Friday, June 16, 2006

Kiss of the Vampire - review

Director: Don Sharp

Release Date: 1962*

Contains spoilers

Kiss of the vampire is a fascinating little film; it has its flaws but, all in all is a worthwhile addition to the collection of any Hammer and/or vampire genre fan.

The film begins with a funeral; we see the procession and the coffin being lowered into the grave. Watching proceedings is a man, we later discover to be Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans), one of the mourners spots him and wonders if he is drunk again. He walks to the graveside and the priest passes him the holy water sprinkler, he then holds out his hand for the gravedigger’s spade and thrusts it through the lid of the coffin. A scream resonates from the coffin and blood wells up through the lid. As the mourners flee the camera closes in on the lid and passes through to the face of the vampiress within. It is a fantastic opening, dark and moody, with Sharp concentrating on the procession for an extended period – a decision that really adds to the atmosphere of the scene.

In a château on the hill, a man, later revealed to be Dr Ravna (Noel Willman), watches a car through a telescope. In the car are Gerald Harcourt (Edward De Souza) and his new wife Marianne (Jennifer Daniel). They run out of petrol and Gerald leaves Marianne with the car whilst he goes to get help. Marianne is uncomfortable, she can hear various animal noises and then the wind picks up from nowhere. She gets out of the car and a branch breaks from a tree falling to the floor. She panics and runs, straight into Zimmer, who tells her to get back to her car. Gerald returns, with a man and his horse, and they are towed to town and deposited outside the grand hotel. The hotel is bereft of guests, bar Zimmer, and everything seems to be under dust covers. However, once the hotelier Bruno (Peter Madden) realises that they are paying guests, he becomes very friendly. His wife Anna (Vera Cook), on the other hand, seems distant, almost in a trance. Later a coach arrives and a letter is left for the newlyweds, Dr Ravna has invited them to dinner.

The Harcourts accept the invitation and meet Ravna, who seems charming though when he kisses Marianne’s hand the audience feels he lingers just a little too long. He introducers the couple to his children, Sabena (Jacquie Wallis) and Carl (Barry Warren). After dinner Ravna suggests that Carl plays one of his own piano pieces to the couple. Marianne is fascinated and during the unusual piece, following a look from Ravna that seems to cause Carl to intensify the playing, she begins to sway in a trancelike way. Gerald fears that she is going to faint, but she asks Carl to play again - a suggestion quickly denied by Ravna. As they leave Ravna suggests they stay at the hotel for a few days and he will arrange for petrol to be delivered. When they return to the hotel they see Anna in a room, crying over a shawl and a photograph.

Whilst all this was going on we see a young girl sneak from the château. She goes to the graveyard and begins to talk to a grave, asking why the occupant has not visited them. As she speaks she pulls at the top soil and finds the handle of the spade from the prologue. As she pulls at it Zimmer grabs her arm. She bears fangs and bites his wrist before escaping. Zimmer takes himself to his room, pours spirit onto the wound and then sets it alight, obviously burning the infection away.

The next morning the Harcourts breakfast with Bruno and Anna, Anna had set out an extra plate. Later Marianne finds the objects that made Anna cry and discovers the picture of a young girl, Tania (Isobel Black), at age fourteen. We recognise the photo as being of the vampire girl who bit Zimmer. Gerald questions Zimmer on what is going on, but is given no response.

A coach arrives, and Carl and Sabena alight. Sabena tells Carl that they must be quick as the weather is improving. They invite the Harcourts to a party on the Saturday night and offer to lend them party wear. Zimmer enters the room and mentions the weather clearing up and the siblings rush out of the hotel, Carl telling Hans (Stan Simmons?), the coachman, to drive like the devil.

The Harcourts attend the party, which is a masked ball. Interestingly all the male guests wear large masks in the design of grotesque devils, whilst the female guests wear simple black masks covering only the eyes. Gerald is given a mask that looks like a red devil. Marianne dances with Carl, whilst Sabena feeds Gerald champagne. Eventually Marianne asks where Gerald is and Carl says he will find him for her. He returns wearing a mask identical to Gerald’s and silently beckons her to follow. Marianne follows but eventually realises it is not Gerald, all too late. She is locked in a room where she finds Ravna asleep with blood at his mouth. Ravna gets up and draws Marianne to him.

Meanwhile Gerald is very drunk and Sabena calls for special champagne. Drugged, he is taken to a bedroom. With him passed out the party ends, the orchestra and servants leave and the party-goers don robes. Ravna introduces them to their new disciple, Marianne. When Gerald surfaces the château seems deserted. He finds Carl who is cold to him and, when he asks where Marianne is, denies knowledge of her existence. He is thrown out and, further down the road, nearly run down by a coach. Passed out in a ditch he is rescued by Zimmer, who takes him back to the hotel.

The next morning he still cannot find his wife. Bruno denies she existed and her clothes are missing. The police refuse to act as he has no proof she was ever there. Gerald visits Zimmer and finally someone is willing to admit that she existed. Zimmer tells Gerald about vampires, and how his daughter was corrupted by a vampire named Ravna. There is some interesting lore added here. They can walk in daylight so long as it is overcast, it is the direct sun which is the problem, but more interestingly, when bitten, they can go one of two ways. They can seek repentance from God, and be cured, or they can embrace their taint. Zimmer even refers to vampirism as a cult, a reference also made in several of the Dracula cycle movies. The Professor drugs Gerald to help him sleep… he’ll need all his strength in the evening.

When he awakens Zimmer is not there. He makes his way to the Château and breaks in. Finding Tania, he persuades her to lead him to Marianne, but she takes him to Ravna and he is captured. Ravna calls Marianne in, and she declares her love for the vampire, spitting in her husband’s face. Tania is told to initiate Gerald. She cuts his chest with her nails but he slips his bonds and smears the blood into a cross. I had forgotten this scene until I re-watched the film for review and it is interesting to note that this scene was mimicked heavily in the dismal Dracula Rising (1992). Zimmer bursts in and they drag Marianne away. Waiting outside they manage to kill Hans, the human servant, by pushing a large stone column on him and then Zimmer seals the doorway by drawing a cross on it.

Zimmer tells Bruno to summon the priest (Noel Howlett) but he refuses. The professor realises that Ravna has revealed to the hotelier that he has his daughter and manages to persuade him by asking if he wants Tania to share Marianne’s fate. Then he and Gerald go to his rooms. It is the one night, due to a convenient astrological alignment, when Zimmer can do a ritual to use evil to destroy the vampires and prepares for the ritual. Convenient it might be but it goes a long way to explain why Zimmer seemed to do nothing until then, other than drink, he was waiting for the right time. One wonders if any other hapless travellers were left to their fates in the past because Zimmer was waiting for the correct night to perform his ritual. Back at the château the vampires, other than Ravna, are panicking. Ravna summons Marianne to him, by telepathy, in order to release them from the château. When Gerald checks on Marianne, she is missing. The priest arrives and Gerald drags him off with him to find her. Zimmer’s ritual is complete when they reach her and a wind picks up right across the region, and in both the hotel room and the château. It quietens and is replaced by a droning noise, hundreds of bats flying towards the château.

As the priest blesses Marianne, the bats attack the vampires. They die as she awakens and recognises Gerald.

The film is great, but does have some problems. The main issue I have with the movie is tied in with the, otherwise superb, ending and centres on Hammer’s inability to create a convincing bat. The effects spoil what is a powerful and unusual finale. I love the idea that Zimmer, a gruff, drunken man a million miles away from Van Helsing in the Dracula cycle, is willing to use black magic to fight evil. The fighting fire with fire mentality is very novel in the various Hammer vampire movies. Zimmer is a great character and I only wish he had appeared in other Hammer films.

I also felt that Gerald’s anguish could have been dragged out longer. He is too quickly told that he is not mad by Zimmer and the script could have made greater play on that.

The film feels very distinctive but it does owe much to the earlier Brides of Dracula (1960). In the earlier film’s review I mentioned that the ending we get here was originally planned as the finale of Brides. We can also recognise the idea of Zimmer burning the infection out of his arm as coming from Van Helsing branding the infection from his own neck and Tania at the grave was reminiscent of Greta by the grave of a bride in the earlier movie. Let’s face it, even the names have resonance, the heroine of each film is called Marianne.

Be that as it may, the film is a great piece in its own right and less rips off than borrows from the studio’s 1960 opus. The vampires seem no stronger than mortals and can panic as well as anyone, making the concept of a cult seem stronger in this than in the Dracula cycle. The story itself is very simple and this allows the director to move things along well, though the mysteries that appear are not very mysterious to the audience.

All in all, I think this deserves 7.5 out of 10.

For another review go to Exclamation Mark’s Vintage SciFi/Horror Review and the imdb page is here. * imdb shows this as 1963 but the DVD clearly marks it as 1962


Anonymous said...

I first saw Kiss of the Vampire (at least a portion of it) while my wife and I were on our honeymoon. We were married in late October, and one of the cable networks had a 24 hour Halloween fest going on.

I remember, in an act proving my love for my new wife, I turned the movie off so we could have lunch together.

My Kiss of the Vampire review is the third or fourth review I ever wrote. It looks kind of "bare bones" to me now. I think I would approach it differently today.

Your review, though, is excellent. Keep up the great work!

The T said...

Great review of a great film! They should bring back Hammer films!(I think they actually have... but I'm not high in hopes for anything good to come out of it lol).

Taliesin_ttlg said...

The T - they have indeed brought back Hammer films. The first film, Beyond the Rave is a vampire film, free to watch episodically on MySpace...

There is a limited run DVD due out of this (I've ordered a copy and will review once I have the DVD).

They are also involved in another film (non vampire) and are involved (with another company) in the remake of Let the Right One In...

I doubt they will reach the hieghts of their glory days, unfortunately, but some solid films would be nice.