Not exactly my idea of a party snack.
All kids know what vampires are. We learn about them early from cartoons, comic books, TV shows, and of course the movies, but it's a real moment of growing-up clarity when we realize for ourselves that there's more to vampires than them simply lurking in the night in search of blood to sustain their un-deaths. I'm referring to the seductive/sexual aspect of the vampire, which could only be alluded to in the most tasteful of ways in the movies of yore. and which was easily missed by a pre-teen audience back in more innocent times, and my own personal first experience with that side of the undead suckface on screen came when I was around six years old and saw THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE — under the American television title of KISS OF EVIL — on the old Bob Wilkins iteration of CREATURE FEATURES during my family's years in South San Francisco.
THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE is one of Hammer's signature undead suckface flicks, bearing all of the earmarks of the studio's indelible style and flavor, though lacking some of the visceral oomph that garnered the brand's well-deserved rep. Set sometime in the early-1900's, the story focuses on a newlywed couple, Gerald (Edward DeSouza) and Marianne (Jennifer Daniel), whose car breaks down near the chateau of Doctor Ravna (Noel Willman) and his two adult children, Carl (Barry Warren) and Sabena (Jacquie Wallis). Ravna and his kids are the core of a vampire cult and the not-so-good doctor sets his sights on the toothsome blonde Marianne as their next disciple, so it's up to Gerlad and a man with a vendetta against the Ravnas, the booze-soaked Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans), to set things put the boot straight up some nosferatu ass.
Dr. Ravna (Noel Willman) beckons. In a case like this, the difference between seduction and rape is a matter of semantics.
While not as straight-up sexy as any number of other vampire antagonists in film, Dr. Ravna exhibits the classic attribute of dark seductive power that he wields quite effectively against Marianne, and it was during that seduction scene when my mind was opened to the concept of vampires using such a mind-trick to do forbidden things to pretty girls. I was too young to understand what rape was but when Ravna slowly mounts Marianne while she's wearing that red ball gown and hypnotized, there was no doubt that something "adult" was taking place, even when the scene cuts away from the action. And when a newly-vampirized Marianne is introduced to the cult, we see Ravna dress her in the group's white ceremonial robes, which gives the audience a tasteful glimpse of Marianne's unclad shoulder, an image that gets across the point that she was just naked in front of Ravna and the cultists.
The glimpse of shoulder that introduced me to the fact that horror and sex often go hand in hand.
Though I was too young to know what it was, I recall with crystal clarity a pleasant shiver running through my wee naughty bits during those sequences and it gave me much to ponder over the next week or so. (It was also not long after that eye-opening bit of entertainment that the cute little girl who lived next door was kind enough to show me her most intimate of female anatomy — and it was her idea to do so — thus compounding the things I had to ponder, but that's another story altogether.)
And along with that early twinge of sexuality, the film also shook my perception with the means by which the story's heroes vanquished the vampire cult. Rather than the traditional holy water, garlic, crucifixes, stakes, and sunlight, Professor Zimmer, who lost his beloved daughter to the suckface Ravna, performs a black magic ritual that summons up hundreds of vampire bats, presumably from the very depths of Hell itself, to suck the cultists dry of their own ill-gotten fluids in a bit of ludicrous poetic justice.
It's Satan to the rescue! Yaaaaaay!!!
No, seriously. Zimmer calls on the power of FUCKING SATAN HIMSELF in order to win the day. Think about that one for a minute. As anyone who has even the most rudimentary understanding of vampires and how to kick their coffin-slumbering asses can tell you, their biggest weakness is all things related to Christian iconography and suchlike. To have Zimmer summon the blackest of black forces to get the job done is essentially saying "Fuck Jesus and fuck God, you gotta fight evil with evil!" and let me tell you that that approach confused the living shit out of me, being stuck as I was at the time in a churched-up household. Now that I think about it, this movie may have been the earliest work in media that added fuel to the pyre of my disbelieving heathenism.
So, THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE, while not a classic along the lines of some of Hammer's other efforts in the same department, ranks high in my nostalgic estimation and I heartily recommend it to those who want to start their kids off on post-Lugosi vampire flicks with a non-explicit piece that works minor-league titillation and the totally unexpected deus ex machina of outright Satanism into the mix.
Poster from the original theatrical release.