Release Date(s)1963 (July 14, 2020)
Studio(s)Hammer Films/Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A-
Originally intended as a follow-up to The Brides of Dracula, Kiss of the Vampire was given its own storyline and characters, ignoring the Dracula character altogether. Produced and written by Hammer regular Anthony Hinds and directed by Don Sharp, who also helmed the well-regarded Rasputin the Mad Monk later on, the film was released in late 1963 in the US and early 1964 in the UK on a double bill with Paranoiac.
Gerald (Edward de Souza) and Marianne (Jennifer Daniel) are newlyweds driving along the Bavarian countryside when they run out of fuel. Temporarily stuck in a small village until fuel can be obtained for them, they stay at a local inn run by an older couple, Bruno (Peter Madden) and Anna (Vera Cook), who seem to be hiding something. Not long after their arrival, they’re invited to dine with Dr. Ravna (Noel Willman) and his adult children, including his son Carl (Barry Warren). After a graveside encounter with the fang-adorned Tania (Isobel Black), the distraught and drunken Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans) tries to warn the couple of impending danger.
Kiss of the Vampire is often pushed aside in the Hammer oeuvre, overshadowed by the Dracula and Frankenstein series of films. Viewing it with fresh eyes reveals a terrific vampire tale that’s aloof in the Hammer catalog. Besides one of the main protagonists having an interest in black magic and using it to combat the undead, there’s also an element of The Lady Vanishes worked into the plot as well, giving it more intrigue. The film also pushes sensual boundaries, albeit tame by today’s standards, but noteworthy nonetheless. Performances are good and the film’s finale is quite memorable, helping to make it a far more interesting film than many give it credit for.
Unfortunately, many saw the film in its butchered TV form under the title Kiss of Evil. When it premiered on NBC in 1966, not only was all of the violent and suggestive content excised entirely—leading to confusion during a couple of key moments—but it also incorporated newly-filmed footage of secondary characters to fill out the running time. That version ran on TV all the way up into the early 2000s, notably on the Sci-Fi channel. It’s a very poor variant of the film, even changing its tone to a mild degree, and adding nothing of substance. However, the full original version of Kiss of the Vampire is a gem, one that stands out among Hammer’s output as something different than the sometimes pedestrian (at least in structure) gothic horrors of the era.
Scream Factory brings Kiss of the Vampire to Blu-ray for second time in a new Collector’s Edition release, sporting a new 2K scan of the film’s interpositive element and presented in two different aspect ratios: 1.85:1 and 1.66:1. The difference in ratios is negligible as only a minor amount of picture information differentiates them from one another, mostly on the top and bottom edges of the frame. Though it presenting them on separate discs rather than crowding and potentially spoiling the encode would have been better, it surprisingly doesn’t make much of a difference. Detail is strong throughout, with particular regard to shadows and close-ups. The color palette is gorgeous, offering a wide range of bold hues, especially reds, blues, and purples. Skin tones are also fairly accurate. Contrast levels are ideal and the image is stable and clean. The weakest areas included scene transitions and opticals. Otherwise, it’s remarkably potent.
The audio for the 1.85:1 version is presented in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD, while the 1.66:1 is presented in English 2.0 mono Dolby Digital, both with optional subtitles in English SDH. The former is an excellent audio presentation of the film, with clear and precise dialogue exchanges, a terrific use of sound effects, and a lush score. It’s clean without any leftover instances of hiss, crackle, or distortion. The latter is much of the same, but in slightly less quality, obviously.
The following extras are also included:
- Audio Commentary with Edward de Souza, Jennifer Daniel, and Peter Irving (1.85:1 Version)
- Audio Commentary with Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr (1.66:1 Version)
- The Men Who Made Hammer: James Bernard (HD – 17:17)
- The Men Who Made Hammer: Bernard Robinson (HD – 19:48)
- Theatrical Trailer (SD – 1:29)
- Radio Spot (1:02)
- Kiss of Evil TV Version with Optional Audio Commentary by Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson (SD – 1:32:45)
- Additional Scenes from Kiss of Evil (SD – 16:44)
- Kiss of Evil TV Trailer (SD – 1:42)
The first audio commentary with Edward de Souza, Jennifer Daniel, and Peter Irving is a lively chat with two of the film’s stars as they watch it, with Irving occasionally asking questions. The second commentary with Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr is also great. The two discuss the quality of the film while watching it, comparing the final version to previous drafts of the screenplay, but also discussing various members of the cast and crew. The Men Who Made Hammer segments on composer James Bernard and production designer Bernard Robinson feature writer and horror fan Richard Klemensen who goes over the careers of both men in detail. The TV version is a low grade copy taken from a Sci-Fi channel broadcast since the original elements were likely lost in Universal’s vault fire in 2008. It doesn’t look too bad, and the optional commentary with Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson is the icing on the cake as the two discuss both versions with analysis and great admiration. The additional scenes are also presented separately. The cover art for the Blu-ray is also reversible, featuring the original theatrical art on one side and new artwork by Mark Maddox on the other.
Somewhat of an inspiration to Roman Polanski when he made The Fearless Vampire Kilers years later, Kiss of the Vampire proves that Hammer could have done much more with their vampiric characters had they chosen to. And Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release of the film features a beautiful transfer and engrossing extras, making it one of the best of their Hammer related releases. Highly recommended!
– Tim Salmons