Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

A lesser known Hammer vampire picture from director Don Sharp ranks as one of the studio's best films. Universal R1 Hammer boxset.

The Film

After the big box office successes of their gothic horror titles, Hammer tried to expand their X-rated horror department into the Spanish set Curse of the Werewolf (1961), and later the period romance Phantom of the Opera (1962), which was heavily toned down in the horror to achieve an A rating. The relative failures of these films at the box-office had lead to the studio almost closing down at the end of production in 1961, their American backers concerned that Hammer were over-reaching themselves and not sticking to their popular (and money making) formula. After re-establishing themselves with some quickly filmed psychological thrillers, including Paranoiac (1963), the studio tried to recapture some of their earlier successes with an all out gothic horror film...

A funeral is taking place in a remote village somewhere in Europe, the priest is interrupted in his incantations by the drunken Dr. Zimmer who throws a spade into the coffin, to be met by a scream and flow of fresh blood from within. Later, a honeymooning English couple Marianne and Gerald Harcourt are driving through the district, but become lost in the maze of roads and run out of petrol - finding refuge in the small town hotel, they are put off by the mysterious and desolate atmosphere of the building and the staff. Unexpectedly they find themselves invited to dine at the house of Dr. Ravna who lives in the castle overlooking the town - but the doctor is more than he seems, and has designs on Marianne that only Dr. Zimmer can help to prevent...

Written by the Hammer co-owner Anthony Hinds, Kiss of the Vampire is a surprisingly original and effective vampire film, not waylaid by the need to incorporate Dracula, or the exploitation elements of the post-1970 Hammer vampire productions. Interesting is the script's presentation of the vampires as a group; Professor Van Helsing referred to the 'cult of the vampire' during Horror of Dracula (1958) and Brides of Dracula (1960), and for the first time we are actually able to witness this cult in action as they attempt to perform a ceremony to initiate the wretched Marianne - this sequence is quite similar in theme to the later Devil Rides Out (1968) and the entire film, especially the ending, has a strong Dennis Wheatley feel to it. Also interesting is the portrayal of Dr. Zimmer, although nominally a Van Helsing figure he is much more of an anti-hero here, spending most of the film drunk. Aside from these points, the plot offers a few clever twists, and moves at a good pace, with the suitably dramatic climax taken from the original script for Brides of Dracula (1960).

Despite a presumably low budget, the film still looks impressive, the trademark Hammer sets and costumes all look great, a lavish ball sequence in particular looks very impressive (and seems to have inspired a similar set-piece in Roman Polanski's Fearless Vampire Hunters (1967)). Their gothic horror expert, director Terence Fisher had gone to work elsewhere during the studio's down time at the beginning of 1962, and would not return until 1964, so he is replaced here by the Australian born Don Sharp who provides some very effective direction. The 1960s were still a restrained time for Hammer films, and although there is some blood on display, the nudity of the later films is only hinted at, not revealed - this is one cult that does not engage in mass orgies or nude ceremonies, at least, not on camera. Hammer regular James Bernard gives a typical orchestral score, and it suits the film well.

Presumably due to the film's low budget (and with their stalwart horror star Peter Cushing on a short lived return to television acting), Kiss of the Vampire is cast with an interesting mix of character actors and theatrical performers, with strong performances all round. Clifford Evans returns from the co-leading role in Curse of the Werewolf (1961) to play Dr. Zimmer, while Edward de Souza reprises his heroic lead from Phantom of the Opera (1962) as Gerald Harcourt. Noel Williams and Barry Warren (as Dr. Ravna and his son Karl) make their first appearances for Hammer, and would both go on to star in two more productions for the studio.

Although conceived as a simple gothic horror film Kiss of the Vampire overcomes its low budget and lack of big name actors thanks to an original script and strong production with good performances all round. Certainly recommended to all Hammer and gothic horror fans.

In brief:

Anyone famous in it? A variety of familiar faces, but no major names.
Directed by anyone interesting? Don Sharp - a solid, first-time Hammer director who later directed Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966).
Is it scary?A couple of brief scenes might raise a scare.
Any violence? There is some blood flow, although it is the standard Hammer film's bright blood.
Any sex? No
Who is it for?
All Hammer and gothic horror fans should check this one out.
Good soundtrack? James Bernard gives a standard orchestral score with a couple of Dracula cues.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio  - 1.85:1. Anamorphically Enhanced. Colour
The picture quality is good, with strong colours and detail some very light grain throughout.
Audio Original English mono - Dolby Digital - sounds great, no hiss.
Subtitles English HOH, Spanish and French.
Run TimeMain Feature: 1hr 28m 12s
Extras None.
      AvailabilityOnly available as part of the Hammer Horror Series boxset.
      Region Region 1 - NTSC
      Other regions? There was a release in the US from Image Entertainment, now out-of-print, this new release is much better.
      Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. Print used is English language.
      When shown on US television, the print was heavily cut and padded out with additionaly shot scenes for a two hour run-time. The film is presented here in its original theatrical version.



      Return to main menu.

      All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 9th January 2006 - updated June 2007.
      Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

      Please contact: