Some will doubtless argue the point—especially since it has neither of Hammer’s iconic horror stars (Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee), nor was it directed by Terence Fisher, the filmmaker most closely identified with the studio—but Don Sharp’s The Kiss of the Vampire (1963) may very well be the best of all the Hammer horror films. Clifford Evans stands in very nicely in what might have been the Peter Cushing role, while Noel William conveys a silky, intellectual menace that Christopher Lee probably couldn’t have pulled off. If the story seems familiar—honeymooning couple trapped in a household that serves as a center for a vampire cult—that might be because it’s essentially a reworking of Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934). Just substitute vampires for Satanists and it’s pretty much the same thing. The fact that the Van Helsing-ish character, Professor Zimmer (Evans), has lost a daughter to this cult strengthens the connection. But as reworkings go, this is a good one—full of atmosphere and details that can only be called Hammeresque. The climax is an interesting departure from its model, and while it’s a little overly ambitious (let’s just say the effects aren’t quite up to the idea), it’s still pretty darn exciting. And in 1963, it was frankly shocking.
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