Monday, August 12, 2013

Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter

Captain Kronos rides the English countryside with trusted companion Hieronymus Grost, a hunchback, seeking to rid villages of vampires. In the 1974 Hammer production CAPTAIN KRONOS - VAMPIRE HUNTER, the hunted steal their victims' youth, rather than merely the usual pints of blood. The unlucky are usually attractive young women. Ones like Carla, the mysterious lass who joins the team after Kronos rescues her from a stockade, where she was left for dead  for the crime of dancing on a Sunday.

Dr. Marcus, an old friend and military compadre of Kronos', joins the investigation. They talk out theories, like how a youth draining vampire should appear young. When one of the crew is attacked, the usual methods of vampire dispatch (fire, hanging) are debunked, proven ineffective. But, that cross...... 

The Durwood family, the late patriarch an old friend of Marcus', will figure prominently in this tale. The widow is barely seen, bedridden. Her son Paul and daughter Sara act suspiciously. There is the possible hint of incest. Could the lovely young woman be the culprit, feeding her beauty with that siphoned from the fair maidens left as rotting corpses among the brush? Will it take that age old plot - using a heroine as bait - to identify the killer?

CAPTAIN KRONOS' screenplay is a bit different than expected. Vampire lore is tweaked more than just here and there, and swordplay figures prominently. Director Brian Clemens oversees with considerable zip. With a good sense of  old-time serial pacing and atmosphere. A bit of the expected cheese, too.  This picture is an odd man out among the Hammer films, and surprisingly never resorts to gratuitous gore or nude scenes like so many other 70s vampire epics, particularly the ghastly Andy Warhol one.

Horst Janson's take on Kronos is of a stone faced, hilariously aloof perfectionist who repeatedly belittles  Carla before their inevitable union. As his quarry, Caroline Munro projects a beauty that is most often distracting. Her irises exhibit a perpetual lost in the headlights gaze, a cluelessness that seems appropriate.  Miss Munro would become quite well known in the world of low budget cinema, a Queen of the Bs, of sorts.

Vampires go in and out of vogue in pop culture.  They are usually unrelentingly vicious. Or suave and seductive. The current bloodsuckers, like in the TWILIGHT series, tend to be pouting bores. CAPTAIN KRONOS presents one who's somewhat different, more human(istic). Less the drooling ghoul, but still the One Who Must Feed, albeit with less Karo syrup.   All the while, the film repeatedly drops hints that it is trying to make the case for the existence of God.

And the movie is really set apart by some unusual elements: part swashbuckler, part spaghetti Western. While there's atmosphere to spare, the movie is rarely creepy and not really scary. It's choice camp, a guilty pleasure comic strip. There is the occasional curious moment: note the blindfolded woman in the watering hole, the characters' drug use,  to keep you wondering what Clemens is up to.
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