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Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter (1974)

Yes, it is as good as you remember it being. The victim of the fickle nature of cinema goers (and terrible business sense), Captain Kronos is a marvel - there is very little wrong with this film. Not only are we treated to (yet another) radical re-working of the vampire myth, but we also get a proper hero for a change, some fantastic fights, a slick sense of fun and even some half decent special effects. What were Hammer thinking of, letting this one slip out without a huge fanfare?

Of course, now Kronos is considered one of their best works, thanks to (sadly curtailed) repeats on television. There's many a lad of 30-ish for whom this is THE archetypal horror film. Very little praise must go to the company itself, apart from them having the foresight to let Avengers duo Albert Fennell and Brian Clemens run riot and do whatever the bloody hell they liked. Apparently it was supposed to lead to a TV series with Kronos travelling all over time doing battle with all manner of dodgy monsters. What a shame...

As usual with Hammers, it begins in a leafy wood where a vampire is at work, turning foxy young maidens into grizzled old hags without so much as a by-your-leave. Enter Captain Kronos, late of the Imperial Guard, and his hunchback sidekick Grost, who are gallumphing with all speed to the home of Kronos' friend (and "leech lover", apparently) Doctor Marcus. Pausing only to rescue Caroline Munro (nice one), who's been put in the stocks for "dancing on a Sunday", they're soon there.

The setting is pure Hammer, even the outfits are, but there's something extra - much like he did in Doctor Jekyll And Sister Hyde, Clemens' wit and inventiveness shines through. It's a kind of unexplainable quality, but it's definitely there. When Kronos says about Grost: "What he doesn't know about vampires wouldn't fill a flea's codpiece" it's crap, but you know that Clemens meant it to be crap.

Grost goes on to explain: "There are as many species of vampires as there are birds of prey. The traditional stake through the heart does not always hold good, you know... The cross can only protect those who firmly believe."

Both notions have been hinted at in other Hammers (notably Dracula Has Risen From The Grave and Vampire Circus), but here they're spelled out at the beginning.

And we're soon treated to some lovely little touches which help add more class. As a girl prays for her dead sister in church, the cross reflected on the wall starts to change shape and at the moment of attack, a glass of wine tips over, soaking the altar. Later, flowers wilt and die after the vampires has passed over them, and blood drips from a bell being rung to announce the latest atrocity. None of these is ever explained, but the makers know that if it looks good, it doesn't matter if it doesn't make sense. They never bothered explaining anything in The Avengers, after all.

Unfortunately, this being an early 70s Hammer, it does also include Shane Briant. Given a decent part in a well-written film, Munro unexpectedly shines, but Briant is his usual cardboard self. Ah, well, you can't have everything I suppose.

Briant is Paul Derwood, who lives with his sister Sara and their frail mother in the nearby mansion. Mum blames Dr Marcus for the death of their father (a great swordsman, according to Kronos), and is looking decidedly old, even after the vampire has struck (whoever it is, their cheek "should have a bloom to it").

But of course, being the all-round smart arse that he is, Kronos' greatest moments have to be his sword fights. In the first he moves his sword just twice to despatch three goons, in another he disarms every bloke in the village with his flashing blade, and at the climax of the film... but that would be telling.

Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter may have signalled a change in Hammer's fortunes, but it ranks as one of their best films. Just a couple of years out of date, if it had arrived at the end of the 60s the pot smoking, bird shagging, Bjorn Borg lookalike hero would have gone on to a fine and illustrious career. It's also surprisingly brutal - there's a lot of blood spurting from assorted necks and mouths, and the almost Airplane-like protracted despatching of poor old Doctor Marcus has to be seen to be believed. Allied with the arty farty stuff at work (at one point when the vampire strikes, everything in the forest freezes for a couple of seconds), a strong female presence (Munro is no useless bint) and a modern attitude to disability (Grost's deformity isn't even mentioned until the pub bullies bring it up, and it's only at that point that Kronos gets annoyed), Kronos is a joy from start to open-ended finish.

Last updated: February 24, 2010

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