Friday, June 15, 2012

Kiss of Dracula


Isobel Black as Tania in THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE. Her first feature, the Edinburgh-born actress shifts effortlessly between beguiling and malevolence; as Tim Lucas notes in his Video Watchdog review, "[Tania] is never shown biting anyone out of hunger, but rather to indulge a childlike, yet severe, streak of sadism."

DON Sharp's THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE is a Hammer vampire film without Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee, but well worth investing your time. Shot with a colourful Gothic angle by Alan Hume, the setting is an isolated area of Bavaria, 1910. Honeymoon couple the Harcourts - Gerald (Edward de Souza) and Marianne (Jennifer Daniel) - experience car trouble and are forced to stay in the unfortunately named Grand Hotel, whose only other guest is reclusive alcoholic Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans). Doctor Ravna (Noel Willman) - owner of the chateau that sits imposingly above the locale - invites them to dinner and their association with his seemingly charming family grow. When the pair attend a masked ball, however, they discover that Ravna is the head of a vampire cult. Zimmer performs a ceremony known as the Corpus Diabolo Levitum which forces "evil to destroy itself"; with the ritual taking the form of a swarm of vampire bats (apparently props purchased from Slough and Maidenhead branches of Woolworths), they smother Ravna and his gowned disciples.

THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE develops themes from Terence Fisher's magisterial BRIDES OF DRACULA. Teenage cult member Tania (Isobel Black) imitates Greta from the earlier film by trying to coax a newly buried initiate from the grave; Zimmer extrudes a bite similar to Cushing's branding iron scene; and Anthony Hinds' script also explores vampirism as a social disease/order. Additionally, there are direct transfers from dropped BRIDE sequences: Zimmer interrupting his own daughter's funeral to throw a spade through the coffin lid, and the climactic bat attack (a scene vetoed by Cushing on the grounds that Van Helsing would never evoke evil himself). But Sharp's film has attractions of its own, notably Black's performance: in one scene, Tania tears open the shirt of our hero, scoring her fingernails down his chest, upon which our quick-thinking leading man smears the blood in the form of a crucifix. 

Ingrid Pitt and Sandor Eles star in COUNTESS DRACULA.

Released with the tagline "Shocking! - Horrifying! - Macabre!" THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE was less so when NBC acquired the film from Universal in 1966. Considered too brazen for television viewing as it stood, most of the quirky erotica - and Zimmer's pre-credits shovel scene - was cut and replaced by specially shot footage in Los Angeles by Irving J. Moore, a director who would become synonymous with episodes of DALLAS and DYNASTY. Now titled KISS OF EVIL, these new, bland insertions - totalling around fifteen minutes to fill a two hour slot - tell of a local couple whose teenage daughter rebels when they attempt to prevent her attending the masked ball. The most interesting thing about the TV version is the casting: the mother is played by Virginia Gregg, who gained fame by voicing Mrs Bates in PSYCHO, while the daughter is portrayed by Sheilah Wells, once flatmate of Sharon Tate.

COUNTESS DRACULA is Hammer's pedestrian take on the legend of Elizabeth Báthory, a countess of Hungarian nobility who allegedly killed and bathed in the blood of young virgins to retain her beauty. Made by two Hungarian émigrés working in England - producer Alexander Paal and director Peter Sasdy - it tells of Countess Elisabeth Nádasdy (a robust but dubbed Ingrid Pitt), who discovers that her youth and libido can be temporarily restored if she bathes in the blood of young, virgin women. Her steward and lover Captain Dobi (Nigel Green) kidnaps and murders local girls, whilst she pursues Imre Toth (Sandor Eles), a young soldier. As a cover for her crimes while in her rejuvenated state she takes the identity of her own daughter, a plan that is complicated when her actual daughter Ilona (Lesley-Anne Down) returns home. Despite Báthory's blood-drenched legacy, the production is more historical drama/fairy tale, as Jeremy Paul's script focuses on the aging, widowed Countess. The handsome sets and costumes - inherited from ANNE OF A THOUSAND DAYS - give the film a splendid tableaux, but Sasdy's theme of the disintegrating family unit was much more successful in TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA.