Welcome back to another Friday Nightmares Review, wherein I tell you what you could be watching instead of remembering what going outside was like and having conversations with yourself about this false version of events that you think took place in your life prior to all of this happening. So as I write this, quarantine is still a thing. And if you’re like me, living on your own and stuck with a cat for making conversation more often than not, you end up thinking about the past a lot. Remember the good old days? Not those good old days that you’re thinking of but the gooder, older days of before. When those gooder older days might have been will vary from person to person but in this apartment, my gooder older days aren’t really that far back. Mostly they just go back to when Care Bears were popular and you could still bring your metal utensils to school, back when we had schools you could attend. (And like many kids from yesteryear, I never brought back the spoons and my mother was forever getting angry that all her cutlery was always accidentally ending up in a school garbage bin.)
If you’re of a certain age group, you might be thinking that the movies that I feature on here are pretty old and it’s true, most of the ones I’ve covered are gathering a bit of dust. There’s been a few notable exceptions this past year but a good chunk of my reviews come from that delightful period where slashers were born. Until today. You see, recently I had a brief little chat about the history of horror (that you can actually hear for two dollars on Patreon) and I had gotten to talking about Hammer. For those who aren’t able to listen to the proto podcast that I posted a few weeks back, here’s a little refresher on this titan of a horror studio.
First coming to life in the 1930s, Hammer put its hat in the horror ring starting in the mid 1950s and became the dominant name in the genre for almost two decades. It brought sexy women, lots of blood and a sense of the gothic to its stories. And lots of sexy women. In fact, this studio was one that latched onto a particular vampire name that wasn’t Dracula and saw an awful lot of sequels either using that name or paying homage to it in some way or another. And by in a surprise twist, this films is one of those, but despite some attempts to showcase some skin, there are no bloodied up boobies. They did attempt to show off a bit more skin, though, so for their efforts, let’s dive into this 1974 classic(?) Hammer film, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter.
If you did listen to my little proto podcast on Patreon, you’ll note that I mentioned that the 70s were not exactly kind to Hammer. What had been new and exciting in the 50s was having a bit of trouble standing up with the likes of Rosemary’s Baby or The Exorcist or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It wasn’t helped by the fact that a lot of the gothic atmosphere of the old Hammer catalogue came from the fact these films were mostly period pieces with specific costumes and settings like castles, crumbling manors, old tombs and the like. You know, things that cost money and are a lot more time consuming than just shooting on location in someone’s modern house using a modern wardrobe. That said, despite Kronos being set somewhere in the bowels of history in some unknown year where the horse and buggy was still the top level of transit sophistication, there is a very distinctive 70s look to the hair and makeup. The costumes were still very much period, though it never bothers to distinguish which one but we get a little clue (sort of) at the big reveal. That said, it hardly matters because we’re here to get our blood on.
I will say that Hammer really knew how to set the action rolling and I do have to wonder if this was to help get people’s interest in short order because the film was being shown at the drive ins. There’s almost no set up at all as two girls are sitting out by a river, doing what can only be called girl things when one of them gets up to go pick flowers to braid into the other one’s hair. It’s really not at all important what they do or why because the second the first young girl is left alone, she is set upon by a hooded figure. She looks at the figure, initially is frightened but immediately warms to the stranger and goes in for a hug that isn’t at all going to end in tears. When the other girl comes back she is stunned into shock upon what she finds and it takes the village doctor to snap her out of it. What they discover is that precious, everything to live for, loved being alive First Girl has been transformed from a lovely young girl to a crone almost instantly and she drops dead. The doctor wisely decides that this is a job for Captain Kronos, the vampire hunter who’s so famous that no one has heard of him. Our dashing captain travels with a guy who is meant to be a hunchback professor but full on looks like he’s got a blanket stuffed up his jacket and he’s your vampire expert. Along the way to the village they also pick up a very pretty girl who is being punished in the barracks for dancing on the Sabbath. Kronos doesn’t much care for the random Footloose attitude of the neighboring village and sets the girl free and lets her ride with them to pretty up the place. Yes the girl has a name but they basically never use it so it’s pretty unimportant.
The three arrive to meet with the doctor from the beginning and while the men are happy to sit and rest inside the house, the girl of their party is more than welcome to make herself at home in the stable. Because, you know, you can hang out with us and help if you want but we aren’t going to treat you like much of anything. Apparently this doesn’t bother her as much as it does me because she is all about getting her a piece of Kronos and makes her thirst known at any given opportunity. Sadly, there’s that pesky vampire about so her need for the D gets put on hold because yet another young girl has been transformed into a man in makeup with a grey wig on. While Kronos, his hunchback professor, whose name is Grost, and the girl all do weird shit that is supposed to help them figure out who the vampire is, the good doctor is set upon by the plot. In the graveyard, he has an encounter with a young man who rather coldly reminds him that it’s the seven year anniversary that his father died. While in the doctor’s care, as tends to happen when people are mortal. The young man says that while he has more or less forgiven the doctor for allowing his father to die of the plague (because infectious disease is clearly something all doctors are capable of controlling), his mother, whom we never see in the light, is never letting the doctor touch her. According to what little the doctor sees, he assumes she’s pretty sick and old and begs to get a chance to see and treat her. He is stopped and I’m sure that my first instinct that we just met our main villain is off base.
And the story kinda keeps going like that for a while. The girl finally decides that she’s waited long enough to get into Kronos’ pants and decides that taking off everything she’s wearing is a blatant enough signal for him. Meanwhile the doctor and Grost use the time to drink and await the next victim. They aren’t waiting too long and this encounter is pretty much a rinse and repeat of the last one. That said, while Kronos is leading his band of merry hunters off to the local village, the doctor decides to try his luck with the local sour aristocrat who might be dying but still thinks that doctors are overrated and is none too trusting of these physicians that can’t keep people alive indefinitely. Here we meet our redheaded red herring in the form of the lovely Sara, who is sporting a very cute 60s pixie cut and some stunningly large lashes, the likes of which would have been very ahead of their time for back in the day. The doctor is a little put off by how pretty she is and how fashion forward she’s being for somewhere back in whatever back in the day time it is. He decides that a single glass of brandy is good enough for him, leaves without seeing mommy dearest and is attacked by the hooded figure in the woods but seems no worse for it as he makes his way home.
Kronos and Grost, on the other hand, have a thrilling encounter in the local pub wherein a group of less than stellar “ruffians” give them a hard time and try to get them to fight. You know these aren’t the nicest of guys because they stiff a young prostitute for her pay and threaten any patrons who don’t do what they want. When they make fun of the blanket stuffed in Grost’s coat, however, Kronos is less than impressed and proceeds to passive aggressively insult them with the kinds of names that wouldn’t likely draw any tears on a school playground. The indignity proves too much for our band of assholes, however, and they jump to violence but don’t get too far because Kronos is apparently such a badass at sword play that he barely had to move and suddenly the three are dead. Despite these guys being violent dickheads, everyone is now a little wary of Kronos and this isn’t helped when we discover that our poor doctor friend is very quickly turning into a vampire and has already made his first kill. Despite our good doctor insisting at the top of his lungs that Kronos kill him, this is witnessed and people are now even more pissed off over it. Probably didn’t help that this is where the film goes out of its way to prove that there’s more than one way to kill a vampire and not all methods work. So after about three failed attempts, all of which would be pretty fucking horrible to live through, they find the means to defeat the fiend by accident. Now all they have to do is go find some iron cross and what would endear them more to the village than going to the local cemetery and digging up a huge iron monument that they clearly weren’t using. This goes over as well as you might assume but enough of worrying about things like this because we have the final act to get to.
From here, I am going to warn you that there is an actual spoiler in this paragraph. It’s not going to ruin much of anything for the rest of the film but it was something that I didn’t see coming and if you’re going in blind and don’t want to know, skip to the next paragraph and avoid it. The film will be entertaining either way but you might enjoy it if you don’t know everything on the way. And with that out of the way, let’s get to one of the surprises that, admittedly, you kind of see coming. Eventually after they lose one of their number and figure out that they really should get rid of this thing roaming the village and picking off all the hot women. Seeing as the girl travelling with them is also guilty of being hot, she decides that it’s a great idea to offer herself up as bait and goes over for a sleepover at the aristocratic family’s house. After the siblings act rather creepy and keep looking her over as if they’re going to devour her right on the spot, none other than mother dearest reveals that she isn’t the old hag that we thought she might be, but rather a beautiful young woman whose been sucking the life out of young, pretty girls for the last seven years. Turns out that the winning genes of the aristocratic family weren’t on dad’s side as the siblings thought but rather on mom’s side, her being a Karnstein and all. Now the film never actually calls her Carmilla and does away with all that lesbian stuff that was in the original story by making her devoted to bringing her husband back from the dead. That said, all her victims were young women because apparently they were tastier than men? It was a bit of a surprise in terms of who they turned out to be but in the end, apparently she was no match for a mirror and her hubby was no match for Kronos. After mom reveals her dastardly plan to her kids and is less than thrilled with their reaction, she hypnotizes them and tries to do the same to Kronos who uses the reflection of her eyes to hypnotize her right back. So the girl, mom and the two kids are stuck like statues, staring off into nowhere as Kronos and undead dad duel to the death. It’s as hilarious and bad as it sounds. Eventually Kronos wins, mom and dad are dead and the whole group leaves the two adult siblings to mourn in confusion over what the hell just happened to their parents.
So should you bother with this film? Honestly, it’s not the worst and there’s some amusing elements to it. It’s definitely not Hammer at its peak but there are still some clever lines and the big reveal was a kind of nicer touch. I am going to touch on the pacing again because at no point did we get weighed down with too much of anything, which sometimes could have been helpful to figure out what the hell was going on or who anyone was. The characters really don’t matter because you’re only there to watch Kronos pretend to be badass and the actions scenes are promised at the beginning and they get fulfilled eventually so it’s all good there. The swashbuckling element was a bit of a weird combo for a vampire movie, which I think took the gothic element down a touch. There was more humor involved, which I think also kind of robbed the vampiric element of its usual gravitas, but that said, the humor wasn’t that bad. There were parts that were genuinely kind of clever and I thought over all, the story really wasn’t that bad. I liked the fact that they play with the idea that there is more than one type of vampire and that you can’t just show up, stake it and move on. It shows that there was some thought put into the idea and I think it was a fun concept.
Kronos was supposed to be a running series and that’s evident by the way it ends but alas, apparently despite its positives, it failed to catch on and Hammer ran out of money not long afterwards so it wasn’t to be. That said, if you are interested in the continuing adventures of this dashing vampire hunter, you can find the novelization of it out there, published back in 2011 and two different comic adaptations, one published back in 1977 and the other through Titan comics back in 2017. If you’re just looking for a decent enough popcorn flick, however, this is a pretty good one to sink your teeth into.
Thank you all again for joining me for another Friday Nightmare Review! I hope that you’re all staying safe from both virus and vampire alike. I know that right now times are tight for everyone but if there is anyone out there who is able to contribute things like Patreon right now, it means a lot more than you might believe. I have mine set to a monthly contribution setting, which means that for as little as a dollar for the month, you get everything early. There’s other levels like the two and five dollar contributions that allow you to have a little more and again, those are monthly contributions and I do strive to make sure that everyone gets their money’s worth. That said, again, I know things are a bit up in the air right now and if you can’t a simple like, share or comment is always appreciated, as I am just happy to have other people around for the ride with me. I hope you are all stay young and healthy, may all forests remain free of hooded figures and I’ll see you all next week for another Friday Nightmare.