Hammer had become the biggest name in horror by 1963. They’d scored hits with The Curse of Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Curse of the Werewolf and most importantly The Horror of Dracula. They had also gotten into the sequel business with Frankenstein and Dracula. While there was no problem bringing back Peter Cushing to play Dr. Frankenstein, Christopher Lee wasn’t too drawn to wearing the fangs again. The first sequel The Brides of Dracula only brought back Cushing as Doctor Van Helsing with a new cast of bloodsuckers. So for what was supposed to be the third entry of the Dracula franchise, the studio went without the mention of Dracula or Peter Cushing to establish new stars for the horror pursuits of the studio. They also brought in a new director with Don Sharp. He had just recently made It’s All Happening with British pop sensation Tommy Steele that was shot, cut and in theaters in barely 6 weeks. Sharp knew how to work fast. The film wasn’t all new names as producer Anthony Hinds overseeing the project from a script he wrote under his pseudonym John Elder. The Kiss of the Vampire would be a new experience even with those certain Hammer horror touches.
Gerald (The Spy Who Loved Me‘s Edward de Souza) and Marianne Harcourt (The Reptile‘s Jennifer Daniel) are putting around the Bavarian countryside in their newfangled car. In the middle of nowhere, the car breaks down and they get towed by a horse to a nearby tiny town. The local hotel is a rather rundown affair with a hint that the housekeeping staff was fired years before. The only person staying in the rather sketchy rooms is disturbed Professor Zimmer (The Curse of the Werewolf‘s Clifford Evans). Luckily the Harcourts don’t have to tempt calling down for room service because Dr. Ravna (The Reptile‘s Noel Willman) invited him over to his estate for dinner. He’s a bit creepy, but he’s a family man with Carl (Frankenstein Created Woman‘s Barry Warren) and Sabena (Jacquie Wallis). They really take interest in Marianne and beg for the couple to come back to their big party the next night. The couple dress up for the masquerade ball and get down to party with Ravna and his friends. During the fun, Marianne gets lured upstairs away from Gerald. She discovers the horrifying truth of Ravna and his party pals. In the morning, not only can Gerald not find his wife, but everyone swears he showed up in town a single man. Even the guy running the hotel swears he checked in solo. His only hope is Professor Zimmer who has had his own issues with Ravna and his cult. Can he save his marriage?
The lack of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing or Dracula has made The Kiss of the Vampire a bit of outsider in conversation about Hammer films from this era. People doing a binge viewing of Hammer’s Dracula flicks may skip it over because of the Karnstein trilogy that started with The Vampire Lovers in 1970. But you’re making a serious mistake. By not having the usual actors on the screen, you’re left wondering who is truly going to survive this nightmarish honeymoon. If Zimmer was played by Peter Cushing, you know he’s going to save the day. But who knows what the character will do when played by Evans. He might flip out and screw it all up for Gerald reuniting with his wife. Zimmer is not merely a Van Helsing clone. He’s willing to use black magic against the cult. The ending requires a suspension of disbelief not from what happens, but the special effects. This budget issue adds to the charm more than ruins things during the climax. The Kiss of the Vampire will remind you that the undead use more than tongue when they get extra passionate.
The Kiss of the Vampire: Collector’s Edition is a welcome upgrade since the previous releases were all barebones. This Blu-ray contains three different versions of the film including the TV edited version. You’ll spend more time enjoying the film than the Harcourts did on their vacation.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. There’s also a version at 1.66:1 anamorphic. The transfer is 4K scan off the interpositive. The picture looks so good. You’ll be able to appreciate the work of production designer Bernard Robinson. The audio is DTS-HD MA Mono so you can hear all the creepiness of the vampire cult. The movie is subtitled in English.
Audio Commentary with actors Edward De Souza and Jennifer Daniels, moderated by Peter Irving on the 1.85:1 version lets the couple recount their haunted honeymoon. Daniels passed away in 2017 so it’s great she has a chance to share with us her experiences on the set. They talk about how there were no Hammer parties when they were making the films. It was only years after that their was a bonding between people who made Hammer films at various conventions.
Audio Commentary with author/film historian Steve Haberman and filmmaker/film historian Constantine Nasr on the 1.66:1 version. They go deep into background on the cast and crew.
The Men Who Made Hammer: Composer James Bernard (17:17) delves into the man who made the scary notes. Turns out Bernard won an Oscar for screenwriting with partner Paul Dehn in 1950 before his composing career took off. He started at Hammer with The Quatermass Xperiment and did many of the early Hammer horrors including The Kiss of the Vampire. Bernard also served in the same service as Christopher Lee in World War II.
The Men Who Made Hammer: Production Designer Bernard Robinson (19:48) pays tribute to the man who had to make scary sets on a shoestring. Richard Klemensen of Little Shoppe of Horrors magazine gives the history of the draftsman who moved up to designing castles of the undead. He created Dr. Frankenstein’s lab in The Curse of Frankenstein. He figured out ways to reuse set pieces and backlots at Bray Studio for Hammer.
Theatrical Trailer (1:29) promises us the kiss of love between a young couple on a honeymoon. Except it all gets ruined by the kiss of a vampire!
Radio Spot (1:02) promises a tale of the supernatural.
TV Version Kiss of Evil (92:45) is the bloodless version that ran on NBC in 1966. They cut so much out that they had to shoot additional scenes to fill the 2 hour network slot. There’s a new title card since there was a lot of blood at the graveyward. the The film is 1.33:1 and the resolution isn’t too great since it was being broadcast at a time when most TVs were in black and white with small screens. There’s an optional audio commentary by film historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson.
Additional Scenes added to the TV version Kiss of Evil (16:44) let you know exactly what was shot to fill in the gaps. Mostly it’s neighbors who explain little things.
Kiss of Evil TV trailer (1:42) is the same as the other trailer is the new title.
Scream Factory presents The Kiss of the Vampire: Collector’s Edition. Directed by: Don Sharp. Screenplay by: John Elder (Anthony Hinds). Starring: Clifford Evans, Noel Willman, Edward de Souza, Jennifer Daniel & Barry Warren. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 88 minutes. Released: July 14, 2020.
Tags: Hammer Horror, James Bond, Scream Factory, The Kiss of the Vampire