Expert swordsman Kronos and his hunchback assistant travel from village to village hunting vampires. Their search leads them to a village where the young girls are being drained of their youth. Suspicion immediately falls upon the newcomers but Kronos' quest leads him to the local aristocrats, the Durwards.
Trying to revive their flagging vampire formula in the 70s, Hammer turned to all manner of weird stories. Ditching the period settings that had served them so well but ultimately grown stale and old-fashioned, they tried transplanting Dracula into modern day England, looked at lesbian vampires and even mixed it up a bit with the kung fu genre, all with varying degrees of success both commercially and critically.
In an attempt to liven up their period pieces, they opted to go for broke. Hammer combined their traditional vampire formula with the old swashbucklers to give us Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, what was intended to be the first of a series of films featuring the mysterious hunter. Unfortunately the film bombed due to poor distribution and all plans for a series were cancelled which is a shame because despite its flaws, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter is actually an entertaining film.
One of the first things you'll notice through watching is how the film tweaks and plays with the vampire lore. These fanged-fatales are now able to appear in mirrors. Some are not affected by the sight of a crucifix. The film plays with the notion that there are more than one type of vampire and each is susceptible to different things. So what works on one will not work on another. This leads to the film's most unintentionally funny scene in which Kronos and his assistant have a vampire tied up to a chair and attempt to kill him using their various methods of dispatch until they find one that finally finishes him off. Also, the vampires no longer drain victims of their blood but of their youth.
Even the main character of the vampire hunter makes a stark change of direction for Hammer as their previous hunters had all been stuffy old men, full to the brim of knowledge and facts. They were men of words and wisdom, not of action and violence. Kronos is the opposite - he's like a prototype Blade, despatching vampires without the scientific background that the likes of Van Helsing had.
In fact many of his gizmos and inventions that he uses to fight vampires could well have inspired Blade in later years. He carries with him a mirrored visor to reflect the hypnotic gaze of vampires and his sword looks like a giant crucifix. Not only that but in attempt to differentiate him from the "old men" hunters of the past, this guy smokes herbal remedies (ahem) and is quite happy to receive "favours" from damsels he rescues. He's not quite an anti-hero, but more of a rebellious young man; someone that the youth of the time would have responded to and associated with.
It's clear why Horst Jason was chosen for the role. He's a big, athletic and handsome guy totally suited to the role of an action hero and he does all of his own stunts and sword fighting. But he's extremely wooden and when he's not sword fighting, he's struggling with the dialogue and his accent. Maybe this works in his favour though as he's somewhat aloof and enigmatic - definitely not your common villager from down the street.
Horst Jason is ably supported by a fine supporting cast including John Gater as his hunchback assistant (who provides the token scientific jargon and background on vampire lore) and Caroline Munro who despite being the damsel-in-distress early on, manages to rise above her role as token love interest and adds more than a gorgeous figure to the film. I'd safely say that Munro was one of the hottest things to come out of the 70s and looks awesome in all of her films at this time.
Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter is one of Hammer's most endearing and underrated films, simply for the fact that it seems way ahead of its time with its ingenious re-writing of vampire legend and light-hearted tone. Unfortunately it's more likely to be remembered as the film that brought the downfall of the once invincible studio.