Tuesday, October 29, 2013

REVIEW: Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter

Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter
Director: Brian Clemens
Year 1974

Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter is a fantastically fun Hammer film which combines horror and adventure elements into one highly entertaining package. Existing in a cinematic realm of its own, the movie generates a curious atmosphere as it whimsically whisks us away into a world filled with vampires and vampire hunters. Often campy and strangely hypnotic, Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter is a unique concoction for the British powerhouse of Hammer Film Productions. It's unique, adventurous, and against the grain, and it is in this unorthodox approach where the film culls its most endearing qualities from.

The film follows the exploits of Captain Kronos, a swashbuckling vampire hunter who comes to the aid of his old friend Dr. Marcus, after receiving word that he is in need of his expertise. It seems that a local village has recently been plagued by a series of unusual murders, and Kronos and his trusted hunchbacked assistant Grost believe it is the work of vampires. Concocting a string of tests and narrowing down the playing field, Kronos and Grost close in on the killer, but all is not what it seems in this sleepy unsuspecting town. With the help of a beautiful outcast named Carla, Kronos and Grost just might have what it takes to take down this ever illusive monster and save the villagers from certain doom.

Horst Janson takes on the titular role of Kronos, the king of all vampire slayers. Armed with a samurai blade and his wits, Janson gives the character an airy feel about him, balancing a sure fire confidence and an added grace that truly begins to embody the lofty icon. As quick witted as they come, the character is wonderfully charismatic, yet employed in the most subtle of ways. Janson allows the character to naturally resonate to the audience, never over indulging in the over the top nature of what a character like this would normally be demanded of. He is restrained and composed, and that is an interesting trait which is expertly portrayed throughout the run time of the film. Janson also allows the character of Kronos to interject a few comedic overtones to the narrative, with an added playful wink and a theatrical demeanor, he brings the role to life making for a highly memorable character that goes against the norm. Without Horst Janson's presence in the film, the movie wouldn't be as half as fun, or as interesting.

Supporting Janson in this grand effort to entertain is an admirable cast of actors. John Carson plays the role of Dr. Marcus, the troubled doctor who stumbles upon the most unexpected fact that his village is being consumed by an unseen monster. Carson laps up the fanciful nature of it all and his character is privy to a wide range of situations and odd scenarios. He rolls with the punches like a champ and gives the character of Dr. Marcus a genuine effort, one that surprisingly encroaches on unexpected territory. John Cater takes on the supporting role of Grost, Kronos' right hand man. As eccentric as they come, Cater creates a respectively different character with Grost. Though he is a slight variation of the iconic Igor role from Frankenstein lore, he embraces the unusual by blending that familiar archetype with that of a knowledgeable scholar. Brandishing a hump and a superior intellect, Cater's Grost is a breath of fresh air, and a likeable element in the overall story. Speaking of likeable, you can't go wrong with Caroline Munro as Carla, the outcast beauty with a heart of gold. Anything that has Munro in it is worth a watch, and she plays a mostly understated character in this production. Yet that still doesn't stop her presence in this film from shinning and the moments with her onscreen are simply golden.

The atmosphere in Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter is something of a tricky beast, for it pivots back and forth between camp, whimsical humor, to foreboding horror, and does this on a consistent basis. It's unusual to say the least, but the result is something that is wholly unique and a whole hell of a lot of fun. With rye humor and a tongue firmly placed to cheek, this unusual Hammer flick is one that definitely traverses down its own path. The only other film that comes close to this sort of duel tone is the fantastic Roman Polanski film The Fearless Vampire Killers, but even with that film they tended to sway towards the comedic aspect of things. In Captain Kronos, the filmmakers decide on keeping the line between both humor and horror blurred, and in this particular outlook they are able to generate an outstandingly original cinematic realm that is both fun and frightening, which still gels with Hammer's authentic style.

Another aspect of the movie that really goes against convention, is that it has a great deal of fun playing around with the typical lore of the vampire genre. Wooden stakes and garlic aren't the only ways to kill a creature of the night and in a most surprising turn of events, the vampires in this film can walk around in the daylight as well as the night. The characters even go on to say that every vampire is different in their own way, suggesting that there is a whole hierarchy of vampire categories out there to explore. It's an interesting suggestion and one that allows your mind to go wild as the two vampire hunters begin to systematically close in on what method will bring down this particular blood sucker. Added onto that is the fact that the vampire of the film actually sucks the youth from its victims, turning them into haggard invalids before they eventually succumb to death. It's twisted and unique, and perfectly defines the unorthodox approach of this classic Hammer film.

Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter is a gloriously fresh take on the vampire genre and one of Hammer Film's most unusual of efforts. Casually combining its horror and fanciful elements, the production transforms itself into a truly one of a kind beast, one that scoffs at convention and marches to its own beat. Beautifully crafted in that iconic Hammer sensibility, the production greatly benefits from the picturesque countryside locations and interesting locales. The body count of the film is also substantial as the vampire of the film has a great go at draining the villagers of their youth and with brutal results.

The acting across the board is solid and the real standouts of the cast are Kronos himself Horst Janson, with John Carson, John Cater, and Caroline Munro making great efforts to make there presence felt within this unorthodox world. Janson especially embodies the heart and soul of the film, and his delicate performance as the titular vampire hunter is a special treat. Topped with the unrestrained outlook of the film's vampire lore and you have yourself one unconventional vampire tale. One that breaks the rules every chance it gets in its pursuit to entertain the audience no matter what the consequences. If you're looking for a vampire movie that goes against the grain, or a horror movie in general that feels like something completely different, then give this one a go. It's unlike anything you've seen before and that's a good thing. Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter is an.....

Shit it's a zombie! RUN!

Hey! I axed you a question boy!

Hot women cause Grost to shit his pants.

Vampire Hunting Staring Contest..... GO!

Get down with your bad self Grost.

Kronos just chilling with his lady. What a pimp.

This image drives me batty.

Hey you kids! Come back here with my cross!

Ladies and gentlemen.... The beautiful Caroline Munro!

Bring it bro!

Someone give this guy a hand..... or body.

En garde.... I'll let you try my Kronos style!

These two are shocked, but the guy in the background is playing it cool.

My what strange eyes you have Kronos.

Alright you two.... Get off of the furniture!

This movie is so good, your eyes will bleed!

Everyone do the Freak! It's the brand new dance craze that's sweeping the nation!

Don't cry Caroline.... We will meet again in another kick ass movie.

Monday, October 28, 2013

ALL HALLOWS EVE: The Pit and the Pendulum

The Pit and the Pendulum
Director: Roger Corman
Year 1961

REVIEW: Friday the 13th Part 2

Friday the 13th Part 2
Director: Steve Miner
Year 1981

Friday the 13th Part 2 is a rather successful and straight-forward sequel to the 1980 hit horror flick, Friday the 13th. Continuing the story from the bloody aftermath of the first film, Part 2 generates that same toxic atmosphere and gory love lust that the original possessed while bringing on board a whole new group of victims to toy with. Extremely moody and wholly set in its era, this outstandingly entertaining slasher has a great cast of characters and an ample set of interesting kills, adding up to an extremely enjoyable romp in the now famous Crystal Lake.

The film begins five years after the horrible events at Camp Crystal Lake, with a whole new group of camp counselors preparing for the start of a new season at an adjacent camp. Everything goes according to plan, that is until a stranger in the woods begins to stalk the young counselors, murdering them one by one. Could the legend of Jason Voorhees be true? Could he have survived his tragic drowning as a child and witnessed the murder of his mother a mere handful of years ago, which consequently forged a hatred and insatiable blood lust inside of him over the years which is finally now being unleashed upon the cursed people of Crystal Lake? Apparently, yes. There's only one real question to ask. Who will survive this death cursed town?

Friday the 13th has a smorgasbord of characters within its diverse ranks, and each one seems served to meet a cold and harsh death. In true slasher fashion, the cast is made up of stereotypical fodder who ultimately exist to be taken out by the iconic killer Jason Voorhees. Still there are a few standouts who really shine in their individual roles. Amy Steel takes on the role of Ginny Field, the central player of the piece who is the only one who believes that the legend of Jason Voorhees is real. Steel gives Ginny a feisty personality, which helps differentiate her character from the rest of the pack, yet she still has an underplayed feel to her that allows her to come off as genuine. Heroically portrayed and able to mix it up in a horror setting, Steel gives a great performance for the series.

Aside from Steel, the rest of the cast sticks to their mold almost too perfectly. John Furey takes on the role of the typical boyfriend Paul Holt, Kirsten Baker plays the short shorts wearing eye-candy Terry, Stuart Charno goes off on a limb and portrays the extremely nerdy Ted, Marta Kober and Bill Randolph take on the sex craved teens Sandra and Jeffrey, Russell Todd valiantly embodies the pretty boy trouble maker Scott, Tom McBride plays the wheelchair bound athlete Mark, while Lauren-Marie Taylor hones in as his love-sick admirer Vickie. They are predictably stereotypical, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially in an 80's slasher flick. Each one of them fits perfectly within the genre, and their various antics and untimely deaths are all the more interesting. Of course I can't forget Walt Gorney as Crazy Ralph, who reprises his iconic role from the first film in the same fantastically creepy way, including famous catch-phrase, “You're all doomed!”

If you are a fan of the series, then of course you know that this is where Jason Voorhees truly debuts and what an unusual introduction it is. Void of a hockey mask and covered by a sack of all things, Voorhees is still as creepy as ever, and it's interesting to see this early depiction of the iconic character before he really blew up on the horror cinema scene. I for one had the backward experience of viewing all of these films in a somewhat reverse nature, seeing that I didn't get fully introduced to the character until in my teens when the series was already up to part 9. With that being said, I always found it interesting to see this early iteration of Voorhees as some backwoods hillbilly with a sack on his head. It's strange and unsettling, but it fits perfectly against the overall approach of the original, making for an intriguing linear flow that maps out the growth of this ever expanding horror series and its larger than life killer star.

As for the atmosphere of Friday the 13th Part 2, it successfully captures the succinct and haunting tone of the original. With its secluded camp setting, its genuine dread, and its vivid practicality in showcasing one horrific kill after another, Part 2 mirrors the magic of its predecessor without cheapening it to a run of the mill, pale imitation. Though it runs through the same formulaic attributes of the original, it still maintains its own sense of self worth by expanding on the mythology of Crystal Lake and introducing us to a badass killer in the form of Jason Voorhees. He may not have the iconic hockey mask, but the terror and mayhem that he leaves in his wake is just the same. Though lacking in Tom Savini's in your face special effects, it still manages to maintain a voice of its own, one that is bloody, savage, and oh so much fun.

Friday the 13th Part 2 is a highly enjoyable flick. Churning out that same quality that made the original such a smash hit, director Steve Miner and company play it safe for the most part, as they attempt to expand on the mythos of the Friday the 13th universe. Jason Voorhees' introduction is one that is most unexpected, and I'm sure that during the film's debut that his appearance in the flick was quite a shock to the pace of the series. The diverse cast of characters are another nice aspect of the production, with the stereotypical bunch coming off as likeable and wholly memorable.

The inclusion of the original's Adrienne King in the beginning of the film and being able to witness her continued story, is another nice touch that starts things off with a bang, consequently introducing us to the new baddie of the series. It's a hard task to be able to match the quiet and unsettling atmosphere of the original, but the filmmakers give a great effort in maintaining a seamless transition between each entries. With its high body count, unforgettable characters, and powerful mood, Friday the 13th Part 2 is a worthy successor to the highly heralded originator of the series. If you haven't watched it in a while, give it a go. It's as fun as ever. Friday the 13th Part 2 is.....

You know what I'm going to say motherfucker!

Hey asshole!

Camp Crystal Lake? Sounds like a fun place.

Oh sweet sassafras!

Ralph! Nooooooooo!

Words to live by.

This guy is just so kooky.

They really need to put up a Voorhees Crossing Sign on this road.

Living in the lap of luxury.

Please hammer don't hurt em!

Look what I caught.... a pervert!

Shout! Shout! Let it all out! You tell them Tears for Fears.

Look ma.... No poop stains!

Now that's just wrong Jason!

Sorry to wake you Sack Man.

Say cheese! Now that's a keeper!

Ginny you back stabber!

How about a hug!