A Hammer vampire film that not only had I never seen before, but also only read about in a vague and half-recalled way. Which is a shame as it’s absolutely brilliant! Maybe it’s the fact that it doesn’t have any stars – there’s no Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee here; and also isn’t one of those nudity heavy films of the late 1960s – but, for whatever reason, THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE gets lost in the shuffle. And that’s bizarre, as it’s surely one of the most influential Hammer films ever made. CARRY ON SCREAMING, THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS and even WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS all take their leads from this. If you’re looking for the original movie with the big grand Vampire ball in it, this is it.
But let me just start at the opening scene, which doesn’t necessarily join seamlessly with the rest of the film, but is bloody fantastic. A funeral is taking place in a small village, the deceased’s friends and family are weeping at the graveside. They all stop though to stare with suspicion at a glowering James Mason type approaching (actually it’s Clifford Evans, but a James Mason type, he is). Determinedly he walks through the mourners, and then stabs a spike into the grave and through the lid of the coffin, sending blood spurting everywhere and the villages fleeing.
Moving a little forward from the normal gothic setting, our protagonists are a young honeymooning English couple motoring through Europe when their car breaks down. The villagers greet them with suspicion, but the inhabitants of the local castle are friendly and invite them up. Before the end of the trip, there is a masquerade ball happening at the castle. The couple are invited, but once there separated and the wife disappears. More dreadful though, the next morning, everyone in the castle and the village itself claims that the man didn’t even have a wife.
The film is both great fun and utterly gripping. Don Sharp’s direction is superb, breathing real life into a script which in other hands would be hoary and full of questions. (Why is the wife so important to these vampires? Even if she is that important, why not just convert the husband too?) Even the stranger and more dodgy moments are done with such style that it’s hard to see them as flawed. I particularly liked how this particular coven of vampires seem like a group of stroppy accountants in a cult.
Every Hammer movie is to a greater or lesser extent flawed. Horror made nearly sixty years ago is always going to feel trapped by its time. But the thing about THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE is that its good enough to overcome those flaws and be a piece of horror entertainment that still stands up.
My debut novel, THE WANNABES – which has been out of print for a little while – is now available for free. A supernatural thriller of beautiful actresses and deadly ambition in London town, it’s well worth your time. You can get your copy here!