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 ~ Tales from the Crypt (1972)

The Facts:

Synopsis: Five strangers get lost in a crypt and, after meeting the mysterious Crypt Keeper, receive visions of how they will die.

Stars: Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Roy Dotrice, Richard Greene, Ian Hendry, Patrick Magee, Ralph Richardson

Director: Freddie Francis

Rated: GP (the old-school PG)

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: As evidenced before in this blog, I love anthology horror!  Brief tales of horror and madness serve as short bursts of fun that are pretty perfect for the short attention spans of most modern audiences.  Films like Cat’s Eye, Asylum, From Beyond the Grave, and After Midnight are nice examples of big screen releases that put recognizable stars in various states of terror.  The good thing is that if a segment doesn’t speak to you, you only have to wait 10 or 15 minutes for the next one to start up.

Many people will hear Tales from the Crypt and instantly think of the popular HBO series that ran from 1989 to 1996.  That series, like the movie featured in today’s post, were based on the popular comic of the same name that was published from 1950-1955 (tales from The Haunt of Fear and The Vault of Horror eventually made their way into the HBO series as well).  I actually thought I had seen 1972’s Tales from The Crypt long ago when I was trying to feast my eyes upon every anthology offering out there.  When I recently reviewed the And All Through the House episode of the HBO show, I discovered it had already been filmed before for this movie…so I took steps to get my hands on this pronto.

I’m sure glad I caught this one because Tales from the Crypt is a highly entertaining film, with nice production values, solid performances, and strong direction from Freddie Francis (Nightmare, and the cinematographer for numerous Hollywood films like the remake Cape Fear).  There’s great atmosphere and even its outlandish ‘70s styles don’t distract from the horror at hand.  For a B-movie, it looks great and holds up quite nicely some forty years after its original release.

On a tour of a local cemetery, four men and one woman get separated from the group and find themselves locked in a room with the mysterious Crypt Keeper (Ralph Richardson, looking far less ghastly than the withered puppet that hosted the HBO show).  None of the five individuals know quite why they’re there but the Crypt Keeper helps them see how they’ll wind up six feet under.

The first tale is the aforementioned And All Through The House starring the gorgeous Joan Collins.  She’s a materialistic wife that kills her husband on Christmas Eve, just as a maniac in a Santa suit comes a-callin’.  There’s a wonderful jump scare here which sent me out of my seat with a jolt with its unexpected arrival.  It’s a 12-minute wonderful nugget of tension, and it surprised me how much this one put me on the edge of my seat seeing that it takes place in bright light with holiday songs playing constantly in the background.

The subsequent tales are a bit longer and have varying degrees of interest.  There’s the tale of the cheating husband who leaves his wife but comes back a bit on the dead side, a couple that wishes for riches and pays the price for their greed, a young man that brings about the downfall of a harmless but dotty neighbor, and a cruel doctor at an institute for the blind that gets a taste of his own medicine.   All are fine to pass the time but none have the instant impact of the Christmas-set first sequence.

From the shag carpeting to the flared jeans and oversized belts, the production values on this are perfect time capsules of the era and it’s a little funny to see blood that looks like Pepto-Bismol used to show death’s aftermath.  If you’re willing to check your modern tendency to be jaded at the door, you’ll really get into the swing of this one.  If the tales feel a bit on the familiar side, it’s likely they served as inspiration for countless imitations over the years.

Well-made and scary, this nightmare omnibus is one to remember if you’re looking for something from the past that holds up quite well.  Very much worth seeking out, it’s available as a double feature with The Vault of Horror – more anthology fun for all!