I made a list of the films my wife and I watched last October and ranked them by their by their overall value. It’s a subjective unscientific method that gauges the quality of each film based on its storytelling, production value, and how it ranks against the other films we watched for our Halloween binge. Who am I kidding? It’s just “Which movies I liked best.” Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, the movie whose silly title is only outdone by Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, came in 4th.
That might seem low, it’s not even on the podium right? Don’t forget that we watched over 30 movies during the month long marathon, which means anything in the top 10 gets high praise and the top five films are (comparatively) exceptional.
Produced in 1974 at the tail end of the Hammer Horror Dynasty Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter was streets ahead of its contemporaries. Add up the undeniable influence of Japanese Chanabra with a questing gunslinger narrative straight out of a 70’s western plus a vampire slaying protagonist who’s like a James Bond/Errol Flynn hybrid it’s easy to recognize how Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter successfully adapted the best elements of writer/director Brian Clemens’ influences and blazed the trail for filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth to follow his lead.
Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter‘s premise is all there in the title, a roaming British ex-military Captain hunts vampires across the English countryside with his hunchbacked assistant Grost. Captain Kronos puts his supernatural killing skills to use as the news of attacks in a nearby provincial hamlet reach him. Every other day another young woman has her youth drained turning her into a withered hag and Captain Kronos aims to put a stop to it.
Early in the film the good Captain releases a young woman named Carla from a tomato stained pillory after learning her only crime was dancing on a Sunday. Enter the first (and regrettably only) ‘Kronos Girl’. With her assistance, Kronos and Grost set out to discover the cause of these strange afflictions. But they already know the cause: vampires.
Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter is similar to the more fun Tarantino films like From Dusk Till Dawn and the 2 Kill Bills. The kinetic energy from Director of Photography Ian Wilson’s innovative editing disrupts the reserved nature of the decidedly British performances. This energetic style suggests Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter is a forerunner of the modern superhero movie. After seeing Spider-Man Homecoming in theaters I remarked to my wife on the movie’s refreshing decision to skip over Spider-Man’s origin story. By now anyone buying a ticket to a Spider-Man movie knows how he became super powered and rehashing that origin would be a waste of everyone’s time. Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter makes the same choice and bypasses his origin by jumping straight into the adventure and it works. Sure, it would be interesting to learn why he hunts vampires? Or on what adventure did he earn that enormous abdominal scar? Why does he wield a katana to fight vampires? It might be cool to know the answers but it may be better to enjoy not knowing. Imagine how unsatisfying it would be to have every mystery about Han Solo revealed in one movie?
The modern marketplace is flooded with high budget adventure films and tv series which means Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter needs more than that to be worth watching. That’s where the Director of Photography takes center stage. The cinematography in Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter isn’t in the same league as Lawrence of Arabia or a random Roger Deakins film but what sets it apart from most movies, and certainly the majority of our fall horror harvest, is the creative choices Wilson makes in the shot design. Minor spoilers, during one of the vampire attack scenes a young woman walks into a church as the camera trucks behind her revealing the shadow of a large cross in the window. The camera stops trucking as the girl stops walking and that’s when the shadow begins to move transforming into the rough outline of a threatening humanoid shape. Fantastic. There’s a nearly perfect scene that takes place in a bar where Captain Kronos defend Grost and himself from a gang of ruffians that’s shot exactly like a samurai standoff. These aren’t choices made because it was the popular style in western filmmaking but rather the choices made by someone who loved their craft and had a blast realizing their vision. Brilliant scenes like that and more make Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter a superbly enjoyable film.
Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter‘s Director of Photography Ian Wilson died in January of 2021. He left behind influential works like The Crying Game and Emma. I haven’t seen his other films but if they showcase anything close to the talent and creativity displayed in Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter then I’d expect them to be of high quality.