• Kiss Of The Vampire (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: July 14th, 2020.
    Director: Don Sharp
    Cast: Clifford Evans, Edward de Souza, Noel Willman, Jennifer Daniel, Barry Warren, Jacquie Wallis, Isobel Black, Vera Cook, Peter Madden
    Year: 1963
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    Kiss Of The Vampire – Movie Review:

    Don Sharp’s 1963 film Kiss Of The Vampire opens at the scene of a funeral. The priest delivers the last rights and just as the coffin is put into the ground, a surly looking Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans) runs up to the coffin and ‘stakes’ it with a shovel. We see that the corpse inside was a vampire woman, and we’re off.

    From there, we meet honeymooners Gerald Harcourt (Edward de Souza) and his lovely new bride Marianne (Jennifer Daniel). It turns out Marianne isn’t much of a navigator and their motorcar runs out of gas more or less in the middle of a Bavarian forest. They take a room at a nearby room run by kindly Bruno (Peter Madden) and his standoffish wide Anna (Vera Cook). That night the young couple is invited to dine with local nobleman Dr. Ravna (Noel Willam), who admits to having spied on them from his home, claiming to have been curious about their car. He invites them into his massive mansion, introduces them to his adult children Sabena (Jacqui Wallis) and Carl (Barry Warren), and treats them well. After dinner, Marianne begins to behave strangely, seemingly obsessed with Carl’s piano playing. They’re unaware that a vampiress named Tania (Isobel Black) is skulking about the grounds.

    The next day, they meet Zimmer, who is staying in the same hotel, who offers them an ominous warning about the locale that they promptly ignore after being invited to a fancy ball at Ravna’s home. Later, Marianne becomes curious when she notices Anna, alone in a room, holding some artifacts that she’s taken out of a stash in the floorboards. As the story progresses, the truth about the Ravna family comes to light, as does the reality behind Zimmer and that girl in the coffin from the opening scene.

    Kiss Of The Vampire starts off with a bang and then moves rather slowly for the next forty-minutes or so. It isn’t dull, mind you, just deliberate in its pacing, sometimes very deliberate. We get some decent character development during this middle stretch, particularly in regards to Marianne’s character, and thankfully Sharp and company manage to properly ratchet up the pace in the final third to deliver a period vampire film that admirably attempts to do something a little different within the confines of the genre. As such, Kiss Of The Vampire, while lacking the intensity of some of the Cushing/Lee classics, feels fairly unique by the standards of the studio’s output up to the this time.

    The performances in the film are quite good. Edward de Souza makes for a decent enough leading man, charismatic and likeable, and Jennifer Daniel is quite effective in her role as well. Isobel Black is quite alluring in her mysterious role, and Willam, Walis and Warren all do fine work as the mysterious Ravna clan. Clifford Evans steals the few scenes he’s in as the mysterious vampire hunter who, we’re told, ‘lives off of sour cream and brandy’ while both Madden and Cook are really good as the innkeepers.

    Production values are strong across the board, save for some of the bats used in the finale which, well, to be charitable they don’t look very realistic. Aside from that, this is a reasonably lavish production. The film makes great use of color and the sets and locations used for both the inn and the Ravna estate (the two main areas where most of the film takes place) look great. Costumes are impressive and the film benefits from some very good cinematography and a strong musical score.

    Kiss Of The Vampire – Blu-ray Review:

    Shout! Factory brings Kiss Of The Vampire to Blu-ray on a 50GB disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer taken from a new 2k scan of the interpositive in your choice of 1.85.1 or 1.66.1 widescreen (with 1.85.1 being the default option should you just happen to hit ‘play’ off of the main menu screen. Overall, this transfer is really strong. It offers excellent color reproduction and very strong detail throughout. Black levels are nice, skin tones look just fine, and there’s impressive depth and texture to the image. There are no problems with any compression artifacts or edge enhancement related issues and the picture is free of any noticeable noise reduction. The elements were clearly in excellent shape as you’ll be hard pressed to notice any print damage here – it looks pretty great!

    The English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, which comes with optional subtitles in English only, sounds very good. The levels are balanced well and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion at all. There’s quite a bit of depth to the film’s score, more than you might expect for an older Mono mix. No problems here.

    New to this release is a second audio commentary, this time with author/film historian Steve Haberman and filmmaker/film historian Constantine Nasr (available on the 1.66:1 version only and findable through the menus for that version). They speak to how the film is an important and transitional film from Hammer, the quality of the opening scene, how it connects to a Jimmy Sangster script, the quality of the cinematography in the picture, similarities to films like The Devil Rides out and the shared obsession with rites, the subtext that exists in the film, the use of music in the film, how the story of Ravna is more detailed in the shooting script than the finished film, minor changes in Madden's dialogue from the script, whether or not Universal really mandated that Dracula appear or be mentioned in this film or not, background details such as paintings that appear on the walls, the promotion of the film, background on the cast and crew and lots more.

    Carried over from the older release is an audio commentary with actors Edward De Souza and Jennifer Daniels, moderated by Peter Irving. It’s informative and interesting and important to have it carried over for archival purposes as it does offer quite a bit of first hand info from those who were on set and it provides some nice stories about what it was like on set, working with Sharp and the other cast members.

    There are also a couple of new featurettes here, the first of which is the seventeen-minute The Men Who Made Hammer: Composer James Bernard wherein writer Richard Klemensen examines the career of Bernard as well as his contributions to the studio’s work. It’s an interesting piece that does a fine job of shedding some light on a man whose work is quite important to a lot of the studio’s films but he doesn’t always get the recognition that he should. The second featurette is The Men Who Made Hammer: Production Designer Bernard Robinson, a twenty-minute segment again hosted by Klemensen that is similar to the first in that it provides an interesting and detailed look into the background and work of Robinson, explaining what he did for the studio and why it matters. Both of these are definitely worth watching.

    Additionally, look out for a theatrical trailer and a radio spot for Kiss Of The Vampire.

    Also included on the disc is the full Kiss Of Evil cut, which is the US TV version of the film. This alternate cut of the film, which is sourced from an analogue tape and framed at 1.33.1, is an interesting variant that runs four and a half minutes longer than the theatrical cut. Not only is it obviously retitled but it omits the blood from the 'coffin staking' in the opening as well as most of the other blood from the film. It also removes pretty much all visual references to vampirism. Most of the big finish scene is gone, we don't see Gerald smear the blood into a cross (rendering that scene nonsensical). To make up for this missing footage and additionally pad the running time for television broadcast, the Kiss Of Evil variant includes a bizarre sublot where two parents and their teenaged daughter discuss the goings on related to Ravna and his vampiric cult without actually interacting with any of the those characters or with Gerald and Marianne. There's an odd bit where the daughter fusses about with a music box given to her by Carl Ravna (who, again, we never see with her on screen), and it has a very different ending as well. It's all very strange and poorly put together but quite fascinating in its own odd way.

    Kiss Of Evil comes with an optional audio commentary by film historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson that opens by talking about how this TV cut is legitimately a curio in the Hammer pantheon. There’s plenty of talk here about the cast and crew involved in the film, including the cast members that were added to the TV version exclusively and of course the differences that exist between the two cuts including the credits scene, how this version feels like ‘a joke without a punchline’ in many ways due to the edits, the competition that existed between Hammer and Amicus and how the two studios did share some talent, their respective thoughts on the performances in the movie, how many of the new scenes counteract the original footage, the movie’s similarities to Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers, the cinematography and locations used in the film and the quality of the ‘look’ of the film, how Hammer took advantage of the relaxation of censorship standards and quite a bit more.

    If sitting through the entirety of the alternate version isn’t your cup of tea, Shout! Factory has put the additional scenes added to the TV version in their own little section so you can watch that material on its own, again, tape sourced and in 1.33.1 fullframe.

    A Kiss of Evil TV trailer is also included.

    The disc also has menus and chapter selection and comes packaged with some cool reversible cover sleeve art and a slip cover. All in all, a very comprehensive set of supplements!

    Kiss Of The Vampire – The Final Word:

    Kiss Of The Vampire isn’t the best vampire movie that Hammer ever made but it tries (and mostly succeeds) to do something different, which is important in a genre that be as cliché-riddled as the vampire film. It might start a bit slow but it builds to a strong conclusion and features good performances and production values. Shout! Factory has really rolled out the red carpet for their release, presenting the feature in great shape and with a nice selection of extras – definitely recommended for Hammer enthusiasts and a really solid package overall.

    Click on the images below for full-sized Kiss Of The Vampire screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Gary Banks's Avatar
      Gary Banks -
      I've sat through this at least a dozen times and it does nothing for me. (Isobel Black is quite the hottie).