[Originally published in Movietone News 46, December 1975]
Brian Clemens did some of the funniest, spiffiest episodes of the delightful British TV series The Avengers. In this first feature film, an intermittently serious, Hammer-produced exploration of horror flick conventions, he tracks and pans through the woods, around carefully lit and furnished interiors, like an old pro. Mise-wise, it’s all really more than satisfactory; but whaddaya do when it’s sendup time and you look around and you got no ineffable Lady Peel (Diana Rigg), no stylish John Steed (Patrick MacNee)—just this chesty, übermenschy blond leading man (Horst Janson) and this chesty brunette love interest (Caroline Munro), neither of them exactly lighter-than-air in the comedy department? Well, you win a few and you lose a few, is what you do. You put your Aryan master swordsman on top of a hill and have him attacked by a small mob of angry, lumpen townspeople; have him kill everybody in no time flat, doing lots of fancy foot- and swordwork; have him grin and flash gay Douglas Fairbanks looks at Miss Munro, stationed at the bottom of the hill, laughing maniacally, during the carnage. Throw her a wink. It’s a lead balloon. But then, eclectic British technician that you are, you decide to stage another action scene, in the middle of a horror movie, as an irreverent homage not to the horror genre itself, but to Westerns. And for some reason, it works.
A long buildup in the village pub, featuring three tough guys hired to waylay vampire-hunter Kronos (Janson) and off him. Chief bad guy Kerro (played to the hilt by Ian Hendry) bullies a prostitute and then uses his quick-on-the-draw swordsmanship to intimidate, humiliate and degrade a bearded bar patron who has made the mistake of failing to placate him. Enter Kronos and his hunchback assistant Grost (John Cater). “Have you seen a coach with two white horses?” etc., etc. Hendry, oozing meanness and self-confidence, bellies up to the bar, flanked by his two bullyboys. He focuses on Kronos’ assistant, addressing him with a broad sneer, repeatedly, as “Crookback.” Kronos keeps a cool face but quietly moves his assistant to one side before turning to confront the threesome. He allows as how he doesn’t much like that usage, “Crookback.” Hendry’s eyes glitter; his hand slides toward his sword. “After all,” Kronos continues serenely, “I wouldn’t dream of calling you [he looks at the thug on Hendry’s right] ‘Ratface'”—a slight lowering of Ratface’s jaw—”or you [turning to Hendry’s left] ‘Fatty'”—similar alteration of Fatty’s loutish features—”or you” … long pause as Kronos gazes unblinkingly into Hendry’s now slightly worried eyes … “‘Bigmouth’!” With the enunciation of each new insult, the barman and serving-wench widen their eyes and crank their bodies down another few notches behind the counter of the bar, for all the world as if they expected bullets, glasses, and chairs—rather than swords—to start flying. Action! Hendry grabs for his sword; Kronos does his lightning-fast thing; it’s all over. Henchman-on-left suddenly crumples, staggers, spins, and falls to the floor. Ditto henchman-on-right, except in opposite direction. Yeah, it’s OK; so what else is new? (Or old?) Looking for a capper, Clemens simply reaches down again into that old reliable public-domain bag of Western tricks. He pulls out a vexing question: if this Kronos dude is so damned good with a sword, then how come he’s standing there at the moment with, so to speak, egg on his face? Because he’s still face to face with chief cutthroat Hendry, see, and the point of Hendry’s sword, furthermore, is poised lethally at Kronos’ Siegfriedian throat, exactly as it was five minutes ago at the throat of the hapless prole bearded man. So what gives? Well, after a long immobile pause, of course, Hendry does. He too crumples, spins, and with a lovely flamboyant slowmotion stagger-and-lurch falls dead as a doornail to the floor of the Kicking Horse Transylvania saloon.
CAPTAIN KRONOS – VAMPIRE HUNTER
Screenplay and direction: Brian Clemens, Cinematography: Ian Wilson. Music: Laurie Wilson.
The players: Horst Janson, Caroline Munro, John Cater, Ian Hendry.
Copyright © 1975 Ken Eisler