It's different, I'll give it that. It's stylish and doing all kinds of interesting things. Unfortunately it falls down on delivering the basics.
I'll be nice and start with the good stuff. The direction is often subtle and surprising. Its vampire scenes are being shot in a completely different way to those in any other Hammer film, with the vampire either offscreen or only visible as a black shrouded shape. Writer-director Brian Clemens often will do something simply because it looks good. There's a blind girl in a bar at one point, with a blindfold across her eyes. Why? No reason at all, but it cool. Kronos's two swords include a samurai katana. Similarly the camera will linger on things like the smoke from just-extinguished candles.
Meanwhile the vampire lore is extraordinary, for instance with the supernatural ageing and the dead toads. Ten out of ten for trying to avoid cliches. Furthermore it's stated that there are different vampire species, each of which can only be killed in their own particular way. Stakes, garlic, fire, crucifixes... sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. In time this gives rise to a scene where our heroes have a vampire tied to a chair and are trying various different ways to kill it. Unfortunately this is less funny than it sounds. What's particularly interesting is that it could be argued that these vampire powers are loosely tied in with control over time, as is hinted at in the title. Why call your hero Captain Kronos if he's not a time-traveller? That would have been awesome. Well, Kronos doesn't get a chance to visit other historical eras in this film, but try watching the vampires instead.
The cast is also a change from the norm, albeit not very well played. Captain Kronos is a blonde pretty boy who smokes herbal cigars and loves taking his shirt off. He has a hunchbacked assistant, which in itself makes the film cool, but what's more the chap isn't called Igor or Thog but instead Professor Hieronymos Grost. He's the brains of the outfit and one of the few actors worth watching. It's also worth noting that the vampires have a bit more character and humanity than they're normally allowed in this genre. I liked that too.
One unusual thing about this film is the lack of female nudity. Caroline Munro strips a couple of times but the important bits stay carefully hidden by camera angles, as if this were a 1960s Carry On film. Kronos has sex with her, but I bet he was really thinking of Grost. Meanwhile the "I Am A Vampire" girl doesn't have pouting lips and heaving cleavage, but instead has short hair and is dressed in men's clothes. Admittedly there's no gay subtext, unlike the likes of Dracula Has Risen from the Grave
or A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge
, but it's hard to deny that the film's visuals are inclined in that direction. Go on, someone tell me Clemens was heterosexual. I dare you.
Admittedly Munro isn't wearing a bra underneath her dress, yet somehow in this film for once she isn't sexy. Yes, Caroline Munro. I wouldn't have believed it either. Hmmm. It seems I've already got started on the downside.
This film has plenty of fans, but it flopped at the box office to such an extent that it was a significant factor in killing Hammer. They'd planned it to be the first in a series. No such luck. The problem is that one has certain expectations of a film like this and they all get squashed. I went in looking for Hammer atmosphere, naked girls and vampire-slaying. It's a 1974 Hammer vampire film, for goodness sakes. I think you'll agree I wasn't setting my sights high. I went out still looking for those things. No tits. No vampire action worth mentioning. All that arty stuff means the bloodsuckers come across more as parlour tricks than antagonists. As for the fight scenes, most of Kronos's victims are human! No, really. Not once but twice, he's set upon by idiot locals who've either jumped to conclusions or are just plain looking for trouble. If you want vampire-slaying, go watch Buffy. However if you want to watch some lackadaisical dude who wanders around the countryside in the vague vicinity of the undead and towards the end eventually stumbles across a couple of 'em, you've come to the right place.
Then there's the Avengers factor. I was on the point of comparing it to that show even before I remembered for what Brian Clemens is most famous. Nothing in this film feels real. It's not quite set in Avengerland, but it is set in some kind of anonymous dreamworld in which nothing has the slightest context. People appear and disappear. Do they have homes? What do they do every day? Is there some kind of urban conurbation nearby? The whole thing feels random and bitty, never feeling as if we're looking at a fictional world. Oh, and the original Avengers star Ian Hendry plays a thug in a bar.
It's not always very intelligent. Not only is it pure luck that Kronos didn't get Caroline Munro killed at the end, but we don't even know that she wasn't. Maybe she's now another vampire. Meanwhile he's remarkably trusting on seeing her chained up in the stocks at the beginning. "What crime have you committed?" "I danced on a Sunday." No further questions, your honour. Whack, she's free to follow him. Why exactly are we to suppose that people chained up in stocks are always truthful? I'm also not sure that the film always manages to follow its own vampire rules, with a possible discrepancy in when a vampire does and doesn't bleed. That first vampire they think they killed probably got up again after they'd left, didn't he?
To be honest, once or twice I got bored. I admire what the film's doing, but for me even its genuine surprises weren't enough to make up for the lack of meat on its story. There are some clever twists. That's good. I liked Wanda Ventham for all of her two screen minutes. I liked both the chap killed by carriage wheels and the killer bat attack, although it's possible that the latter wasn't meant to be funny. However fundamentally the film doesn't convince me, the acting is mostly poor and even the special effects aren't all that. Look at that old age make-up. I can see completely why many people love this film, just as they love the Avengers, but for me it's not particularly good.