Title: Kiss of the Vampire (1963)
Director: Don Sharp
Cast: Clifford Evans, Edward De Souza, Noel Willman, Jennifer Daniels
Christopher Lee made many films with Hammer Studios, lots of them were vampire films. But one thing he didnt like was being type cast. He didnt want to be known as "the guy who plays Dracula in all those Hammer movies". He ended up doing a bunch of them anyways, but sometimes, he would just say no to appearing in some of these films. As a result, Hammer Studios produced a couple of vampire films without Christopher Lee playing the role of Count Dracula. One of them is Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, which I strongly urge anyone out there who hasnt seen it and enjoys a good Hammer film to go out and see. Christopher Lee's presence was sorely missed on that one! They put another actor in the role of the count, and it just wasnt the same! Brides of Dracula is the one in which Christopher Lee's presence is missed the most because its the film that followed the first Hammer Studios Dracula film entitled Horror of Dracula; and a sequel to Horror of Dracula without Christopher Lee, just isnt the same. Still, Brides of Dracula is one of the best Hammer films out there as well and I think I will be reviewing it soon in a future blog. But the film I'll be talking about today is Kiss of the Vampire. This film did not star Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing, how did it fare without two of Hammers biggest stars? Was this film able to fly on its own?
The story as in many Hammer Dracula/Vampire films, is about a young couple who is traveling through the country when their car suddenly runs out of gas! The couple decides to stay in a local Inn, to spend the night while they can get their hands on some gas, cause you know, there isnt a gas station for miles. While staying there, the local vampire clan extends their warmest invitations to their castle for dinner and some music. While there, the head vampire (called Dr. Ravna) falls for the human girl, and from there on in will stop at nothing to get her in his vampire clan! Will she fall for Dr. Ravnas hypnotic charms?
The rest is preatty predictable if youve seen other versions of Dracula or any vampire Hammer film. The head vampire falls for the girl and has to make her his. The different thing about this version though is the way that Count Ravna goes about making the girl his. You see he doesnt just snatch her, he invites her to a masquerade ball and uses his other vampire disciples to make her dissapear right in front of her husbands eyes. You see, Dr. Ravna is a religious leader of this vampire cult! They all wear the same ceremonial garments and gather in Dr. Ravnas castle which serves as a temple for their cult as well. This is really what sets this movie apart from other Hammer vampire films. The rest of the movie follows the husband of the kidnapped girl trying to find anyone whos willing to go back to the castle and get his wife back.
In most vampire films, the head vampire usually charms the hell out of everyone at first before revealing his true nature. This is true of this film as well. Dr. Ravna invites the unsuspecting couple to a grand masquerade ball, where everyone wears masks and everyone is partying, drinking and having a good time. And a great sequence it is! Gerald the husband of beautiful Marianne is tricked and his wife is taken from him right before his very noses! Those scenes in the party reminded me quite a bit of the ballroom sequences in Jim Hensons Labyrinth or in Stanley Kubricks Eyes Wide Shut. You know, everyone wearing these beautiful yet strange looking masks. Masks always add an air of surrealism to any scene, this movie was no exception. This masquerade ball makes for a dreamy sequence, all the more enhanced because we know that most of the people attending are vampires.
This movie functions as a warning against weird religious cults that blind you, brainwash you and dont let you think on your own. Marianne gets whisked away by the strange vampire cult, and soon, she cares nothing for her husband who she was so in love with in the first moments of the film. Suddenly all she cares about is the group, and what the groups leader has to say. Same with many religions and cults, where they can quickly convince a family member to join and pretty soon, thats all they care about! Thats all they talk about! And then you start wondering: will I ever get my family member back? Thats what this film is about. A young man trying to recover his wife from the clutches of a weird cult! Things are only made worse because said cult is a vampire cult!
A great thing about the flick though is the feeling of paranoia that permeates the film after the wife is taken. The whole masquerade ball sequence mixed with the vampire cult/clan reminded me a lot of how I felt when I watched The Wicker Man, one of the best (if not the best) religious themed horror movies out there. You know, a bunch of fruitcakes who have it all figured out and you are playing their game without even knowing it. That idea that the whole town is in on something, and you've just stumbled onto it without ever realizing it. And how do you escape these crazy bastards now??
This particular Hammer film is missing not only Christopher Lee but also the great Peter Cushing. And though thats a sad thing any day of the week, specially on a Hammer vampire film, I will say that the cast is a strong one. The character of Professor Zimmer (played by Clifford Evans) was a great character, kind of like a rebellious religious monk. He is this movies Professor Van Helsing, he knows all about vampires and how to kill them. He is the one who comes up with the plan to erradicate the vampires, and I have to tell you guys the way the vampires die in this movie is very unique, I dont think Id ever seen that idea presented on any movie. Also, it kind of defies logic, and might leave you scratching your head behind the logic of what just happens. But still it makes for one of the most memorable moments on any Hammer film Ive seen.
Recently had the chance of rewatching this film and its still a great film. I liked the atmosphere, the slow build up, the feeling of "something is not quite right here" and then finally, the feeling of paranoia once you know whats going on in this strange little town. This movie is drenched on the usual Hammer atmosphere, spooky castles at the top of the hill, windy woods, dried up trees, cemeteries. Highly recommend this one if you want to have a old fashioned, spooky horror night.
Rating 4 out of 5