Sunday, July 3, 2011

Do You Believe In Vampires?

The Kiss Of The Vampire(1963)
Director: Don Sharp
Cast: Clifford Evans, Edward De Souza, Noel Willman

Offbeat Hammer horror entry that bears a striking similarity to the plot of the Karloff/Lugosi classic, The Black Cat(1934), with it's story of a young couple on a honeymoon that find themselves stranded in a foreign land against a terrible evil. Never as popular as other Hammer films, possibly because of the lack of stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, this is still one of the better British vampire films made.

The film takes place at the turn of the century and follows a young couple, Gerald and Marianne Harcourt(Edward De Souza and Jennifer Daniel) who are journeying abroad, when they're motorcar runs out of petrol, forcing them to stay at  anearby Bavarian Inne. The land is strange and foreboding. A mysterious professor Zimmer(Clifford Evans) warns them to continue on their way, but instead the couple stay and are invited to the home of a Dr. Ravna(Noel Willman), the most respected man in the county. He offers them a lavish dinner and hospitality, but things seem strange when Ravna's son(Barry Warren) appears to hypnotize Marianne into a trance state. Meanwhile, the professor is stalking a graveyard and runs across a young woman who has discovered a spade thrust through a coffin, complete with flowing blood. She turns out to be a vampire and bites the doctor on the wrist, who immediately treats the wound, as we discover what the couple are really up against.

The Professor gets drunk and warns the couple not to go back to the castle, even after they are invited there for a party. They take him as a drunken fool and go anyway, where a plot is made by Ravna to take Marianne and turn her into a vampire disciple, as Ravna has invited scores of vampires to stay in his castle for a meeting. Gerald is drugged and thrown out the next day as the residents of the home have cleared all signs of a party and make him appear insane. All Marianne's belongings have vanished from the inne and nobody seems to know anything and the police won't help.

Professor Zimmer knows the score and aids Gerald, explaining to him about the cult of vampires and how Ravna had killed his daughter years before. Gerald rushes to the castle to free Marianne and is captured by the vampires who plan to turn him, cutting his chest and drawing blood. However, in a particularly clever moment, Gerald breaks free and draws a cross across his chest in his own blood and Zimmer arrives in time to let them escape. Marking the place with holy symbols and eliminating Ravna's lead henchman, Zimmer prepares a ritual to destroy the vampires.

In a scene that has to be one of the most imaginative climaxes in any vampire movie, Zimmer conjures up a horde of bats to descend upon the vampires and rip them to pieces in grisly fashion. The effects here are rather weak, unfortunately, for you can clearly see the wires on the bats, but the effect is creepy and there are surprising bits of titilation provided by the bare legs of the two sexy vampires played by Isobel Black and Jacquie Wallis. This conclusion was actually supposed to be used by Peter Cushing for the end of Brides of Dracula(1961), but was instead replaced and recycled for this film.

Kiss of the Vampire is wonderful gothic with all that romantic flavor that only Hammer films can deliver. The photography is rich and vibrant and moody and dark when required. The sets are typically lavish looking for what was probably a lower budgeted picture and they work to capture a feel for the place and time.

The cast perform with professionalism and are all adequate in their respected roles. Howlett makes for a particularly menacing figure as the lead vampire in a role that Christopher Lee could have played in his sleep. He's good, though, as the master of the vampires and it's hard not to cheer on his demise at the close. Warren is cold and grim as Ravna's son and Black and Wallis offer up some mild distraction as two very lovely vampires, which Hammer was a specialist at. The couple are portrayed as being very warm and likeable, Daniel being naive and gentle, making her encounter with the vampires all the more shocking. De Souza fairs better as Gerald, though, bringing a real easy going likeability to his character and genuine fear and intensity later in the film. He makes the suspense work very well because of his performance.

Lead acting honors must go to Evan's Professor Zimmer, who's steely eyed deterimination and non-nonsense approach to vampirism makes him a canidate for one of the best screen vampire hunters of all time. His imposing manner early on sets him up as a villain, complete with the shocking pre-credit sequence where he interupts a funeral procession to drive a stake through a coffin! He makes for a fascinating, even sad, character that more than was able to fill the shoes of master vampire hunter, Peter Cushing.

Languishing among the more underlooked work of the celebrated frightmakers, Hammer's Kiss of the Vampire is one of their finest genre efforts and one of the most interesting and original vampire films ever made. The creative moments like allowing the vampires to venture outside on a cloudy day, to make a cross out of one's own blood or use black magic to defeat vampires en masse, are among the most creative plot
devices i've seen in this genre. This combined with a fine direction and an interesting story, make this well worth seeing for genre enthusiasts.

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