Sunday, March 30, 2014

CAPTAIN KRONOS, VAMPIRE HUNTER (1972)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure *
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, sociological*

"The name Kronos is Greek for Time,” says Clemens, “and I thought that, if the idea took off, I’d be able to move him through the centuries. A whole series of films. I even had some follow-up stories.”-- interview with Brian Clemens, reprinted in part on the blog SO IT GOES.

As most horror-film fans know, the heroic vampire hunter (Horst Janson) of this 1972 Hammer film never went on to any further cinematic adventures. In KRONOS there's no allusion to any factors that might have allowed the hero to bounce about from time to time.  The audience doesn't know a lot about Kronos' background, but he's not presented as a deep mystery: he has served as a member of an "Imperial Guard" in some unspecified European country, and his mother and sister were vampirized while he was serving in the military. When his female relatives tried to fang him, he was forced to kill them, causing him to swear vengeance on the many species of vampire.  When the film begins he's already teamed up with a vampire-savvy "Van Helsing," the hunchbacked Professor Grost (John Cater), and he acquires a temporary tag-along in Carla (Caroline Munro).  Carla doesn't get much in the way of characterization: she's meant to serve primarily as a stand-in for the audience's viewpoint, slowly initiating her, and the audience, into Kronos' world, and secondarily for some mild sex-scenes between her and the stalwart vampire-killer.

Though there's no suggestion in the film as to how Kronos might have found his way into other time-periods, Clemens does cover his bases with regard to the aforementioned "many species of vampire." Going only on Clemens' IMDB credits, KRONOS would seem to be the first time he published a work dealing with vampires, which had long been a specialty of the Hammer House of Horror.  However, though there's some good story-potential in his notion of different vampire-species, Clemens doesn't develop any ground rules for the species in this outing: one that drains youth from victims rather than blood. Both Kronos and Grost have to learn the rules of this particular species as they go, which Clemens may have intended as a method of intensifying the suspense.  For me at least, it came off more like an attempt to get away from the standard "rules of the vampire" speeches that appear in many other Hammer films.  The trouble with this omission is that without those rules, you lose a lot of the mythopoeic appeal of the vampire figure.

There are some possible myth-aspects to Clemens' youth-suckers. It will come as no surprise that the villains are aristocrats, as are most Hammer bad guys.  But we don't learn many details about the nature of the villains because for most of the narrative, Clemens is playing the "red herring" game. The only real suspects are the members of the mysterious Durward family, but which one is the culprit? The patrician older brother, Paul? The mannishly-dressed sister Sara, who drops weird comments about youth? Surely it can't be their aged and infirm mother, confined to a bed-- or can it?  Since DRACULA  vampires have often been conflated with a corrupt aristocracy, literally bleeding the oppressed lower classes, but though Clemens is working with the same trope as the Hammer DRACULA films, he doesn't get as much mileage out of it.

The "red herring" game was one Clemens frequently played in many of his television-thrillers, but where the game works well with mundane mysteries, the draggy unfolding of the Big Surprise detracts from the suspense in KRONOS. Clemens has commented that Hammer didn't support the project with the sort of money that might have given it more "oomph," but more money wouldn't have improved the poor pacing of Clemens' only directorial effort. Janson is okay as Captain Kronos, but he's given too little characterization to register.  The idea of a swashbuckling vampire hunter isn't developed either, and the script devotes more attention to the reactions of his hunchbacked sidekick.

Kronos' raison d'etre does suggest some of the violent sexuality associated with his Greek namesake.  The Greek Titan, tyrannizing over his children, is slain by his most powerful offspring, Zeus. The heroic Kronos is forced to commit not patricide but matricide and sororicide, though the only "tyrants" involved are the unknown villains who vampirized the hero's relatives.  Oddly, the only time Kronos himself recites this history, he's in the midst of having sex with Carla, and the way he talks about baring the breasts of his mother and sister before killing them should raise a few eyebrows. His slaying of the Durward vampires may be considered a recapitulation of this primal act of murder, but I would have to say that most of the Hammer vampire-films pull it off better.

Still, it would have been interesting to see what Clemens would have done with his serial concept.  Had this film succeeded, perhaps Clemens would have improved on the spotty mythopoesis. 


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