Hammer achieved a large amount of success with Horror of Dracula pretty much out of the gate. This led to a franchise with at least seven sequels. Still, despite the massive success of their flagship Dracula franchise, British Hammer Studios thought there was more to explore with the idea of the vampire. They still wanted to examine vampires in as many ways as possible. Thus they made Kiss of the Vampire, unrelated to their star franchise in any way, shape or form.
This movie was originally going to be a part of the initial franchise, however. It would have been the third in the series, following Brides of Dracula which saw the return of Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing, but the absence of Christopher Lee’s Dracula. It is more of a spiritual follow-up to Brides and serves as a better sequel to that particular film than the Dracula movies that followed it. This would have seen Christopher Lee return as the Count had it remained a sequel, though that wound up not working out. Dracula: Prince of Darkness was made instead while this was turned into an original idea.
A troubled production, for sure, but in some ways for the best. This movie stands fairly well on its own. It feels a lot like a story that might be found in the midst of an old book of vampire tales. It is Gothic in a way that many Hammer vampire films tried and failed to be. The movie oozes with mystery and atmosphere that both serve it well.
It follows a newlywed couple honeymooning through Bavaria (of all places) at an indeterminable time in the early twentieth century. They stay at an Inn and quickly become taken with the local culture and soon find themselves guests of the wealthy Dr. Ravna and his family—all of whom are of course vampires. It is bigger than that though. In addition to the family of vampires, there is the local cult that worships them. Ravna hosts decadent parties to take in new prey while the locals take it upon themselves to cover it up. Each person who disappears, they pretend as though they never existed so that whoever may know the missing person is simply treated as insane. Gerald Harcourt, our newlywed protagonist, has lost his wife to this cult and is treated thus. But he knows he’s not insane. Of course his wife existed, he only needs to find the help of someone who will believe him and who can help him understand exactly what he’s up against.
Enter the abrasive and alcoholic Professor Zimmer, a man wisely far removed from Van Helsing. Zimmer lost his daughter to the vampires and has lived a life away from virtually all human connection ever since, but decides to take action in order to help Gerald get his wife back.
This is a very different film than Hammer’s Dracula series, although it could easily exist within the same mythology. The vampires are aristocratic, but not overly romantic. Even though they are charming and lure you in with their lifestyle, they still bear a strong sense of malicious evil, particularly Ravna. The set design is among Hammer’s most gorgeous as is the scenery. The opening of the film is moody and gothic in the old Universal tradition.
Overall, Kiss of the Vampire is an unexpected delight. It’s a fine film from Hammer and one of their strongest efforts outside of their major franchises and updates on the classic monsters. It’s a great old-fashioned horror movie that bears enough modern sensibilities to make it interesting for today’s audience. Overall, it is at the very least worth checking out.
WICKED RATING: 7/10 [usr 7]
Director(s): Don Sharp
Writer(s): John Elder
Stars: Edward de Souza, Jennifer Daniel, Clifford Evans
Studio/ Production Co: Hammer Film Productions, Universal Pictures
Sub-Genre: Classic Horror, Gothic, Vampires