Starburst: Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter was released in 1974 and although it went largely unnoticed at the time, it’s gathered quite a cult following in the intervening years. What’s the story behind the film’s troubled journey to find its appreciative audience?Sam Clemens: I can only talk about what Dad told me and my brother George but he didn’t have a particularly good relationship with Michael Carreras (executive producer, Hammer). He wasn’t supportive of the route Dad was going down with Kronos which was to be a bit tongue-in-cheek which he felt it should be; he felt it should be fun and exciting which was a very different way to approach Hammer – it’s very different to all their other movies. So Michael billed it as a second feature in the UK with Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell so it was lost. But I think people like it because it has a special mysticism about it. When you say that a vampire can be killed in any way but you just have to work out what that way is you’ve opened the world out to anything which is fantastic. I think Dad was also influenced by a bit of Samurai culture – Kronos uses a katana blade, for example - which, back in the 1970’s wasn’t as mainstream as it later became. Quentin Tarantino’s gone on record as mentioning it as an influence, it’s one of Peter Jackson’s favourite films - he remade it when he was fifteen on Super 8 and cast himself as Captain Kronos as a kid. I think the film has got a lot of great imagery in it some of which it still referenced today – you can certainly see the Ringwraiths from Lord of The Rings in the mysterious hooded character with the hidden face. The imagery is iconic – and, of course, Laurie Johnson’s music is fantastic; he’s the master.
Kronos is a marked change from the ‘fangs and Frankenstein’ image of much of Hammer’s output in the early 1970s. Was the film a conscious effort to resuscitate Hammer’s fortunes which were starting to fade at the time?Absolutely. Dad saw Kronos as a bit like Doctor Who in a sense that he could appear within any timeframe at all – that’s why he called him Kronos. The plan was that he could appear in different time periods which gives it enormous scope for a franchise and I think it’s crying out for a remake or a TV series or something but the problem with Hammer today is that they don’t really acknowledge old Hammer even though they’re happy to use the classic logo. But I ring them up and they don’t even know what I’m talking about so it’s really tough. It’s a similar situation with Canal Plus, trying to get anything from them about The Avengers because Dad wrote a stage play which we’d love to do but getting access to the rights is almost impossible.
Horst Janson as Kronos seems like an unusual choice to play a character who might be expected to be a broader, more flamboyant presence. There’s a sort of ‘stillness’ in his portrayal. How did he come to be cast in the role?Dad was a huge fan of stillness in an actor. When people say ‘Watch Robert de Niro or Robert Duvall on camera’ it looks like they’re not doing anything but when you watch it back it’s phenomenal because the camera just captures thought. As an actor if you understand that concept and you’re confident with what you can do then I think it reads really well. I think Horst was recommended by Peter Collinson, who directed the original Italian Job who had worked with him previously . Dad said ‘I need someone who’s a tall, larger-than-life hero , someone who can swordfight and ride horses’ and Peter said recommended Horst. Dad met him, thought he was charming and wonderful and hired him. The ADR (Additional or Automatic Dialogue Recording) on the film is quite remarkable because he was completely dubbed, that’s not his voice at all. My Dad protested profusely to not allow that to happen so he could be shown as foreign like Franco Nero in Django but he lost the battle and then he had to be dubbed. But I think the dubbing is wonderful and it keeps the level of tongue-in-cheek humour. I’d love to hear the original version but I don’t know if it even exists anymore.
Incredibly, Kronos was your father’s only directing credit. Did he enjoy the experience of being behind the camera?I think the only thing my dad was disappointed about on Kronos was the fight scene at the end because they had a lot more time billed to be in the studio but they got pushed out because another film was coming in so they only had a couple of days where they were supposed to have a week and then the other movie didn’t come in for another three months! He was frustrated by that but I think that, on the whole, it was his only directorial effort and I know that he loved it and he came from an era where you were asked to direct as opposed to now where it’s like “please, let me direct!”. I think that’s the only reason he didn’t direct any more because I know he loved doing Kronos.
Presumably, as a first-time director, he was meticulous in his preparation for the shoot?I think Dad had a real eye for a great set up. He storyboarded the entire thing – 400 storyboards. He wanted to turn up on set knowing what he was doing because I think when you’re a first-time director your crew will test you very quickly so see if you know what you’re talking about and he learned from the best because they had some of the best working on The Avengers because the film industry sort of died and a lot of the film guys ended up working in the TV world. There were incredible DOPs (Director of Photography) and directors making episodes so he really learned from some of the best around at the time.
You’ve mentioned the untapped potential of the character and certainly Kronos seems ripe for reinvention in these franchise-crazed times. Do you think Kronos could ride again?I certainly think Hammer are a missing a trick now in the wake of Netflix and stuff like American Horror Story, there’s such a demand for this sort of material they should really be all over that. They’ve got all these iconic properties just sitting there. Every few years I get people contacting me saying ‘I’ve written this script for Kronos, can you have read?’ but I have to tell them ‘Well, I don’t own it, so you might as well send it to Hammer’ which again is such a shame. I think once I finish touring Dad’s Sherlock play in November there are a lot of things going on but my brother George and I have an extremely tiring job of going through all these properties – and there are so many films I’d like to turn into plays – but Kronos is one I’d love to try and find out if we have any rights to because if we do I’d probably immediately call Peter Jackson knowing he’s a huge fan – we’ve had connections with his office - to see if he’d have any interest in doing something with it because you need someone of that calibre to make it into a workable franchise and to give them the creative freedom to put their own personal spin on it. I think it’s due a wonderful remake; I’d love Tarantino to do his version, that’d be absolutely glorious!
Your father’s last story, Surgery, is the short you and George have directedwhich will be screened at Frightfest. What can you tell us about the film?
It’s a about a man who wakes up in the clutches of this terrible surgeon who we call ‘TheCrude Surgeon’ and this poor man is being tortured in horrendous ways but intrue Brian Clemens fashion not everything is quite as it seems. There’s a bit of a twist. It stars Nicholas Ball which is hilarious because I was talking tolots of actors about it and we eventually got Nicholas because we share the same hairdresser who said ‘I think Nicholas might be interested in this’ and fortunately Nicholas, who’s a great old pro, said yes.
How did Surgery come about?
My friend and I had written a horror film called The Still and we had a producer involved who said he really liked it but he said ‘I’d really like your father to do a pass on the script which will make it much more sellable’. Well I’m not going to say no so I took it to Dad and although it took him a lot longer than usual because of illness, he finished it. But George and I needed to prove we could direct horror so I said to Dad ‘Well, we’ve got a tiny bit of money to do a short but we really need an idea for a horror’ and he said ‘Okay, give me a minute’ and I’m not joking but about a minute later he said ‘Okay, I’ve got it’. It’s changed a little bit but ultimately it’s really exactly the same. The day before he passed away, in fact, I was working on the script for The Still and I was trying to work out how I could get a character to reappear without it being contrived and he solved it in about five seconds. The last thing he did was solving a problem on a script; in the end it was only his body that was failing him, not his mind.
Although your father wrote scripts for a number of horror films including Captain Kronos, most of his work was in an age before horror films took a turn for the gory. How does Surgery compare with the more recent vogue for extreme violence and bloodshed?
I hope Surgery feels a little bit ‘old school’; we kept everything in the mind of the audience so whilst there’s gore it’s much more about what’s implied rather than seeing everything which I think diminishesthe impact. Dad always used to say ‘What I imagine is much worse than you wantto see 99% of the time’. Frightfest will be the world premier and George and Iare so happy because I went to Frightfest a few years ago because a friend ofmine was doing red carpet interviews and they mentioned doing a screening of Kronos – they did a screening of it in Glasgow last year. So we filmed Daddoing an introduction to it which was the last thing he ever filmed. I’m so pleasedthey’ve chosen to screen it this year as well and, bizarrely, it’s on the same day as Surgery which will be really exciting.
Sam Clemens is currently appearing as Sherlock Holmes in Brian Clemens’ Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper Murders which is touring the UK until November at the following venues:
24th August – 26th August – Buxton Opera House
28th September – 3rd October – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
6th October – 10th October – Dundee Repertory Theatre
12th October – 13th October – Marina Theatre, Lowestoft
15th October – 17th October – Millennium Forum, Derby
21st October – 24th October – Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon
26th October – 27th October – Hexagon Theatre, Reading
3rd November – 7th November – Grand Theatre, Blackpool
Check local press and venues for further detailsA Blu-ray of Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter which was written and directed by Brian Clemens will be released later this year. If you can’t wait, it is being shown on Horror Channel in the UK on Monday, August 17th and at Film 4 FrightFest on Sunday August 30th. The Clemens Brothers short film Surgery also screens at the London horror event on the same day.
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