Director: Don Sharp
Cast: Clifford Evans, Noel Willman, Edward De Souza, Barry Warren
Screenplay: Anthony Hinds
88 mins. Not Rated.
Back in 1963, Paranoiac was released in a double-bill with The Kiss of the Vampire. This was a staple of the time, and the studio would often drop an “A” film to begin and a “B” film that the studio has less faith in. I’m just guessing here, I think The Kiss of the Vampire was probably not the “A” film.
Gerald (Edward De Souza, The Golden Compass, The Spy Who Loved Me) and Marianne Harcourt (Jennifer Daniel, Wuthering Heights, The Reptile) are celebrating their marriage with a honeymoon in Bavaria when their car runs out of gas. They are taken in by the kind and welcoming Dr. Ravna (Noel Willman, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Doctor Zhivago). What they do not know is that Dr. Ravna and his family are part of a vampiric cult who plan to secretly kidnap and indoctrinate Marianne.
I remember reading that director Don Sharp (Psychomania, Rasputin: The Mad Monk) was not all that interested in making horror movies, and it shows here. Kiss of the Vampire spends so much time not being a horror movie that when the required horror elements start entering the story about an hour in, it’s lost a lot of goodwill. It’s a shame because there’s some good stuff in the finale of this one, but everything leading up to it is so bland that the mere hint of anything worthwhile is exciting. There’s a mild seduction happening to Gerald and Marianne from the vicious cult that could’ve been rather enticing, but it doesn’t lean into this at all.
Sharp had planned on going against the grain here, making something unlike Hammer’s previous vampire fare, which he does, and the mythology around the cult is interesting (when it’s finally revealed). Kiss of the Vampire was originally crafted to be the third Hammer Dracula film, following Horror of Dracula and The Brides of Dracula, seemingly to continue the series without Christopher Lee if he chose not to return, but when they were able to secure him for Dracula: Prince of Darkness, this one ended up being a standalone. Fun fact: the movie was initially delayed a bit to avoid comparisons with Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. The comparisons are minute, and they only involve a few sequences near the tail-end of the film.
There are a few engaging performances in the film, primarily from Clifford Evans (The Curse of the Werewolf, The Proud Valley) as the mysterious Professor Zimmer who stays in the hotel nearby our honeymooning lovebirds and Barry Warren (Lawrence of Arabia, Frankenstein Created Woman) as Dr. Ravna’s “son” who rides a line between suspicious and likable. The rest of the cast is ultimately wasted meandering around a castle for far too long looking for plot development.
The Kiss of the Vampire has a lot of the style and production design of the best Hammer horror, but it’s missing a lot of substance that could’ve made this another classic in the catalog. It’s fine, but a director more interested in horror could’ve added something really incredible to this premise.
-Kyle A. Goethe