Before it collapsed at the end of the 1970s, England's primary horror factory, Hammer Studios, tried spicing up their movie formulas with sexier and quirkier content. Even though these efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, they resulted in some of the studio's most interesting and entertaining movies, including the fun 1972 adventure Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter.
Horst Janson stars as Kronos, a specialized "fixer" for villages experiencing vampire-like problems. When Dr. Marcus (John Carson) notices an upswing in young local girls transforming into prematurely aged corpses, he calls on his old military pal Kronos, who arrives with his trusty hunchback occult expert (John Cater) and a saucy wench he picked up along the way (Caroline Munro).
Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter has some fun with vampire lore, creating a world in which different varieties of vampires have different skills and vulnerabilities (daylight doesn't seem much of a problem in this instance), and in which an effective alert system for vampire activity is planting dead toads throughout the affected area. Written and directed by Brian Clemens (creator of the British 1960s TV series the Avengers), the movie has a playful tone, but eschews all-out camp for a straighter approach that makes it work as both an amusing twist on Hammer's stodgier output and also as a serious enough movie in its own right that the impressive ending has a decent, substantial weight to it. Not all of the scenes work -- there's a particularly laughable bat effect — and, like most Hammer movies, it's sometimes too talky, but Ian Wilson's cinematography hits that sweet spot of 1970s-infected period filmmaking that works for me most of the time, and I would have like to see it become a series as intended. On its own, it's tangentially related to Hammer's sexier Karnstein trilogy.
Janson's performance as Kronos has been criticized as flat and stiff, but I liked his cocky disregard for pageantry — and human life, as he seems to have no compunction about slaying normal people who pose inconvenient obstacles to his quest. All the performances, though unexceptional, are well-grounded and service the story. Shane Briant, Lois Daine, Wanda Ventham and Ian Hendry also appear.