Saturday, June 2, 2018

Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter (1974)

(This post is part of the Hammer-Amicus Blogathon hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews and Cinematic Catharsis)

By the late Sixties and early Seventies, Hammer Films was not nearly as successful as it once had been. In an effort to revitalise their horror films they began experimenting with movies that were decidedly different from the classic Gothic horrors for which they were best known. They released the "Karnstein Trilogy"--The Vampire Lovers (1970), Lust fora Vampire (1971), and Twins of Evil (1971). The "Karnstein Trilogy" differed a good deal from earlier Hammer Films, containing nudity and explicit lesbianism. Hammer Films also released such oddities as Vampire Circus (1971), which features an entire circus filled with vampires, and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971), in which Dr. Jekyll transforms into a beautiful, but evil woman upon drinking his potion. Among these oddities that Hammer Films released in its later years was Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter (1974). While it was not a success upon its initial release, Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter has since developed a considerable cut following.

Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter is set in the village of Durward, where young women are dying under mysterious circumstances. Dr. Marcus (played by John Carson) then looks to his friend, Captain Kronos (played by Horst Janson) and his sidekick Professor Grost (played by John Cater), for help. Captain Kronos and Professor Grost happen to be vampire hunters. They soon conclude that a vampire is indeed at work in the village of Durward, but it was one quite unlike those traditionally seen in horror films. 

Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter was the creation of Brian Clemens, who would produce, direct, and write the film. Earlier he and his partner Albert Fennell had produced Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde for Hammer Films, and Brian Clemens wrote the script for the film. If the names Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell sound familiar, it is perhaps because they had served as producers on the cult classic British spy show The Avengers. Not surprisingly, then, quite a few veterans from The Avengers worked on Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter. Ian Hendry had been the star of The Avengers in its first series, playing Dr. David Keel. Actors John Cater, John Carson, John Hollis, Julian Holloway, and Wanda Ventham had all appeared on the show. Individuals in the crew ranging from composer Laurie Johnson (who had composed the theme used by The Avengers from its fourth season onward) to production designer Robert Jones (who had served as the production designer on The Avengers) to assistant director Richard F. Dalton had all worked on The Avengers.

From the beginning Brian Clemens set out to create something different from Hammer's previous releases. As he says on the DVD's audio commentary, he basically stood Hammer's vampire conventions on their heads. The main character, Captain Kronos, is not a vampire, but instead a vampire hunter. What is more, Kronos takes a more dynamic role in killing vampires than Van Helsing ever did. He is a master swordsman capable of killing several men in a matter of minutes. To further set him apart from Van Helsing and earlier vampire slayers, Kronos smokes an "herb from the Orient" and practises meditation. Not only was Kronos different from previous vampire hunters in Hammer Films, but so too were the vampires in Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter. They can venture forth in the daylight. What is more, it is not the blood of their victims for which they thirst, but their youth.  Further setting Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter apart from previous Hammer films is that it combined various genres. It was obviously a vampire movie, although a very different one. That having been said, Brian Clemens also drew upon John Ford's Westerns and classic swashbuckler movies as well. There is much more swordplay than in most Hammer Films!

Brian Clemens had some difficulty casting Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter. Reportedly he had offered the role of Captain Kronos to Simon Oates, who had not only guest starred on such shows as The Avengers and Department S, but played John Steed in the short-lived 1971 stage adaptation of The Avengers. Mr. Oates turned him down. The part then went to Horst Janson. In interviews Ingrid Pitt has said that Brian Clemens had offered her the role of Lady Durward, but she turned him down. The role then went to Wanda Ventham. As it would turn out, Brian Clemens probably would have been better off if Simon Oates had accepted the role of Kronos. Horst Janson's German accent was so noticeable that every bit of his dialogue had to be dubbed by Julian Holloway, best known for his work in the "Carry On" films. While Horst Janson's voice would prove unsuitable for Kronos, he found the ideal actress for the role of the gypsy Carla in the form of Caroline Munro. She was under contract to Hammer Films for two films. The first was Dracula AD 1972 (1972). Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter would be her second. Mr. Clemens would later help Miss Munro get her famous role in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), for which Mr. Clemens co-wrote the script.

Brian Clemens had planned for Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter to be the first in a series of films centred on the vampire hunter. Subsequent films would have seen Captain Kronos battling different species of vampires in different parts of the world. Given Kronos's name (which is often confused with Khronos, the personification of time in Green mythology), it should come as no surprise that time travel may have played a role in Kronos's future adventures, with the vampire hunter travelling to different eras in history.

Unfortunately, Mr. Clemens's idea for an entire series devoted to Captain Kronos would not come to be. As shooting progressed on Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter, Michael Carreras, the head of Hammer Films, became dissatisfied with the way Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter was taking shape. Ultimately, although it was shot in 1972, Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter would not be released in the United Kingdom until April 7 1974. It did poorly at the box office. It was released a few months later in the United States, on June 12 1974, on a double bill with Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. It did a little bit better in the United States than it had in the United Kingdom, although it was still a far cry from a box office hit.

The failure of Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter at the box office meant there would be no series of movies featuring Captain Kronos. It would also be the only film directed by Brian Clemens. I have always found this sad myself, as I think Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter is one of the best of the latter day Hammer Horrors. It is decidedly different from any other Hammer vampire movie,with a plot that could have been used on The Avengers blended with elements of Westerns and swashbucklers. As might be expected of movie written by Brian Clemens, Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter contains the sort of clever and witty dialogue for which he was well known. It also features some impressive fight scenes, particularly the sword fight that marks the climax of the film. As a director Brian Clemens may not have been as impressive as Terence Fisher or Roy Ward Baker, but he did very a good job for it being his first (and only) film.

While it failed at the box office, Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter would develop a cult following. It would also prove to be a bit ahead of its time. In the years since Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter was released, monster hunters have proven extremely popular, from Marvel Comic's Blade to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the Winchester brothers of Supernatural. The continued popularity of Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter would eventually lead to a revival of sorts. Last year Titan launched the comic book Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter as part of its Hammer Comics imprint. This only goes to prove that it is not only vampires who can return from the dead. Vampire hunters can as well. 


Realweegiemidget Reviews said...

Thanks for joining our blogathon with this interesting take on the movie. Will definitely be seeking this out as would be interesting seeing this more swashbuckling Hammer!

Dan Day, Jr. said...

Great post about a film that was one of Hammer's best later entries (even though Michael Carreras didn't realize it at the time)

Terence Towles Canote said...

Thank you so much for having me, Gill! I hope you hold the Hammer-Amicus Blogathon next year. Maybe I can write about an Amicus film as well as a Hammer one!

Lya de Putti said...

I've never seen Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter but I'll definitely check it out after reading your fascinating review! Jenny from Silver Screen Suppers xx

Barry P. said...

Terrific post, with a lot of great history behind the making of the film. I agree that this is one of the best latter-day Hammer vampire films. It's a shame that it never spawned any sequels, or (as Marcus Hearn noted in The Hammer Story) possibly a TV series. Guess I need to look for the comics. Thanks so much for joining our blogathon!

Terence Towles Canote said...

Thank you for your kind comments and for having me in the blogathon, Barry! I am so glad you are having it again next year!