Sunday, July 27, 2014

CAPTAIN KRONOS, VAMPIRE HUNTER (Brian Clemens, 1972)


The swashbuckling hero Kronos and his affable and intelligent hunchback companion Grost are called to a small rural community to solve a series of mysterious murders. They discover a gruesome attribute as the victims were not just murdered but had their vitality literally sucked from their bodies with a spot of congealing blood upon their lips. With the help of Dr. Marcus and the sultry Carla they finally confront the living dead.
Director Brian Clemens helms one of the last great Hammer films with visual flourish, turning a simple vampiric “whodunit” into a Technicolor spectacle haunted by dark shadows. The film opens with a close-up of a silver cross upon the breast of a beautiful young lady. She’s sitting under a tree primping herself in a handheld mirror as her friend stands nearby. Clemens shoots over the shoulder of the sitting girl to catch the reflection of her friend in the mirror as they talk; a stylistic signature that he will use throughout the film. As the friend runs off to collect flowers Clemens gives us a strange POV shot that moves slowly toward the sitting girl. We suddenly see over the girl’s shoulder and into the mirror; this time, we see a reflection of a dark cloaked figure. Her look of horror slowly turns into one of longing as she reaches towards the figure in a loving embrace. The mirror now discarded shows the reflection of the dark figure picking her up. Clemens pulls focus from the mirror’s image slightly to show blood dripping upon its clear surface. Her friend stands dazed as a rider (Dr. Marcus coincidently) stops and calls out. As he approaches the standing girl Clemens begins the shot at her feet and slowly rises to eye level; we see her staring as if mesmerized towards her friend who is seemingly just sitting under the tree as before. Clemens gives us another tracking POV shot matching the first but this time it belongs to Dr. Marcus. In one shot the POV tracks towards the girl as everything seems normal until she turns her head to the right and stares directly into the camera: she is now a violently aged woman with blood upon her lips. We get the Doctor’s reaction shot then jump into the opening credits. It’s a very good stylish opening that catapults us into the story. Clemens will continue to use reflections, POV shots, and long takes to engage the audience in an otherwise straightforward plot.
The acting is competent without being over-the-top or campy which plagues some of the contemporaneous Hammer films of the 1970s. Horst Janson plays the titular character with aplomb and level-headedness while his cohort imbues the hunchback companion with a learned dignity, Watson to Janson’s Holmes. Caroline Munro regrettably is nothing more than window dressing and hardly speaks at all. It’s a shame that Kronos doesn’t even offer her a change of clothes as she wears the same ragged dress the entire film.
The most impressing scenes are the sword fights. The first one is too quick to be seen; just two slashes, blood spattered upon the wall and then three men fall dead. The second happens in a grave yard during the daytime as a group of villagers seek to avenge Dr. Marcus’ death. Clemens frames this fight mostly in medium close-up as Kronos swirls and jabs, knocking the villagers down without killing them. Though Clemens doesn’t resort to quick cuts (haha) he angles the camera enough to create the illusion of actual swordplay. However, the final confrontation is excellent as Kronos and the villain stab and kicks each other in long shots which makes each leap and slash much more realistic. It’s an epic battle as it seems obvious that the actors are actually doing the fighting! Clemens only resorts to close-ups of injury and bloodletting and lets the action hold in these long takes with minimal editing.
Captain Kronos ends in atypical fashion. Most Hammer films end immediately after the denouement but here we get a brief coda as Kronos bids farewell to his lovely maid Carla. He and Grot then ride off to hunt down evil wherever it may rise. Unfortunately, this film never spawned a sequel or series and remains Captain Kronos’ only adventure.  
Final Grade: (B)

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