Following the tragedy that "Phantom of the Opera" was, Hammer desperately needed a change of formula in its gothic series, and hopefully "Kiss of the Vampire", their first entry for 1964, would provide exactly that. Exeunt Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Terence Fisher. Exeunt the literary sources of the material and Jimmy Sangster's screenplays. Exeunt Jack Asher and Arthur Grant as DPs.
The only survivors were James Bernard, writing the score, and the impeccable Bernard Robinson as production designer - and one can only be amazed at his ability to change. From being very classical and gothic in the initial Dracula and Frankenstein, Bernard Robinson offers us, in "Kiss...", a very unsettling set - classical in many way but also very kitsch, very colorful and quite timeless...Molly Arbuthnot on the costume side also showed a subtle, modern evolution in the vampire's outfit, with the "disciples" of Dr. Ravna showing long white dresses and Ravna himself being astonishingly austere.
The set designs partly explain the success of the movie, which really lies in its atmosphere. Something extremely perilous and weird permeates the movie for its all duration and this can be attributed to the beautiful effort of Alan Hume as Director of Photography, who conveys the autumnal colors of this Bavaria-on-Thames with taste and efficiency (he was the one who photographed the breathless Endor bike pursuit in Star Wars Episode VI). Don Sharp is much less lazy than Terence Fisher as director and tries to find different angles where to put his camera. Despite not being frenetically edited, "Kiss of the Vampire" never bores and its solid build-up makes the pay-off (the ball and all its consequences) very efficient.
Anthony Hinds's script is quite original and for once tries to get rid of one evil by conjuring another one - which is interesting and very un-van Helsing like.
The cast is adequate, but Evans and Willman are no Cushing or Lee. However, the fact that "lesser personalities" were hired tend to focus the attention on the film itself, and not the individual performances. The babes are actually more memorable than the men: Jennifer Daniel, Isobel Black and Jacquie Wallis are all beautiful and enigmatic, therefore very sexy.
Overall (and despite the general complaints on the special effects at the end - this did not bother me), "Kiss of the Vampire" holds its rank as a classic Hammer, at the same time loyal to its traditions but innovative in its treatment. Remember that Mario Bava, Antonio Margheriti and Corman/Price were heavy-hitters in the Horror competition at the time and that the space was not as empty as it was just ten years before. Therefore "Kiss..." deserves our admiration even more. A class-act, very highly recommended.