Wednesday, 21 July 2004

Kronos

A while back I watched Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (Kronos was its original British title) again. This movie was a little gem released in 1973 by Hammer Film Productions. The conventional wisdom is that in the Seventies Hammer released very little in the way of worthwhile films. After all, in the Seventies, Hammer is perhaps best known for the "nudie lesbian vampire" movies known collectively as "The Karnstein Trilogy (The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire, and Twins of Evil--hardly Hammer's best)" and attempts to update their monster movies (Dracula A.D. 1972, Horror of Frankenstein). Some horror movie fans even dismiss Hammer's Seventies films entirely. Kronos stands as proof that even in the Seventies Hammer could produce starkly original films.

Of course, while Kronos was produced by Hammer, it was actually the work of Brian Clemens and other veterans of the cult TV show The Avengers. As he says on the DVD's audio commentary, Clemens basically stood Hammer's vampire conventions on their heads. The protagonist is not a vampire, as in the Dracula films, but a vampire hunter. Kronos travels the 17th century countryside, with his aide de camp Professor Grost, conducting an endless war on the undead. While they both hunt vampires, Kronos is about as far removed from Peter Cushing's Van Helsing as possible. Kronos is a master swordsman, capable of killing multiple opponents in a matter of seconds. He smokes an "herb from the Orient" and practises meditation. He even makes love to beautiful gypsy girls. The vampires Kronos faces in the movie are no more typical than the film's protagonist. Among other things, they can go out in the light of day. And rather than blood, it is youth they drain from their victims. What is more, Kronos resembles both John Ford's Westerns (which Clemens intended for it to) and swashbuckler movies more than it does the typical vampire film.

It is not simply the twists on the traditional vampire film that make Kronos such an enjoyable film. The plot is full of twist and turns, with more than one red herring as to who the actual killer is. The dialogue has the cleverness and witticism that made The Avengers such a hit. Best of all are the fight scenes. They are so well choreographed that they don't look as if they were choreographed at all. Kronos contains some very realistic swordplay. Even Clemens' direction (this was his first film) is quite good, drawing upon John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock for inspiration.

Kronos had the misfortune to be released on a double bill with Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell and received very poor distribution, both in Britain and the United States. As a result, it did very poorly at the box office. Of course, the movie's set up is perfect for a TV series. Clemens wanted to do a TV series based on the movie, but he failed to sell it due to a lack of interest in period pieces. Television would insure that the movie would be remembered, however, as horror fans on both sides of the Atlantic discovered the film in afternoon and late night viewings. From a pop culture perspective, Kronos is the predecessor of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Marvel Comics' Blade, and Stephen Sommers' upcoming Van Helsing. Before Blade was wielding a sword and Buffy a stake against the undead, Captain Kronos was battling vampires in one of the best Hammer films released at any time.

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