The Kiss of The Vampire 1963 ***

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Don Sharp’ 1963 vampire movie for Hammer was one of the first horror films this critic saw, and probably gave an unrepresentative sample for what was to come next. While most horror films go for the jugular, Sharp wasn’t a genre fan, and he constructs his film very differently from the Hammer norm. The story is fairly familiar; a young couple Gerald and Marienne (Edward De Souza and Jennifer Daniel) find their car has broken down in turn of the century Bavaria, and happen on a vampire cult led by the sinister Dr Ravna (Noel Willman). Van Helsing-lite Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans) is on the case, staking out a coffin-bound vampire in the bloody opening sequence, and not afraid to use black magic against the vampire hoards in a dramatic finale. Between these two set pieces, there’s a very slow burn as letters are delivered by carriage, cars take weeks to repair, and proceedings generally unfold at the speed of a rain-interrupted test match. The Kiss of the Vampire is in colour, which is notable in that it looks fantastic with all manners of greens and golds, and the genteel pace gives it a unique flavour; it’s rare to praise a horror for earnestness and conviction, but that’s what Sharp’s film has. An ideal ‘first horror movie’ for curious children, The Kiss of the Vampire may be tame by today’s standards, but it’s also a fun example of a template that got bogged down in sex, violence and derivative ideas. It’s also clearly the template for Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers; the richly-textured  masked ball scene in particular.

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