The Fall and Rise of Horror in the 70’s
Before we get into the review of one of my favourite, (probably my personal favourite) Hammer movie, I would just like to announce that during our reviews we tend to divert and go journeying down other avenues. The reason for this is as follows. I believe in order to give a full and appreciative gravitas to what we are trying to explain, we will attempt to talk about things that may help show a emotional attachment and placement that rekindles fond memories and specific points in witnessed cinematic history from a fans perspective obviously! In doing this we hope it leads toward a background that provides important information regarding what helps such a personal review create some kind of catharsis that will bring out many influences and attachments that both surround and perhaps created a love of horror cinema as a result. This may make my reviews (boring) or it may indeed cause greater debate. I would rather talk about truthful opinion and indeed what swayed such opinions. I want to get deep into the whole framework of what the horror genre really means in regard of our fondness, passion, hatred and what indeed spurs us on to have such a passion for our favourite genre. For this I make no apology and rather than just give a bland generalisation. I want you to understand the physicality of a journey taken that may not be dissimilar to those of a certain age and vintage that remember certain points referred too during certain reviews and maybe prick other peoples emotions as we go along. So if you wish, walk away now and we here at T.C.M.R. bid you farewell and only good fortune but for those who stay and listen here is both a journey and a review of why I/we love Kronos and why a connection of other genre orientations may collide with the individual review of this particular movie. E.D. Leach.
“A blood lust for eternal youth”
RIP. Brian Horace Clemens O.B.E. 30th July 1931 – 10th Jan 2015.
I will start my review by announcing that I could gladly spend hour upon hour reviewing, nay, reminiscing on the film company that produced this movie but that is for another comprehensive review for another time, for it is this legend of the British film industry and purveyor of all things of the horror genre that is Hammer productions that will rightfully get its own personal review as is befitting to such a wonderful institution. It is simply a major focal point and influence upon The Cult Movie Review. Hammer is also one of those names that definitely define greatness and were an iconic purveyor of the Horror genre, that fact alone will be given the full respect it undoubtedly deserves.
The history that stands stacked behind this unusual cult gem Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter, 1974 (year of final cinema release) is truly fantastic but unfortunately in the case of this particular offering it will be remembered more as one of the final big screen outings and subsequent farewell of Hammer productions as was; This review will also have many more tangents before I am done but if you bear with me all will hopefully be explained.
Unfortunately with falling popularity for the famous Hammer associated production formula and the long delay from this films initial final production in September 1972, until its eventual and subsequent release close on ‘one and a half long years’ later, April 1974. All efforts and Hammer’s initial willingness to consider a possible franchise of the character sadly failed and with the drastic and changing moods in the horror genre spectrum – unfortunately and subsequently these matters conspired to deviate the film away from mainstream audiences and with great sadness the film slipped quietly away in silence. The true facts are that on its release Kronos bombed at the box office. It has to be said that the world of cinema and the ongoing change and controversial incidents now engulfing the genre may have not helped the cause but I think if we are to be realistic, even truthful despite what the heart truly feels, it was simple common sense that the placement of the film was neither right or simply the film was not good enough to hold a changing audiences attention and its increased acceptance for more stimulating material which Hammer’s formulaic state could no longer muster, nor were their films as terrifying as the examples that began to come from the States around that period of changing horror cinema. The powerhouse extremities of those notable new monsters of horror that would soon batter the public senses left this particular movies cause nil and indeed void, in particular this was becoming the increasing case in the US, thus making this movie something of a forgotten classic that only in later years gained its rightful place and new found audience as a result of showing up on late night television schedules and later gaining a new momentum in the modern age of video and then again later with dvd favouritism and as a result of Kronos tapping into new entertainment markets, eventually making this unusual film in time honoured tradition becoming referenced as a minor but important cult classic by movie fans and critics alike. The film on its release was now up against a new tide of more controversial movies, as the month prior to the release of Kronos starkly revealed. (I still remember my parents reaction on seeing this film and never forgot.) The Exorcist was released in the UK in March of 1974, and with it all the hoopla and hysterical publicity that the movie courted via both word of mouth and a frenzied press and a continual television onslaught of interviews and articles. The world now witnessed a new form of horror movie when the William Friedkin phenomenon The Exorcist, 1973 drove through the horror genre and the film world in general terms like an unstoppable juggernaut crushing everything in its path on its road to movie success and historical film infamy. The eventual release of ‘Kronos’ also coincided in the same year as another infamous visceral movie that went by the name of The Texas Chain saw Massacre, 1974. Though this movie was never given a official UK release until ‘wait for it’ December 1998. Even then it was a limited release. Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece had become infamous in the UK again by word of mouth and along with The momentum of The Exorcist was making the public’s ears prick up and eyes grow wide in notice. Texas Chain saw Massacre became a super 8 and 16mm projector phenomena shortly afterwards if memory serves, sometime between 1976 & 78′. If you was lucky enough to own or have friends that had a projector and white wood chip covered walls, we were away, hoorah! This was how this very reviewer saw this terrifying film for the very first time. It was a life changer, literally? (A double bill at a friends home of T.C.M. And Jeff Lieberman’s 1976 cult horror classic ‘Squirm.’) Which for a child was absolutely not recommended. Nightmares a plenty but in hindsight worth every uncomfortable night until well into my early teens.
Previous to this onslaught I had been both a child doing the usual kiddie things and a fan of both America’s Universal pictures and more so Hammer’s home grown films. (Before I reached double figures in age I had a disturbing Christopher Lee poster on my bedroom wall, he as the ‘Count’). The scene was from ‘Dracula as Risen from the Grave’, 1968. It was a bloody, gory picture, a fold out Hammer magazine come poster that presented articles and official pictures of Hammer productions. Scary yes, but it was also a sentinel that made an impression and a talking point for disquiet parents, adult family members and friends alike.
Sadly for Kronos, comparisons of what defined a genre movie where changed irreversibly and forever when seeing what I was to witness as compared to say a film that had the hallmark of Hammer, I sadly fell at the altar of wanting the more extreme. Even for a child times were a changing, as were tastes.
The brutal onslaught that know child should have truly experienced or endured with Tobe Hooper’s T.T.C.M. all this came before and prior to the video boom remember. This moment did not also change my whole outlook towards the horror genre and what to expect in future but the viewing of this true extreme in horror, ‘irreparably’ scarred me for life and with it my childhood innocence had been tarnished, it went further and shaped my terrified imagination forever. May I also add at this point that both my parents and teenage friends were not responsible for me viewing such an extreme film. It was down to my allegiance and friendship with elder friends that permitted me to enter this terrifying new world. It was almost a right of passage that I could not easily refuse. I was never forced, I indeed pestered my elder friends into eventual submission ( little Eza, you’re a pain in the arse, do you know that?) I wanted, craved this terror. I could have walked away at any time, I just simply chose not too. Nightmares yes. Scared witless, yes but at that time it felt like a fairground ride that though terrifying, you had to ride at any cost. Naivety of childhood and that fearless endeavour to impress and behave like many of my elder teenage friends pushed me into a world more extreme than even Kronos would or could offer me when I eventually saw Kronos for the first time on television many years later. Even for me after such trauma the whole Hammer formula now seemed mild by terrifying comparison to let us say, Hooper’s effort. I also must add that Tobe Hooper would also have another horrifying but spectacular impact on my horror regime not long after? (Salem’s Lot, 1979.) Even as a pre-pubescent child close too starting my secondary school life, that second awkward part of life, nothing but nothing had warned me of how my taste for horror would change so dramatically and with the video age close on the horizon, how great my appetite would become.
Hammer in general terms had by this time become so much yesterdays news. The future was more extreme more a challenge, being scared needed to be fed by outsiders other than my main diet of ‘Universal’ with their black and white monsters and Hammer’s wonderful stories of monsters and mayhem that had fed my imagination until that point, my love for them was still unconditional but my emotions where now shifted and I wanted to seek out more terrifying and blood soaked demons the likes of Leatherface, or natures killer worms and one of the greatest moments in my life came when I was allowed to legally go to the cinema in 1975 to watch a little known movie about a man eating shark (what was that film called again?) These films had become the horror diet I now coveted.
Hammer films had been warned of impending change but had either chose to stand steadfast or had committed movie production suicide by doing absolutely nothing. Hammer had been and were largely based on stories of historical folklore, traditional costume drama with a touch of blood and bosom thrown in for greater measure, it had been a hard habit to break and eventually it would cost them everything. Not even Hammers glorious back catalogue from humble Sci-Fi beginning’s had been tapped for possible new and future material. They had lost the ground they had so staunchly created and protected for close on three decades. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee though stoic and loyal as the familiar faces of this great British institution, recognisable throughout the world could not save this ‘Hammer’ creature from the death-throws of change that in truth was both needed and warranted and as much as it hurt not just the older more traditional fans of the horror genre and now a certain Mancunian child, scared witless yes but happy of being offered his delightful alternative terror elsewhere, there was now something waiting just beyond the gates of a film like Kronos to those who had been offered a glimpse into the future of horror and despite my age and the subsequent nightmares withstanding, I wanted it. The traditional fair of Hammer and sadly their attempts to consider franchise and comic book aspirations with Kronos had come all too late and no longer suited the cinema goers tastes. Friedkin and Hooper in creating their movie monsters took the movie world, in particular the horror genre to a whole new plateau, they had upped the stakes significantly, psychologically and irreparably. These two extraordinary movie events now wanted to banish the realm of fantasy/folklore as a form of horror entertainment and instead replace it with doses of unadulterated violent, cruel reality instead. The film-makers of America in particular were no longer restricted in what they could present as horror entertainment they now wanted to attack the very senses of the film going public with theories of supernatural psychosis and alleged possession by casting wondering eyes upon the controversy that surrounded one of religions darkest secrets, an acknowledgement of religions approach regarding the secretive and taboo subject of possession as dealt with by the Catholic Church in particular and so explicitly depicted in William Peter Blatty’s best selling novel and then visually by Freidkin’s frightening movie version of Blatty’s The Exorcist. Meanwhile closer to home and with none religious undertones but with a more political and social fervour came the reality shock that the age of the hippie movement, like Hammer films were having to walk that long and winding road of inevitability. Everything that both entities had once come to represent was actually over. In the case of the hippie movement with its original ethos of “love and peace, make love not war” mantra had instead now gained a stigma and notoriety now considered a lifestyle more synonymous with the violent hatred it once seemed to protest against. The Hippie tag itself now formed a dark association with the infamous ‘Helter Skelter’ Charles Manson murders and never recovered as the late 60’s experienced such homemade horror as well as a costly war the world now openly watched on television and the 70’s became the new decade. Add to this feeling of fear and political paranoia and great unease that gripped the American public in particular and the intensifying war in Vietnam, a conflict which was now overwhelming the American Populous and rupturing cultural boundaries young and old alike and the result was a melting pot for more subversive cinema and the inevitable creation of a horror chasm that opened wide and swallowed up Hammer and others and devoured their corpses ‘like Romero’s zombies’ had warned of in 1968.
A great divide between the earlier made ‘Kronos’ and it’s more uncomfortable, more controversial cinematic cousins from across the Atlantic became glaringly obvious too all and that there was only going to be one winner of which both Kronos the movie and Hammer the production company now seemed overwhelmed, even doomed! The social fall out and political climate that was gripping the States and being viewed nightly on televisions sets all around the world was a continued visual onslaught of demonstrations on university campuses in the US and daily visions of the Vietnam war (the first televised war?) which showed brutal imagery that was becoming commonplace and soon the veracity of what the world was seeing was certain to be let loose upon cinema and its makers in graphic nightmare visions from a new breed of directors ready to deal with aspects of chaos and cultural breakdown as is so graphically exposed in Hooper’s offering The Texas Chain saw Massacre and Friedkin’s The Exorcist and not even the swashbuckling antics of the hero of the hour, one Captain Kronos could save both himself and the actual movie now.
The vampires that surrounded our fictional character Captain Kronos of which he had battled against so fervently were no longer his only nemesis the new reality was Kronos and the film itself where in fact fighting the real monster of massive worldwide cultural change which now roamed outside of the films celluloid confines, there was simply at this time no longer a place for relying on historical pieces initially based on the likes of Stoker, Shelley, Lovecraft, Le Fanu and Poe who had given us a glamorous past largely based on their invention and the creative writing of their wonderful make believe monsters. Hammer costume drama in the massive world change of the 1970’s era into which it had arrived, put simply landed heavily in a time zone which had surely thrown this wonderful piece of movie magic into a more competitive and fearsome film market that took no prisoners. The changing attitudes of a aggressive, more progressive decade was now in full swing and had given this film no steady platform in which to state its case and its own internal change of attitude. If you put to one side for a moment the movies that had made the task of success for this film impossible then it may be possible to see the movies own individual benefits. The film itself does indeed take a new and refreshing approach and it too is more progressive in its presentation and comic book style approach, as say the old Hammer themes and visions of vampire myths and monsters of the past. Indeed a scene in the movie in which both Kronos and his faithful sidekick Grost try to dispatch a close personal friend of the Captain who has been bitten by a vampire during the movies storyline follow all known traditional methods of killing the vampire but seem no longer applicable and no longer work upon Kronos’s suffering friend. It is only through pure accident and an assortment of tried and traditional tested methods of dispatch do they clumsily stumble upon how to give everlasting piece to their stricken comrade. This moment in the film is a poignant one and seems to even suggest overtly or accidentally as is the probable case that this was a new breed of vampire more concerned with extracting an eternal youthful life-force rather than the vampires usual nature of the need to feed on blood for sustenance and in this case the vampiric foe in the story though on first inspection seems your normal standard run of the mill bloodsucker, it soon transpires that the protagonist here in are equally concerned with eternal youthfulness rather than just eternal life, it is more about keeping up appearances rather than a past down traditional bloodline perhaps? though this premise new and old alike are still valid and important to the piece. The fight of the eternal problem of the ageing process is however it seems foremost, therefore keeping the appearance of said youthful ambiguity becomes all consuming. Making this point in its dysfunctional villain(s) probable necessity may even suggest another mirroring of events and the obsession that now lay outside the movie regarding vanity for a new cosmetic surgery age. No longer was it just important to find the secret of an immortality but it was viewed in general that the real world itself was becoming more hedonistic and constantly went in search for physical perfection and the extension of life itself. Perhaps in retrospect this Hammer film already knew it was farewell to the usual winning formula that had once been part of Hammer’s past glories, we were indeed finally waving goodbye to the standard vampire of old mythology perhaps. This film announced, even created what years later would become a relationship between vampire hunters and their vampiric foes, a new regime of adversary, a set destiny for those that would be chosen then taught to learn the ways of tackling the savagery and domination scratching at the very underbelly of a new and more sophisticated vampire culture which would appear in many more updated themes decades later with little difference in framework and storyline; I would also suggest this films unique approach to the strong characterisation of our almost freakish, extrovert heroes and villains alike would be given great homage in later years with the re-emergence of films based on comic book vampire killers/hunters. Kronos for me was the natural pre-cursor to some of the genres future reinvention. Buffy, Blade and Underworld are metaphorically Kronos bastardised offspring.
Artwork for Hammer Films DVD booklet EMI
Brian Clemens, who wrote and for the first and only time directed in the film medium, had previously worked with Hammer productions as a writer and producer only; note the wonderful Roy Ward Baker, directed 1971, classic Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde. (magnificence personified!) Previous to directing ‘Kronos’, Clemens had been heavily involved with television production notably writing the original pilot episode of The Avengers, later going on to become the script editor, associate producer and main script writer of the series. He also later became involved with The New Avengers project which his own TV Production company Co-produced. Clemens was also the executive producer behind a T.C.M.R. all time favourite TV series, The Professionals 1977 – 1983.
Brian Clemens cast the Starring role of Kronos to a German actor named Horst Janson, who had been relatively unknown to UK audience’s prior to his appearance in British movies, The McKenzie Break 1970, in which Ian Hendry who plays Kerro in ‘Kronos’ also featured. More notably a year later (Janson) featured as a German U-boat Captain in Peter Yates, Murphy’s War 1971, which starred Peter O’Toole. In the same year (Janson) also appeared in a episode of the popular British TV drama Upstairs, Downstairs as German Baron – Klaus Von Rimmer. The popular tall blond German actor by this time was very well established and respected back in his homeland. Horst Janson is perfectly cast as Captain Kronos an Imperial Guard and veteran of countless wars? He is now a reputed vampire hunter who returns home after receiving a distress call (no… not the phone Ed?) from an old associate Dr Marcus, (John Carson) A renowned British actor and familiar face in previous Hammer production outings, The Plague Of The Zombies, 1966 and Taste The Blood Of Dracula, 1970. He had also appeared in Clemens, The Avengers and an episode of The Professionals. Dr Marcus (Carson) has growing concern regarding the demise of young villagers many of whom are quite literally having their very lives sucked from them by a vampiric source. The good doctor is however a man of medicine and therefore such nonsense does not exist?
From the films opening scene when we witness two peasant girls having an idyllic time in the woods near the local village. The topic of vanity is foremost in their exchanges. A hooded Grim Reaper type character appears and the would be victims become consumed by a sudden hypnotic passion toward the figure. One of the girls offers a smile and then a kiss for this stranger. The hooded character steps back, blood is revealed upon the lips of the first victim of the film. The scene cuts to a man on horseback, this being none other than Dr Marcus who spots a standing, statuesque figure just looking onward in a trance like state. He dismounts his horse in an attempt to communicate with the girl before directing his glance toward a distant figure lent against a tree. He approaches a second female by the dry river bank and as the figure looks upward toward him he witnesses a withered lifeless person who only moments earlier had been the very picture of blossoming youthfulness. The aftermath of what is clearly a monstrous menace leaves the doctor in total disbelief. The scene of devastation cuts away and the credits begin with the anthemic title music of Laurie Johnson, long time associate of Clemens. In big red capital letters the films opening title announces the title character, CAPTAIN KRONOS – VAMPIRE HUNTER, who even has his own K insignia that appears emblazoned along side the title shot, like a sports emblem for the modern day consumerist.
Travelling on a beautiful black horse is our vampire hunter Kronos; In tow and following not far behind in loyal fortitude on cart and horse his faithful hunchback companion Professor Hieronymus Grost (John Cater) who gives the finest performance of the film, this despite the many fascinating characters, Grost quickly becomes the very backbone of the movie, almost the unsung hero if you will. They travel East through a green and pleasant land (not specified) and during this time they stumble upon a raven haired girl who as been placed in the stocks, her crime, “she had danced on a Sunday!”
she announces to the soldier on horseback. This beautiful sight is the character Carla, played by the stunning Caroline Munro. (One of my little claims to fame I have met her, no…really, I have!) She had previously featured in the Hammer outing, Dracula AD 1972, alongside both movie and Hammer icons Christopher Lee and the late great Peter Cushing reprising their regular roles as Dracula and Van Helsing respectively. Munro also worked on a previous occasion with (Cater) in the Vincent Price lead horror masterpiece The Abominable Dr Phibes 1971. And also featured a year later in Dr Phibes Rises Again 1972, uncredited. Caroline Munro’s rise to stardom originated via the ‘Lambs Navy Rum’ advertising campaign when she modelled for and became the familiar face of what was then their famous and iconic advertising campaign. Carla is freed and joins Kronos and Grost in their crusade to rid the world of vampires. Isabella Sorell (Susanna East) is gathered with her family who are celebrating what is her seventeenth Birthday and as a birthday gift she as been given a silver bracelet from the family. Excited by her gift she asks her Fathers permission to visit a friend and show off her present. During this journey the hooded figure pursues her. A sign of his menacing presence is wonderfully illustrated. The girl passes by some flowers in summer bloom followed seconds later by the cloaked figure. As this spectre passes by the flowers they immediately wither and die. Within the blink of an eye Isabella is suddenly confronted by the stalking figure and becomes mesmerised..her fate sealed.
The vampire hunters finally arrive at the home of long time friend and associate Dr Marcus who explains the effects of a strange phenomenon sweeping the village and explains his reasons for why he as requested the services of his old friend Kronos who may be able to provide his expertise. The conversation that insures between the vampire hunters and Marcus breathes life into the exchange of dialogue that informs the Marcus character that he is probably dealing with vampirism, as a doctor of medicine Marcus finds their suggestion hard to comprehend. Grost is quoted in saying to the sceptical Marcus,
“you see doctor there are as many species of vampire as there are beasts of prey. Their methods and their motives for attack can vary in a hundred different ways?” too which Kronos replies, “As are the methods of their destruction?” The dialogue throughout the film though simplified most of the time, is on occasion backed up by some considered context which at times is strangely funny indeed. Take the moment when Kronos replies to a question regarding Grost and his vast knowledge on the subject of vampires. “What he doesn’t know about vampirism wouldn’t fill a flea’s codpiece?” What?
The tongue in cheek humour also adds a segway before the more dramatic events begin to unfold, indeed the often strange one-liners, figurative quotes and tongue-in-cheek dialogue at times offer a skewed, unfathomable dimensional aspect to the often bizarre characterisations which helps build on an a hidden emotion, which is often heavily noted when Grost speaks his mind. Cater who must have revelled in his on screen persona while performing this delicate, sensitive, though dark character, is noted for his physical infliction, a deformity which in one scene causes mockery, a mockery that ultimately strengthens the close on screen allegiance between Kronos and Grost. In one moment during the film there is a genuine heart felt scene of great respect and friendship between the two men in which Cater as Grost delivers his lines with heart, soul and a purpose that as I mentioned earlier helps Cater steal the whole show, his depiction of Grost perfectly describing a character polar opposite to Janson’s on screen presence and machismo.
It is during the duration of the film we see a mixture of standard Hammer culture indulgence of the regular and traditional good versus evil scenario while adding for good measure a film which hints toward a more twisted, darker side to our would-be hero which when added to the mix of drama more overtly increases the strange, cartoonish swashbuckling element that the Kronos character brings; the end result seems to offer a cocktail of deeply scarred, damaged characters together, doing so with great gusto. Using their combined knowledge both Kronos and Grost go in search of the source of the alleged vampirism that is seemingly tormenting and damning the townsfolk. In their quest, not only does their presence bring great unease to those that become suspect but it also brings trepidation and fear to the very townsfolk that both the Captain and Grost are trying to help and protect, many of the locals becoming very suspicious in regard of the two strangers in their midst. The vampire hunters very presence seemingly provokes an immediate unfounded antagonism.
Shortly after the arrival of the vampire hunters, we soon have another victim attacked by the alleged vamperic phenomenon. Vanda Sorell (Lisa Collings) is visiting the grave of her recently departed Sister. She seeks solace from her belief in the doctrination of the church which allows her to offer up a prayer for the recently departed victim while blissfully unaware of a lurking presence! This presence comes in the form of a watchful bat which hangs above her on a tall grave stone in the form of a crucifix; the creature seemingly observing her. Vanda enters the sanctity of the local church for the comfort of its religious confines, a safe haven, a sacred hallowed ground you would imagine! The attack that follows soon after is given a darkened twist and through a sudden omnipresent spectral visual presence the mood changes alarmingly as blood is spilt within the church? The church bells begin to ring out, though not in ceremony but rather notifying both the parish locals and the visiting Kronos that something terrible may be afoot. Using visual shadowplay to imply a demonic presence the shadowy visual upon the wall of the church of the a melting crucifix offers up the devilish thought of something unseen and unholy is physically stalking the peasant girl actually inside the church becomes a visual metaphor rather than a graphic depiction. The spilling of the red wine across the white covered church altar instantly becomes a representation of the obvious spilling of blood anlong with the summation that this local supernatural plague upon the village obviously cares little for religious convention and cast a blasphemous doubt regarding the actual sanctity and safety of what is after all defined as sacred and holy ground within the shelter and sanctuary of the church. This very act of sacrilege is very well en-grained on the soul and makes a clear stepping over the line of what in the past as been a traditional safe haven whose barrier as now been broken and finally announces that there is no longer a safe place to hide for the villagers and even their faith of church will not stop such monsters from invasion or desecration. This particular scene was shot before the sacrilegious scene that later appeared in The Exorcist (church scene), unfortunately this particular scene in ‘Kronos’ again loses its dark shadowy and edgy inference in its disturbing anti religious moment, only because of Friedkin’s uncompromising directorial onslaught. The ‘Kronos’ blasphemy scene is none the less still a powerful moment and retains a certain sinister angle that though not nearly as graphic as the scene in The Exorcist is still a chilling statement of intent in an otherwise tongue in cheek movie and by far the darkest moment in the film, not including the finale of course.
In the second part of the story we are introduced to the Durward family via a chance meeting between Dr Marcus and Paul Durward (Shane Briant) son of the late Hagen 9th lord of Durward as he places a wreath upon his late fathers grave in remembrance and anniversary of his passing, the inscription written upon the large grave stone claims in know uncertain terms. ‘Greatest swordsman of his time. His sword now sleeps.’ The conversation that follows between Marcus and Paul Durward unravels an underline tragedy that the past as obviously made the Durward’s quite bitter toward the Dr Marcus character. The feeling of the Durward’s is that the good doctor his somehow responsible for the demise of Hagen, Marcus having treated his lordship during illness, an illness that eventually cost Hagan his life, all this despite Marcus believing he did everything within his capacity as Hagen’s physician, his accountability rightly or wrongly is plain too see by the Durward family and none more so than Lady Durward (Wanda Ventham: real life mother of Benedict Cumberbatch!) the wife of the late 9th lord who awaits upon her son in the carriage and it is at this point that Marcus again tries to approach Lady Durward and speak with her directly. The Durward’s footman Barlow (Perry Soblosky) repels any advances by Marcus. It is at this point that we become suspect of the Durward’s and is it possible that they have dark secrets to hide. In the meantime the vampire hunters take steps to track down the source of the vampire plague. Traditional traps are set, more in identifying rather than initial capture. The genius of identifying a vampires spirit and how we may acknowledge their unscrupulous presence is quite a traditional concept and again harps back to folklore and old wives tales. Both Grost and Carla begin setting the traps by using red ribbon and bells, or placing dead toads in wooden boxes and then burying them underground so they may acclimate or suggest that if anything of a supernatural nature should pass over the extinct amphibian, it will awaken it from its dead state and re-animate the toad back to life. A tale which is later recited by the good Captain himself ‘wait for it?’ “If a vampire should bestrode, close to the grave of a dead toad. Then the vampire life shall give, and suddenly the toad shall live”.
Truly wonderful stuff. With traps now set and the hunters on full alert they wait patiently. As another victim is stalked by the grim reaper figure, this attack takes place close by the location of the vampire hunters who are quickly upon the incident as it unfolds. During their subsequent investigation Kronos checks out the site of the buried toads and discovers that contained within one of the recovered boxes is indeed a live toad, thus indicating that this indeed confirms their theory that a vampire is indeed at work in and amongst the community. Kronos and Grost grow in their suspicions of the Durward family whom they feel may be hiding a dark secret that connects them with events that are occurring. It is during Dr Marcus separate investigation and unbeknown to his friend Kronos that he has withheld his own suspicions and takes it upon himself to visit the Durward mansion. During this meeting he gains little from both Paul (Briant) and Sara Durward (Lois Dane) Daughter of the late Lord Hagan and Lady Durward, other than a healthier suspicion that they are indeed somehow connected indirectly or otherwise with local events, Marcus finally leaving their company with this notion now firmly fixed in his mind. It is on his journey back home that he personally that he may be being stalked and pursued by someone or something? Within the blink of an eye Marcus becomes overwhelmed by a sudden loss of time, as all around him time itself seems to stand still briefly! When he is finally released from his imposed hypnotic trance he becomes suddenly disorientated, a drop of blood falls from his lips? Confused and filled with a sudden dread he suspects that he may have indeed become a direct victim of a vampire curse. In other events Barlow, loyal footman and servant to the Durward’s pays barfly and local bully and mercenary swordsman Kerro, ( Ian Hendry) and his two cronies, to force a confrontation with Kronos when they eventually meet. The Inn confrontation in which both Kronos and his faithful companion Grost who his ridiculed for his hunchback deformity or “crook-back” as Kerro is antagonistically fervent to point out, is the moment both he and his crude sidekicks face Kronos. This is undoubtedly one of the great moments in the film. The initial exchanging of pleasantries – (Unpleasant) underlines what is a gradual build up of tension before the final bar room incident which is very quickly dealt with! The said tension is quite literally cut with a blade, not at all graphic but just the inference of the incidents timing and speed deals with this confrontation in an almost superhuman, Samurai-esque cliché. The conclusion of this scene is left lay slain upon the Inn’s wood floor, Kronos left in no doubt that the men where paid to kill both him and Grost, quickly leading him to the conclusion that the net upon his foes is indeed closing in.
Kronos, Marcus, Grost and Carla journey into the forest and set up their usual traps in hope they may be quicker in catching their quarry in the act. However it is during their surveillance that yet another event takes place and again are quickly upon the scene but unfortunately are foiled yet again as the killer escapes them and for the first time Kronos begins to question the reliability of his good friend Dr Marcus, who turns up after the search in a rather dishevelled state. Kronos at this stage still unaware that Marcus may indeed be cursed by an earlier event.
During a period of deep reflection Kronos reveals to Carla a darker more sinister side as a direct consequence of his behaviour toward her. This instigates a confessional of his saddened past and he having to commit both Matricide (the killing of his mother) and Sororicide (the killing of ones sister) because they had become victims of a vampire during his time away fighting in some war.
This piece of past history is the spur to which we discover Kronos became the crusader of his cause and why he now dedicates himself to the quest of hunting vampires.
Dr Marcus in the mean time begins to question his own sanity and has to whether he may have become the victim of vampirism. It is during a moment of mirrored reflection and a sudden realisation which consumes him that he hastily calls upon his friend Kronos to dispatch him and prevent him from becoming the monster he fears he may indeed now be. This moment in the film is the bitter catalyst that sparks great fury in Kronos and will prepare him to do battle with whatever or whomever his foe(s) may be. Grost is set to work upon forging and manufacturing a new sword for Kronos, a weapon worthy of dispatching the vampiric challenge when it finally happens. After surmising that the Durward family are prime suspects as all clues though faint, do now lead directly to them, Kronos sets what he hopes will be the final trap in capturing and finally killing the vampire curse that as taken many of the townsfolk and now his good friend.
Sadly the vampire strikes again but this time Kronos is immediately upon the scene and witnesses at first hand the aftermath of the carnage and is quick to track down and identify the culprit. Kronos and Grost set up their most elaborate trap, Carla offering to be the bait, Kronos reluctantly agrees. The ending that follows has a wonderful twist in the tale which if you have not yet seen the film I will not reveal, only to add that not all is what it seems and even the brother and sister Durward in their pomposity are shocked at the resulting conclusion. The ending of the movie involves swordsmanship and therefore would not be complete without a duel between the risen dead and Captain Kronos with his new sword forged with the steel and blessing of God? Add to this the revelation regarding Lady Durward (Wanda Ventham)…or is that Karnstein? and what you have here is a piece of movie magic almost Operatic in its finale, a finale of love and betrayal, lies and deceit which are pleasurably unravelled and finally cement all the films melodrama together. Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter is still a wonderful and much underrated far fetched piece of horror hokum and though mild by many horror comparisons with many of the more lets say extreme movies mentioned earlier in the review, this movie still delivers a great satisfaction quota and is without doubt not only a fine Hammer production but now a much loved cult classic and a personal favourite. The pleasure of such films is in the eyes of the beholder and I for one will never grow tired of this wonderful and engaging Hammer film.
Did you know that William Hobbs who played Hagen 9th Lord of Durward was also the films fight arranger during the sword fighting set pieces which may have something to do with the fact that he was a fight choreographer and became renowned worldwide for his subsequent and famous choreography work. His work became more prevalent in Ridley Scott’s wonderful movie directorial debut The Duellists, 1977, Richard Lester’s Musketeer movies, 73-74. He also worked on the 1980 version of Flash Gordon as Bill Hobbs. He also worked on Terry Gilliam’s wonderful Brazil 1985, (the famous Samurai scene.) The list is endless but his current work is on HBO’s, Sky Atlantic, production ‘Game of Thrones’ which began filming as he entered his 70’s, Amazing? The voice of Captain Kronos was re-edited despite Clemens being happy with Horst Janson’s dulcet tones. During the editing process of the film the voice of Kronos was indeed that of actor and voice over regular Julian Holloway, you wouldn’t guess however at any time Janson’s voice is dubbed because of the superb editing skills used in this production. E.D. Leach.