla or Marcus feeling extraneous to undercooked. John Cater is brilliantly wily as the hunchbacked assistant, imbuing him with no small amount of both charm and pathos, while seeing Caroline Munro getting a bigger role is a real joy and she really makes the most of it.

Wanda Ventham on the other hand, spends most of the film in bed wearing a mask, only appearing at the end to be mesmerised and stabbed in quick succession. It’s a bit of a waste of her talents, but it’s to the film’s benefit that they got an actress of her calibre in to take care of such a small part. It’s a nice touch to reveal that she is a Karstein by blood too, even if it doesn’t really affect the plot too much.

A thrilling blend of action, comedy, mystery and horror, Captain Kronos was supposed to be the start of a whole new time-spanning franchise for Hammer and we can only imagine where they could have taken it.

As it is, we’re left with a curio, a glimpse of an epic adventure that wasn’t to be. Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter isn’t really like anything else and it’s all the better for it.

Rating: 3.5/5.


The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

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