31 Days to Scare ~ Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter

The Facts:

Synopsis: Debonair supernatural expert Captain Kronos and his hunchbacked assistant meet their match when they encounter a village where vampires have been stealing the vitality of young women, leaving them elderly and decrepit.

Stars: Horst Janson, John Carson, Caroline Munro, Ian Hendry, Shane Briant, Wanda Ventham, John Cater, Lois Daine, William Hobbs, Robert James, Elizabeth Dear

Director: Brian Clemens

Rated: R

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Mention Hammer Studios to horror fans and visions of Peter Cushing chasing down Christopher Lee’s Count Dracula will often spring to mind.  The British production company was known for their sophisticated horror films shot both in studio and on beautiful locations across Europe and is often most associated with the Dracula films they produced throughout the ’60s and ’70s.  Of course, Hammer was far more prolific than that and was responsible for a number of other creepy delights featuring a murders row of famous killers and monsters, as well as other vampire tales.  I’d been so Dracula focused for most of my life that I only recently began expanding my horizons and exploring their other bloodsucking catalog.  Last year I reported on the delightful Vampire Circus and for this round of 31 Days to Scare I found another interesting and well-worth a watch vampire yarn, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter.

Made in 1972 but delayed in its release until 1974, this was an original screenplay from director by Brian Clemens who had written for a number of UK TV series as well as several British thrillers noted for their atmosphere.  There’s atmosphere to spare in this one, too, with a pre-credit sequence showing two girls in a forest picking out flowers.  As one goes off in search of one last bouquet, the other stays behind and meets a hooded figure that drains her not of just of blood but of youth.  Recognizing the signs of a possible vampire presence, the village doctor (John Carson) calls an old friend to come and help his community before it is too late.  Enter Captain Kronos (Horst Janson), his assistant Grost (John Cater), and the voluptuous Carla (Caroline Munro), a peasant the men freed from the stocks on their journey who now follows them in hopes of getting closer to Kronos.

Perplexed by this new breed of vampire, Kronos and Grost attempt to track the creature with the help of Dr. Marcus and Carla.  As more fair maidens keep showing up haggard and withered, suspicion falls on a brother and sister caring for their invalid mother in a nearby castle.  Clemens manages to keep the identity of the vampire a secret right up until the end and the reveal was a rather neat surprise and something I didn’t see coming, so audiences can expect a mystery to go with their horror.  They can also look forward to a little bit of a diversion in the slow-ish subplot which sees Kronos traveling to a neighboring town and Dr. Marcus striking out on his own to interview the suspected siblings.  It gives the film a bit of a heavy midsection but at 92 minutes it doesn’t stay stuck in a rut for long.  Bouncing back with a fiery finale, pretty soon Kronos is forging a wicked sword to slay the best, culminating in an impressive sword-fight on one of Hammer’s typically well-adorned castle locales.

It’s too bad this film performed so poorly at the box office that the planned future installments never came to be.  This was a character I would have liked to see more of and deserved another film to get some traction.  Sadly, with audience demand dictating what went forward and what didn’t any hopes of the further adventures of Kronos and his gang would never come to be.  This might be one that could be revived in some fun way, yet there’s something so nicely done about this production that perhaps a one and done effort speaks well enough for it.  Nice discoveries like this tend to be good movies to keep in your back pocket because they can exist on their own merits and be that fun find for those in the know.  For this vampire fan, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter is definitely a new addition to the rotation of blood-sucking favorite flicks.

31 Days to Scare ~ The Watcher in the Woods

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An American family move into a British country house only to encounter malevolent spirits. The ghost of the owner’s daughter, long missing, torments the family’s young girl.

Stars: Bette Davis, Carroll Baker, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Kyle Richards, David McCallum

Director: John Hough

Rated: PG

Running Length: 84 minutes

TMMM Nostalgia Score: (8/10) TMMM Actual Score: (4/10)

Review: Every single one of us has that certain film or television show that we have this picture of in our mind from when we were younger.  It’s frozen in golden amber and locked inside a memory you want to keep right where it is for fear of anything spoiling those feelings you experienced while taking it in or the company you were with.  The trouble is, eventually, you’re going to come across those same films and TV shows as you grow older and that’s when the balloon pops and you have to face up to the harsh truths that what you thought was the bees knees as a kid was really a cow pie.

My greatest example of that is The Watcher in the Woods.  Released in 1980 by, of all studios, The Walt Disney Company, this supernatural PG-rated horror film was an odd project for Disney to take on.  Yes, they’d had a run of films leaning towards the older child (this was before the late ‘90s boom of animation and when live-action went silly again) but this was something different entirely.  Adapted from Florence Engel Randall’s strange but spooky 1976 novel A Watcher in the Woods and filmed across the pond in several picturesque location settings, it had a top line cast starting wtih Oscar winner Bette Davis along with Carroll Baker (Kindergarten Cop) and then-popular Lynn-Holly Johnson (For Your Eyes Only) who was skating high off of her success in Ice Castles.  Kyle Richards (Halloween) would play Johnson’s younger sister as part of a family that moved to beautiful English manor that came cheap…and they soon find out why.

I can’t tell you how much I remembered this movie being scary.  I mean, I really thought in my head this was what all horror films were like and since it played so often on the Disney Channel during October it became a staple in my house.  Over the years, I had clearly forgotten about it because when I went to watch it again a few years back I was stunned by how pedestrian, schlocky, and shoddy it all was.  It’s barely held together by toothpaste and paperclips and you can see why Disney allowed the movie to play for about two weeks in theaters before pulling it after negative reactions and recutting it to play more to their audience.  No matter, I’ve seen both versions and neither are any good whatsoever.  I know this may not win me any points with the legions of fans that worship The Watcher in the Woods but I’m calling it like it is.

What a disappointment, too, because everything is there to make something that doesn’t have to be super scary but at least could maintain some semblance of a mood for a period of time.  The supernatural element of the piece has potential, as does the mystery surrounding its origin.  Yet it’s almost impossible to watch because the actors keep getting in the way. The performances are so dreadful that they distract from the plot, not to mention poor Davis has to lurk around the joint and appear menacing though we clearly know she’s harmless in the overall arc of the plot.  Johnson, in particular, is just horrible and thankfully Richards matured into a less automaton-like actor.

A 2017 remake for television starring Angelica Huston didn’t fare much better and perhaps The Watcher in the Woods is just an entity that can’t be captured on film.  It’s certainly not represented well in this Disney production which would thankfully be one of their few attempts at this type of genre film.  If you’re up for a little heartbreak and haven’t seen this in a while, go ahead and give this one a re-watch.  Those that haven’t experienced this ghastly ghostly film should beware.  Try The Haunting of Bly Manor for a much more interesting UK-set ghost tale.