Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Brian Clemens Serves Up a Different Kind of Vampire Film with "Kronos"

Britain's Hammer Films dominated the horror genre from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s with its Gothic tales featuring Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein. However, its audience began to erode in the late 1960s as contemporary horror films, such as Night of the Living Dead (1968), staked their hold on the youth market. Hammer recognized that it needed to shake up its formula and hired Brian Clemens to write and direct a different kind of vampire film.

Clemens had earned a stellar reputation in British television as a writer for first-rate series such as Danger Man (aka Secret Agent) and The Avengers (he penned 32 episodes and produced many others). In an interview with The Monster Times, Clemens stated that he felt many of Hammer's movies had no heroes--the "monster" was the protagonist and the audience ended up rooting for the bad guy. His solution was to create a swashbuckling hero who hunted vampires--and thus Kronos was born.

German actor Horst Janson portrays Captain Kronos, a former member of the Imperial Guard, who travels Europe with Professor Grost (John Cater) with the sole mission of destroying the undead. His friend, Dr. Marcus (John Carson), summons him to the small village of Durward where several young women have mysteriously died...of old age.

The narrative itself is pretty straightforward. It's what Clemens and company does with it that makes Kronos so entertaining. This vampire doesn't drink blood, but drains the youth from its victims. Professor Grost explains that "there are as many species of vampires as there are beasts of prey." Grost also emphasizes that not all vampires can be destroyed with a wooden stake. That ultimately leads to a darkly humorous scene in which Kronos tries various methods of vampire destruction--stake, hanging, fire--trying to figure out which one will work on these particular vampires.

Clemens frames his shots to show that
evil surrounds innocence and good.
In his effort to dispense with vampire conventions, Clemens has his creature attack during the daylight. Most of the murders take place in a muted forest highlighted with pink, purple, and red flowers. Birds are chirping sweetly as a hooded figure enters the frame from behind the camera. Clearly, Clemens wants to show evil surrounding innocence--a motif he reinforces by frequently framing his shots with doorways, between trees, and even the mount of a cemetery bell.

Clemens embraces the folklore behind vampirism to the point of creating his own. The day after Grost buries a bunch of dead toads in the woods, Kronos digs them up. He explains his actions to Marcus by reciting this rhyme:
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.

Caroline Munro eyes Captain Kronos.
With his flowing blonde hair, the handsome Janson looks the part of a dashing vampire hunter--even if his thespian skills are merely adequate. But John Cater is perfect as his hunchbacked colleague Grost and John Carson provide solid support as Marcus. As a gypsy girl along for the ride, Caroline Munro has little to do besides act charming and look stunning (both of which she does well).

Composer Laurie Johnson, perhaps best known for his Avengers theme, composed the marvelous score. The title theme, which incorporates French horns accompanied by galloping strings, sets the mood immediately. With apologies to James Bernard, who did some fine work for Hammer, Kronos may be the best Hammer soundtrack.

It's clear from the closing scene that Clemens intended Kronos to the first in a series. Alas, that was not to be. Hammer provided lackluster support for the film and it failed at the boxoffice. In the U.S., it was released as Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter as the second half of a double bill with Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. In the meantime, Hammer experimented with other genres (e.g., contemporary action, martials arts and monsters) with little success. It ceased film production after 1976. Fortunately for Kronos, it developed a cult following and eventually earned a reputation as one of Hammer's finest.


  1. Another stellar review, Rick. I think KRONOS is one of the most underrated films I've ever seen. Clemens had proven himself with his TV writing (his AVENGERS episodes are some of the best of the series, like "Death at Bargain Prices" and "What the Butler Saw"), but I'm amazed at his directorial skills (for what I believe was his sole directing credit). KRONOS has action, comedy, romance. Caroline Munro does indeed have little to do, but, as you said, she's incredibly charming and also, as it happens, quite stunning. This film has one of my favorite cinematic lines: "This is God's blade, forged for your black heart." I wish I had this on DVD so I could watch it again!

  2. Terrific write up of one of my top five Hammers. Really wish this could have continued as a series. Love the scene in the bar with Ian Hendry.

  3. Here is one I've got to see. My appreciation of Hammer films was restricted to a couple of the Draculas and a couple of Frankensteins for a long time. If Christopher Lee and/or Peter Cushing weren't in them I didn't tend to watch them. My horizons have been quite broadened since joining the Cafe. I've been watching all month on TCM, and now I'm hooked!

    It's mostly the fault of you and Sark....and I'm glad about it! Thanks Rick for a most interesting novel about one I haven't seen. Plus, I'm a sucker for a German accent, so I bet I'll like Kronos...

  4. I've always wanted to see this one! Great write-up! It may be a typo, but Laurie Johnson is a man. :-D

  5. Sark and Kevin, I couldn't agree with you more about the direction, dialogue, and the scene with Hendry. DKoren, thanks for the correction on the typo (which I've made more than once); I fixed it in the review. Becky, KRONOS shows up on TV occasionally under its U.S. title.

  6. Great review Rick. I love Kronos. It's a different vampire film and it works. One of Hammer's best. Oh and watching Caroline Munro doesn't hurt either.

  7. Great review on one of my favorite of the Hammer films. I saw this movie with my little brother and loved it. It had a handsome man on a horse, sword fights, and vampires, and a good plot..hey, what is there not to like? In fact my brother felt so sorry for me because I didn't own this film that he bought it for me on DVD. Horst Janson is one of the best looking guys I have ever seen. I read that the main reason he got this role was because when he was asked if he could really use a sword and ride a horse, he said yes. He was hired. I enjoy Horst and my husband is a big Caroline Munro fan. It is a unique twist on the usual vampire story. Terrific review, Rick.

  8. Rick, yet another Hammer film I haven't seen. Enjoyed reading your review.