Having already swam in rather innovative waters with DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE, the team of Brian Clemens and producer Albert Fennell (of TV's The Avengers fame) were again recruited by Hammer Films for a rather progressive undertaking. Clemens' creation of the character Captain Kronos was hoping to revitalize the company's vampire genre and at the same time generate a new series of films (rumors of a TV series also surfaced). But nothing could prevent the decline of Hammer, and CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER was box office doom due to poor distribution in the U.K. and lack of attention on its U.S. double-billing with FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL. It didn't help that the film sat on the shelf for a full two years after it was made.
Captain Kronos (played smoothly by German actor Horst Janson) is a 19th century war hero traveling across Europe with his brainy hunchback sidekick Professor Grost (John Cater from the "Dr. Phibes" films). Self-proclaimed vampire hunters, the duo befriend the wayward gypsy girl Carla (the stunning Caroline Munro) as they travel to the town of Kronos' old army pal Dr. Marcus (John Carson). The recent deaths of young girls--bitten on the lips by a hooded stranger and dying suddenly as aged women--are the reason for the visit, as Kronos confronts evil with sword in hand and Grost uses his vast knowledge of the subject to find answers. All evidence leans towards the Durwards, an aristocratic family amid a peasant village. The arrogant children (Shane Briant and Lois Daine) and their ambiguous mother (Wanda Ventham) prove mysterious indeed, but Kronos and his companions have their homework cut out for them before they discovery the true vampiric culprit(s).
Filmed mostly outdoors (the perpetually scenic Black Park location) with the usual budget constraints, CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER is by far Hammer's most unconventional and original vampire film. Directing for the first and only time to date, Brian Clemens' adds new twists and folklore to the proceedings, and the concept of a suave, swashbuckling vampire hunter allows for themes reminiscent of Westerns and even Japanese Samurai cinema. Don't let the R-rating (probably only given it to balance its gory co-feature) and the early 70s production date fool you: KRONOS ignores the bare bosoms and excessive bloodshed in favor of comic-style story telling, quirky dialog and eccentric characters. A very good cast nourishes these traits, and there's a memorable "guest star" shot by the late Ian Hendry as the lecherous Kerro. Although Captain Kronos never returned to the big or small screens, he did make a few illustrated appearances in the House of Hammer magazine in the late 70s.
A title that has been on demand (even by non Hammer diehards) for some time, Paramount has released CAPTAIN KRONOS on DVD in an anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer, preserving the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Newly struck from the original materials, image detail is fairly sharp, with colors (although drab in some scenes) usually coming across as bright and vibrant. Black levels are deep and well defined, and fleshtones appear natural. Nothing drastic in the form of excessive grain or blemishes: this is an excellent, fresh-looking transfer of a 30-year-old film. The English mono audio is sufficient. Dialogue is clear and Laurie Johnson's vigorous score sounds full. Optional English subtitles are also included.
Although there's no trailer or other standard supplements, Paramount has thankfully included a commentary with director/co-producer/writer Clemens and star Munro, moderated by journalist Jonathan Sothcott. Recorded in England, the commentary benefits from Clemens' obvious enthusiasm for the project and the lead character he created (he still holds the rights to it). Clemens (who still owns the original Kronos "K" finger ring) is obviously proud of his accomplishment here, as he relays the kind of film he wanted to make as opposed to the usual Hammer outing, how he came to cast Horst Janson, the locations and sets, etc. The always charming Munro fondly recalls her first leading lady role, and obvious holds great affection for the film as well. Sothcott chimes in with good questions that will satiate Hammer fans, and the running conversation makes for a worthy look back at one of the company's later day glories. (George R. Reis)
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