THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE. Hammer Films, UK, 1963. Universal International, US, 1963. Clifford Evans, Edward de Souza, Noel Willman, Jennifer Daniel, Barry Warren. Writer: Anthony Hinds (as John Elder). Director: Don Sharp.

   Neither a Dracula film nor part of the Karnstein Trilogy (The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire, Twins of Evil), The Kiss of the Vampire is a lesser- known, but thoroughly enjoyable, stand-alone vampire movie from Hammer Films. Combining the standard tropes of vampire films with atmospheric dread, the movie neither aims for cheap thrills, nor does it condescend to its audience. Much of the on-screen horror in the film is psychological rather than physical. The battles fought here are as much internal as they are external.

   The plot follows Gerald (Edward de Souza) and Marianne Harcourt (Jennifer Daniel), a newly married couple traveling on their honeymoon. When their car breaks down somewhere in Bavaria, they are forced to stay at a local inn run by an elderly, seemingly childless couple. Within hours, they receive an invitation for dinner from one of the village’s most prominent citizens, one Dr. Ravna (Noel Willman).

   Ravna, along with his two adult children, seem to take a strong liking to the Harcourts and invite them back for a masked ball. But little does this mild-mannered English couple know that Ravna is a vampire and the leader of a demonic cult. Once Marianne gets swept up into their satanic grasp, it’s up to Gerald and the alcohol-ravaged Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans) to harness supernatural forces to (literally) beat the devil.

   While the film doesn’t tread too far off the beaten path in terms of storytelling, what it does, it does well. Indeed, it’s a film that I’ve already watched more than once, and I confess I enjoyed it even more the second time around. The masquerade sequence is exceptional. One wonders how much Roman Polanski was influenced by it, given how a masked ball plays a similarly important role in the third act of his The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967). Final thought: the final frame is hauntingly memorable and involves a swarm of vampire bats. Chillingly effective stuff.