Kiss of the Vampire (1963)
Directed by Don Sharp

Starring Barry Warren Clifford Evans Edward de Souza Jennifer Daniel Noel Willman

Back in the early 1960s, when Hammer was at the top of its form, the company had a mild problem. Star Christopher Lee, who played Dracula in the landmark "Horror of Dracula," didn't want to reprise the role. So Hammer had to crank out vampire films without him. One of those films, "Brides of Dracula," was actually better than the original Hammer Dracula, and still boasted some major horror star power thanks to the return of Peter Cushing in the role of Van Helsing.

"Kiss of the Vampire," however, didn't see the return of Cushing or Lee. If the film has one weakness it's in its less-than-enthralling cast. Willman plays the main vampire baddie in this film, and he's no Christopher Lee. All the same, "Kiss" is an outstanding little horror film, the kind of well-made production that put Hammer on the map.

Edward De Souza and Jennifer Daniel play a charming British couple who become stranded in a Bavarian forest in the 19th Century. As typically happens in any Hammer vampire film, there's a blood-sucking aristocrat living in a castle in the area, and our happy couple inevitably wind up there for dinner.

Evans looks surprisingly similar to Coffin Joe, as the town's alcoholic vampire hunter, who knows the truth about the wealthy family that run the town -- and knows there is little he can do about it. Once again in a Hammer production, the rich use their power and influence to literally suck the life out of the poor townsfolk that live under them. It happened in "Twins of Evil," it happened in "Vampire Circus" and it's happening here.

The film is most interesting after the couple show up at the mansion and partake in a masked ball that eventually descends into a satanic ceremony. When De Souza's wife is taken hostage in the castle, his only hope to get her back is the drunken vampire hunter -- the only person in town who dares stand up to the local aristocrats.

"Kiss of the Vampire" came out at a time when Hammer films were focussed on one thing: quality. Hammer didn't make bad movies in the early 1960s. Although director Sharp didn't do any other Hammer films, the movie was written by legendary Hammer producer Anthony Hinds, who also penned "Curse of the Werewolf," "Brides of Dracula," "Evil of Frankenstein," "Dracula: Prince of Darkness" and "Frankenstein Created Woman" (usually under the pen name John Elder.

The lack of a name Hammer star like Cushing or Lee -- or a name director like Terence Fisher -- has kept this film from being seen by as many people as it probably should. It made its way to DVD briefly in the late 1990s before drifting out of print, and is now a certified collector's item. You can also watch for the movie on American Movie Classics.

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-- Review by Lucius Gore


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