CD: Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974)

January 20, 2011 | By

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Rating: Excellent

Label: GDI Records- BSX Records / Released: September 14, 2007

Tracks & Album Length: 37 tracks / (58:36)


Special Notes: 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by Randall D. Larson / Limited to 2000 copies.


Composer: Laurie Johnson




It’s fair to say Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter is the best Hammer score never written by Bernard Herrmann, and Laurie Johnson should be proud of writing the score with Herrmannesque touches without directly quoting whole chunks from any Herrmann work – an important point when one considers Richard Band’s ‘homage’ to Herrmann in Re-Animator (1985), where the Psycho theme is replayed with a pop-styled synth beat.

With an interest in Herrmann’s knack for sonic contrasts and constructing versatile, simple themes, Johnson incorporated Herrmannesque elements in his excellent score for Ray Harryhausen’s The First Men in the Moon (1964). The similarities to Herrmann’s Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) are mostly the emphasis on severe low tones with organ, and pushing the brass to emote the lowest, most foreboding notes that are hairs away from harmonic mush, but Kronos is a different animal.

The Herrmannesque touches are low woodwinds playing addictive little figures; snide and muted brass; and the use of a charged galloping motif that sometimes appears in the film to create a sense of movement between dialogue exchanges, or sometimes when characters simply ponder things, as Herrmann himself applied to the slowly paced western Garden of Evil (1954).

Johnson’s “Main Title” actually has several significant parts that are integral to the film’s overall design as a Hammer Film. The high-strung, opening chord with a subtle bell chime nicely recalls James Bernard’s signature sounds of dissonance – a dominant feature in the multiple Hammer films Bernard scored during the fifties and sixties – but the chord also sets up what will be Johnson’s repeated use of contrasts, be it dissonance played against a soothing melody (exemplified by oboe and flute in a tender prelude), or grungy sounds pitted against high register notes from the agitated strings.

The title music infers the beginning of a fox hunt, with a hunter (Kronos) and his loyal assistant trekking over and across beautiful English hills towards an isolated village. Johnson’s steady rhythm infers a chase in spite of the characters moving quite slowly, but as the chord changes become more urgent, the audience is teased into believing they’re on an exciting journey where Kronos is close to hunting down and killing a fanged monster – an event that’s actually saved for the very end. Each iteration throughout the film functions as a tease, and a reminder that Kronos is getting much closer to his fanged target.

The Kronos / hunt theme begins with Johnson laying out the rhythm plus trumpet heralds, almost echoing across images of the dewy countryside. Additional brass intensify the dialogue among trumpets, the lower brass and woodwinds, and suddenly Johnson shifts to several bass clarinets playing a 3/3/6-note figure. That section is immediately followed by urgent strings playing a slower 4/4/5 figure, shifting chords after the first four notes, and letting the fifth note of third section trail off to give a bit of harmonic closure for the audience. The final section of Johnson’s “Main Titles” focuses on snarling bass clarinets with little side jabs from muted trumpets – an overt nod to Herrmann (particularly his Harryhausen scores) that reappears throughout the score.

Other contrasts include a lilting rendition of the film’s central ‘happy theme’ that Johnson uses for love scenes; young teens petting each other in the forest; or in the beginning of “Birthday Victim,” where the warm notes coming from an oboe are punctuated by an unpleasant twang, which Johnson creates using a cimbalom textured with brass, and the tactile vibrato from the double bass.

Most of the album makes use of the Kronos / hunt theme, but it’s never repetitive because other moments of menace are scored with various combinations of brass and low woodwinds, strings and muted brass, or instrumentation focusing on sustained chords.

Warm chords initially dominate “Evil in the Church,” a sequence where a mother has come to the local church to pray in sorrow for her freshly dead daughter. In the film, as the mother prays, the shadow of a cross’ side arms bend downward – a signal of the vampire’s presence – and Johnson accentuates the implied horror with an undercurrent of dissonance. These dark touches appear each time after restating the warmer religious-tinged chords, until dissonance and lower tones eventually dominate the cue.

Fans of Herrmann as well as Johnson will relish the prominence of bass clarinets, and Kronos is one of the best examples of using the low, odd-sounding instrument as an integral character rather than a minor coloration or for humorous effect.

Johnson’s gift for melody is also a vital ingredient to the score’s success, be it the Kronos theme, or the tender derivation “Carla and Kronos,” with strings and subtle cimbalom accentuating the attraction between the vampire hunter and the fetching wench who becomes his emotional confidante.

The instrumentation in “Stalking the Prey” is initially quite reminiscent of Herrmann’s Psycho. Using a chamber orchestra, the cue consists of a repeated figure played by a small group of quiet strings with eerie sustained notes in the first half, and the gradual addition of brass in the middle as the vampires hypnotize characters before Kronos launches a swordfight with the lead vampire.

Shades of Herrmann’s Harryhausen scores are also potent in “Fight to the Death – God’s Blade” with variations of the fox hunt figure played by the bass clarinets transferred to brass, but Johnson uses these touches merely to punctuate the moments when Kronos loses some footing during the lengthy duel.

The cue itself isn’t busy; Johnson’s approach was to have the orchestra observe and comment using tones with just the occasional busy section when the danger level increases; and allowing for a balance of music, bits of dialogue, and the clashing of swords (which themselves detail the intensity of the swordfight).

The “Main Title” from Kronos did appear on a 1998 compilation CD from GDI Records and Johnson himself re-recorded it (under the title of “Death Duel”) for a Starlog / Varese Sarabande compilation in 1980, but this marks the first time the original score is available. The mono tracks may lack the depth present in the 1980 re-recording (which is frankly magnificent), but all of Johnson’s nuances still shine in this cleanly mastered CD.

The disc also includes a handful of bonus cuts, spanning stingers and effects-styled tracks ranging from :06 to 1:01 mins, and closes with a longer edit of the “Main Title” which seems to have been extended using the tail-end of the “End Credits” for a formal theme closing.

Unlike his scores for the original Avengers series, few of Johnson’s feature film scores available on CD, perhaps due to Johnson’s greater involvement in TV productions which tend to get more attention.

Among Hammer fans, the spotlight is often isolated on James Bernard, but Johnson’s style – robust, mysterious, and exquisitely orchestrated – was the perfect musical bridge between the old and new Hammer films that were being crafted in the early seventies. Unfortunately, 1974 was the last year the studio would turn out a string films, eventually slowing down production and shifting to more economical TV productions during the eighties.

Johnson’s other notable fantasy, horror and thriller scores include First Men in the Moon (1964), Diagnosis: Murder (1975), the TV series Thriller (1973-1976), and re-orchestrating Bernard Herrmann’s music from It’s Alive (1974) for two sequels, It’s Alive II (1978) and It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987).



© 2011 Mark R. Hasan


Related links:

DVD / Film:  Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974)


Related external links (MAIN SITE):

DVD / Film:  First Men in the Moon (1964) — Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) — Re-Animator (1985)


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