The conventional wisdom is that the 70s was a period of decline for Hammer Films. This was certainly true in a financial sense, as a series of poor business decisions eventually doomed the studio. It was certainly not true in a qualitative sense though, and Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter (made in 1972 but not released until 1974) provides further evidence of just how good some of their movies of this era are. Brian Clemens, one of the best British television writers of the 60s and 70s (in fact arguably one of the best British television writers ever) was brought in as writer and director. It’s the only film he ever directed, which is surprising because he did an excellent and extremely professional job– it’s visually interesting, well-paced and consistently entertaining. It’s also very unconventional for a Hammer film. At this time Hammer were trying to breathe new life into the gothic horror genre with interesting and slightly off-beat entries like Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (also written by Brian Clemens), and Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter overturns all the established clichés of the studio’s previous vampire flicks – it has vampires that drain their victims of their youth rather than their blood, vampires that need to be killed in different ways, and vampires that are unworried by sunlight. It also adds some of the flavour of other movie genres, and was clearly influenced by both Japanese samurai movies and Italian spaghetti westerns. Interestingly enough, it also seems to have itself been a major influence on the much later (and absolutely superb) Japanese anime horror movie Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust.
Captain Kronos is an Austrian officer turned professional vampire hunter. When a number of young women are found horribly and inexplicably aged he and his partner, the hunch-backed Professor Hieronymos Grost, are called in. They immediately suspect vampiric activity, and along with a beautiful young gypsy woman they picked up along the way (Captain Kronos seem to have a bit of an eye for the ladies) they set out to uncover the mystery and find a way to slay the undead fiends. Horst Janson is moody but charismatic as Kronos, Caroline Munro is more than competent in the role of the gypsy girl Carla, and John Cater is delightful as Grost – although he’s a hunchback he is not a figure of fun, and is both highly knowledgeable in vampire lore and an active and very useful partner to Kronos. Lois Daine is suitably enigmatic and slightly disturbing as the daughter of the noble but slightly disturbing Durward family and Ian Hendry is fun in a small role. With Clemems showing plenty of flair in both the writing and directing departments this is really a great little film that deserved more commercial success. It’s possible that the one weakness of the movie, undoubtedly because of Clemens’ television background, is that it probably needed a bit more sex - by the standards of other contemporary Hammer movies it’s rather tame in this area which may have hurt it a little at the box office. Overall though it’s a movie I recommend very highly.