APRIL 23, 2012
Not long after I watch one of the most disappointing efforts in the Hammer canon (To The Devil A Daughter), I stumble across one of their most surprisingly enjoyable. Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter has a goofy title and none of their usual players, so I wasn’t expecting much, but it’s actually one of their best vampire movies, and a must-see for any vamp OR Hammer enthusiast.
A big draw is that it’s actually kind of a procedural mystery; there’s a vampire sucking the youth out of locals and Kronos is called in to figure out who or what is doing it. The mystery works well, giving a few options for the main villain’s identity, and Kronos makes for an enjoyable hero not unlike Robert Downey Jr’s turn as Sherlock Holmes – part asskicker, part detective. It almost feels like an adventure movie at times, as Kronos is quick with a sword and enjoys fighting a few guys at once, but there's enough vampire action and scares to keep it rooted in horror. It’s a tough balancing act to pull off, but writer/director Brian Clemens does a fine job where many others have stumbled.
It also offers lots and lots of “Hammer Glamour”. Caroline Munro alone would be enough eye candy for any warm-blooded male, but the rest of the ladies are quite lovely as well – a pity the plot demands that they turn into old crones and/or dust, sometimes only moments after their introduction. And it’s no dull affair for female viewers either – Horst Janson has got a bit of that romance novel hunk look to him (and awesome 70s hair!), which I’m sure was a bit more of a draw for the ladies than Peter Cushing at this time.
I also enjoyed Kronos’ partnership with John Cater as Grost, who aids him during fights and when trying to figure out the case. He also has a hunchback, which is pretty interesting – it’s a film where Renfield assists Van Helsing instead of Dracula. There’s a nice bit where some jerks at the pub are mocking him for his deformity, and Kronos doesn’t miss a beat as he defends his friend’s honor and then kills the shit out of all three of them in one swing of his blade. It’s a great little moment; a sword-based version of a pistol duel, where you get a lot of rising tension and closeups of handles and then BAM! It’s over.
It could have used some trimming, however. 91 minutes isn’t exactly a laborious runtime, but the story isn’t that complicated, and certain scenes seem to go on longer than necessary. The climactic sword fight in particular could have been cut in half – you know how it’s going to go, and they don’t really move around much (plus there was a more exciting one not too long before, giving it a touch of repetitiveness). Apparently they planned to make a Kronos franchise, so I can’t help but wonder now that it’s over if they were purposely holding back a bit figuring they would need to up the ante later. We don’t get to know too much about Kronos or Grost, and the movie even ends with them riding off to find another adventure. The movie’s poor box office performance killed any chance of a sequel, which is a pity.
But Hammer is back! I know they were talking about resurrecting the character back in 2010 (before Let Me In came out), and I hope that is still under consideration, especially now that they’ve finally had a huge hit with Woman In Black. I can’t think of a better property to revive; not only did he never get his chance back in the day (which should limit any fanboy whining), but there’s a bit of Van Helsing feel to this movie, and thus they have a chance to do that movie properly. I mean, that movie is a colossal piece of shit, but the idea was solid (and it too was supposed to be a franchise, oddly enough). A guy like Clive Owen or maybe Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington (if they wanted to go younger) could be great in the role, and with Sherlock Holmes doing so well it seems a no-brainer to fast track this potential franchise.
Until then, watch the original! Long as you can deal with the pace (which isn’t that much slower than any other Hammer film – it’s just that it could use some tightening, and also the action/adventure vibe it has probably makes it feel a bit slower than it is), you should find it quite enjoyable if you’re even a casual fan of vampire movies. And again, if you’re a Hammer aficionado I can’t possibly see you finding too much fault with this one.
What say you?