288 pages, Hammer
Review by Hereward L.M. Proops
Hammer horror films are back! That simple statement fills me with a frankly quite ridiculous amount of joy. Since being (most aptly) resurrected from the grave in 2007, the legendary British studio has been behind 2010's “Let Me In” and 2011's somewhat iffy “Wake Wood”. I'm frothing with excitement at the prospect of seeing their take on Susan Hill's “The Woman in Black” and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the film will see a return to the creepy gothic thrills of older productions. The revitalised studio is not just putting out new movies, they are also digitally remastering a significant number of films from their extensive back-catalogue and releasing a range of horror novels. The novels range from original works by well-established authors (such as Helen Dunmore's recently released ghost story, “The Greatcoat”) to adaptations of classic Hammer films. I hope to get round to reading many more of these books in the near future as I can categorically state that I had more fun with Guy Adams' “Kronos” than I have had with any other book for a very long time.
Based on the relatively obscure 1974 film “Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter”, “Kronos” is an action-packed period romp. The novel follows the adventures of ex-soldier and professional vampire slayer Kronos and his hunchbacked assistant Professor Grost. Summoned by an old army colleague to investigate a series of mysterious deaths in a sleepy English village, Kronos soon uncovers evidence that the deaths can be attributed to the nefarious work of a particularly unpleasant type of life-sucking vampire. Accompanied by a sexy gypsy girl (who contributes little to the plot other than looking pretty), Kronos and Grost struggle to uncover the identity of the fiend before it strikes again. Things don't go smoothly, as the narrow-minded villagers quickly begin to suspect the enigmatic swordsman as being the root of their problems. Will the heroes prevail against the combined forces of evil and pig-ignorance?
Of course they will. Although the plot might keep readers (who haven't seen the movie) guessing as to the true identity of the vampire, the ultimate outcome is never in doubt. Naturally, Kronos and Grost save the day and kick a lot of living and undead ass whilst doing so. However, this sort of story is rarely hamstrung by its predictability. A novel based on a cheesy, low-budget 70s horror movie is never going to be a great work of literature but in the capable hands of Guy Adams, the story becomes a wildly entertaining jaunt with lashings of gore, violence and humour. Indeed, “Kronos” differs from its source material by being significantly more amusing than the original film. Die-hard fans of the film (I'm sure there aren't many of them) might find the jokes detract from the creepy atmosphere but I personally felt that the humour added to the proceedings. Kronos remains a bit of a stiff character but the comic banter between Grost and Carla the sexy gypsy girl help to lighten the tone and provide more than a few chuckles.
Each chapter in the story is told from a different character's point of view and some may find the use of multiple narrators a bit tiresome. A few of the chapters are little more than a couple of pages long and no sooner has the reader gotten accustomed to one narrative voice does Adams switch to another. However, a good deal of the humour comes from reading different characters' interpretations of the strange goings on in the village. A straightforward omniscient narrator would be unlikely to capture the quirkiness of the different personalities in the book. This minor quibble aside, Adams' novel is fast-paced, highly entertaining and doesn't overstay its welcome.
The extent to which people will enjoy this novel largely depends upon what they are expecting from it. Those expecting a complex narrative or a genuinely dark and brooding atmosphere are likely to be utterly dismayed by the novel's jaunty, often silly take on the genre. Those who have fond memories of the high-camp, low-budget Hammer horror films with gushing bright red blood and heaving bosoms in tight corsets are likely to feel right at home. “Kronos” might seem an odd choice for Hammer studios to release in their new range of books but it shows me that whilst the studio has lain dormant for a long time, it has not lost its sense of humour. I don't think this is the last novelization of a classic Hammer movie we'll see... I'm hoping we'll be treated to paperback adaptations of “The Plague of the Zombies”, “Frankenstein Created Woman” or “The Reptile”. Of course, what would make me truly geek-out would be for Hammer Books to commission someone (me, perhaps?) to write a novelization of the classic Kung-Fu / Horror crossover “The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires”. I'm waiting for your call, chaps.
Hereward L.M. Proops