Don Sharp’ 1963 vampire movie for Hammer was one of the first horror films this critic saw, and probably gave an unrepresentative sample of the quality of what was to come next. While most horror films go for the jugular in no short order, Sharp wasn’t a genre fan, and he constructs his film very differently from the Hammer norm, which is a good thing. The result is far more sophisticated than most horror or vampire movies, and the restraint is to be commended.
The story is fairly familiar; a young couple Gerald and Marienne (Edward De Souza and Jennifer Daniel) find their car has broken down in turn of the century Bavaria, and happen on a vampire cult led by the sinister Dr Ravna (Noel Willman). Van Helsing-lite Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans) is on the case, staking out a coffin-bound vampire in the bloody opening sequence, and not afraid to use black magic against the vampire hoards in a dramatic finale.
Between these two set pieces, there’s a very slow period-film burn as letters and telegrams are delivered by carriage, cars take weeks to repair, and proceedings generally unfold at the speed of a rain-interrupted test match. AKA Kiss of Evil, The Kiss of the Vampire is in colour, which is notable in that it looks fantastic with all manners of greens and golds, and the genteel pace gives it a unique flavour; it’s rare to praise a horror for earnestness and conviction, but that’s what Sharp’s film has.
An ideal ‘first horror movie’ for curious children and teens, The Kiss of the Vampire may be tame by today’s standards, but it’s also a fun example of a template that got bogged down in sex, violence and derivative ideas. It’s also clearly the template for Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers; the richly-textured masked ball scene in particular, and while the bat-army finale would all be done with CGI now, it still packs a bloody punch.
Posted as part of the momumental internet-breaking event The Third Hammer Amicus Blogathan, thanks to Gill and Barry for the heads up!