Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

Rating: D+

Dir: Don Sharp
Star: Edward de Souza, Jennifer Daniel, Clifford Evans, Noel Willman

In the introduction, I wrote a bit about how much Hammer relied on getting good performances from stalwarts like Peter Cushing. Well, here’s a prime example, because rarely has he been so greatly missed. Clifford Evans’ Professor Zimmer, an alcoholic vampire-hunter who bears a strong resemblance to Coffin Joe, icon of the Brazillian horror genre, starts strongly by drunkenly gatecrashing a funeral to impale the vampiric corpse with a shovel. But it’s all downhill from there, with Evans proving incapable of selling the basic concept. Similarly, Dr. Ravna (Willman), leader of the vampire cult, lacks the screen presence and feral intensity of Christopher Lee. Newly-married couple Gerald and Marianne (De Souza and Daniel), who fall into his clutches after their car runs out of gas and they are forced to take shelter at a nearby inn, are basically entirely forgettable.

There are some interestingly paranoid scenes after Marianne is kidnapped by Dr. Ravna for induction into his clan, and Gerald is met with stonewalled denials of her entire existence. Everyone claims he arrived alone, until the Professor confirms what’s happened, to Gerald’s huge relief. But that kind of psychological cat-and-mouse play isn’t why you watch Hammer movies, and this is just too well-mannered, with dinner parties and masked balls instead of bodice-ripping and throat-draining. And what’s up with another dreadfully-executed bat-attack sequence? Here, there’s a whole flock of the things which tear into the vamps, as a massive chiroptera ex machina. It was originally supposed to have formed the climax of Brides of Dracula, until Cushing objected. On seeing them here, in all their rubbery glory, I can see why, and am fully behind him…

[Also starring: Well, this one’s pretty thin on the ground, in people who’d go on to anything else – it was less a stepping-stone than a millstone, I think. Evans had a regular role in late sixties’ boardroom drama, The Power Game, as building tycoon Caswell Bligh. Nope, I’ve never really heard of it either.]