Tuesday, September 4, 2012

All Without a Steam-Powered Crucifix-Stake Launcher

I've always known that I was never alone in a desire to romanticize the past.  Where I always felt that my view of a previous age veered from most was that I knew that this perfect past age filled with heroism and adventure never went any further than the movie I was watching or the book I was reading; whereas, all too often, many people who feel this way think there's some perfect age that they wished they could escape back to.  Take a moment to peruse one of those "Life in the Middle Ages" type books, and realize that were you to somehow make it back, you'd probably be dead of cholera, dysentery, and/or plague before the first day was up (perhaps a slight exaggeration on my part...but not entirely off mark).

It's why I've always loved the "Constitutional Peasant" scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) which injected anachronistic political ideals into Arthurian romance just before it shifts to a lengthy derision of those same Arthurian legends (see it HERE ).

In any event, if I were to live in a past age, I'd want it to be the movie version of some past age.  Nowadays, however, there seems to be a need to spice up this age that didn't exist.  And while I can enjoy some steampunk up to a point, and can thrill to the off-the-wall kung fu Native American capers of Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le pacte des loups, 2001), I've never seen it as necessary to make any age with swordplay more interesting.  And now with all the unrelentingly silly retro-tech built into movies like Van Helsing (2004) and Jonah Hex (2010), the slightest hint of it in trailers often makes me queasy, which made today's review quite refreshing...

Apparently aka. Captain Kronos - Ladykiller
Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter (1974) is largely considered one of the last great films from Hammer Film Productions (The Label has seen a revival in recent years with the release of Let Me In (The 2010 remake of 2008's Let the Right One In) and The Woman in Black (2012)). Hammer was probably best known for the long running reinventions of the early Universal Monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Mummy) starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee that ran through the 1960's.  Kronos, however, was an original story of a former British military man who's teamed up with a hunchbacked doctor in ridding the countryside of vampires.  Not the traditional bloodsuckers, these vampires suck the life force from young maidens and cannot be killed with the stake through the heart.

"You're eyeliner is smudged."
Kronos stars the popular German actor Horst Janson in the leading role (who, this time around, reminded me more than a little of a Germanic Michael York from the same time period), English heart throb Caroline Munro (star of the unbelievable Italian bizarrity Star Crash (1979) whose review I might have to repost) as the peasant girl who offers Kronos aid and...ahem...moral support, and a cast of familiar character actors from the era.  As I've often espoused with today's comic book movies, the only way to pull off goofy fun like this is to have serious actors.  They can't make a swashbuckling vampire movie into Shakespeare, but they can certainly make you invest in it for an hour and half without feeing ridiculous.
Caroline usually received excellent marks on her only jobskill: looking sultry
For the most part, it's a straight forward affair: girls wander off into the forest to have their life force drained by a cloaked figure(s?), Kronos arrives to investigate, the shady family from the distant castle is revealed, the stakes are raised so to speak, and the fun picks up from there.  Director Brian Clemens, who created the fantastic BBC adventure series The Avengers, does a fine job of keeping the plot popping along while creating a decently foreboding atmosphere.  It's simple. It's direct. It's effective.  And perhaps most importantly of all: it lacks that all too common today terrible tone of irony.  It's never nodding or winking at you while daring you to call it on its bullshit, nor taking said bullshit to atmospheric heights that can't possibly pay off.  In other words, it plays like a lost art.

Now, don't think that means I'm calling it some sort of lost classic, but I am calling it the most enjoyable costume drama with a British officer with a samurai sword fighting soul-sucking vampires in an old castle film I've probably ever seen.  I would certainly hope that you would feel the same.  But I fear that  the old man in me is right when he tells me that a generation brought up on a CGI vampire-fighting Lincoln would merely find it tedious.