Sunday, July 26, 2020
KISS OF EVIL--The American TV Version Of THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE
In my post on the new Shout Factory Blu-ray of THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE, I mentioned that the disc includes a version of the film prepared by Universal for American network television. This TV version not only has added scenes (to lengthen the film to fit into a two-hour time slot with commercials), it also has several changes to the original material. The TV version is so different, I thought the best way to discuss it would be to write a separate post on it altogether.
The biggest change is the title--KISS OF EVIL. Taking the word "vampire" out of the title seems silly, since that's what the movie is about--but just about every instance of blood shown onscreen was removed as well. For those who have seen the picture, you might be asking, "How did they take out any appearance of blood and still have the story make sense??"
The story is still coherent, but the highlights of the original movie are watered down. The fantastic opening sequence of THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE, where the brooding Prof. Zimmer thrusts a shovel into the closed coffin of his stricken daughter, is curtailed. The scene where Gerald (Edward de Souza) is to be "initiated" by the sultry Tania (Isobel Black) winds up being strange instead of thrilling, due to the removal of Gerald using his own blood to fashion a cross on his chest. The original climax, in which Dr. Ravna's coven of vampires is destroyed by a flurry of bats, is drastically changed. There are a number of stock shots added of swarms of actual bats, but we are not shown the pests attacking the undead group. We hear screams, and we are shown the original last shot of bodies laying about the castle hall....but we don't get to see the attack whatsoever, ruining the climax.
One would think that Universal was trying to convince viewers that the movie wasn't about vampires at all....but the TV version leaves in all the dialogue about vampirism, and there's still some quick shots of characters with fangs. Whatever Universal was trying to do with it, the result is a strange concoction.
The added scenes, which are about 15 minutes total, concern a middle-aged couple from the nearby village and their attractive young daughter. The couple is played by character actors Virginia Gregg and Carl Esmond, and the daughter is played by Sheliah Wells (who I though greatly resembled Hammer starlet Suzan Farmer).
The middle-aged couple are at odds, since the woman has taken on the job of making the ceremonial robes for Ravna and his followers! (Apparently this makes her the equivalent of long-time Hammer wardrobe mistress Rosemary Burrows). The added scenes explain various plot points, and they also reveal the fate of Prof. Zimmer's daughter much earlier than the original film does. These scenes hurt the mystery and the flow of the film, since they in no way have the same excellent production design and cinematography of the theatrical version of the story.
What's even worse is that the TV version ends with one of these added scenes, in which the couple discuss how things are normal again with the vampire cult gone, and the daughter is reunited with her boyfriend. This added ending even features a few shots from the original theatrical version of Hammer's THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN!
This TV presentation of KISS OF EVIL that is featured on the Shout Factory Blu-ray of THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE is in full-frame, and it runs about 93 minutes. It appears to have been recorded from an old Sci-Fi Channel showing. The quality is okay, but it is much better-looking than the TV version of THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN that Shout Factory included on their Blu-ray of that film.
Shout Factory has provided an audio commentary for KISS OF EVIL. featuring cult movie experts Nathaniel Thompson and Troy Howarth. It's an entertaining and lively conversation, and the duo were obviously enjoying themselves during it. They cover details about both KISS OF EVIL and THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE, and they go into the somewhat obscure history of special American network TV versions of certain theatrical films. Their discussion of this reminded me of something I had totally forgotten--it was quite common in the 1970s and early 1980s for the American TV networks to take unused and edited footage from theatrical films, add them to the running time, and show the result as a two-night "special event". Most of these alternate TV versions of movies no longer exist, or are not on official home video.
That's why it's important that Shout Factory has decided to present the American TV versions of THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE on home video. (They are also going to include the TV version of Hammer's THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA on their upcoming Blu-ray of that title.) These are certainly not the best versions of the films, nor are they the way to properly experience these titles.
But they do exist, and they are a part of the history of Hammer Films. Watching these TV versions, in full-frame and in degraded quality, is how most folks experienced Hammer in the first place. I personally find the idea of different and alternate cuts of movies fascinating--they might not be any good, but it gives one plenty to chew on when it comes to story and content analysis. For me, the more info and material on a movie, the better.
So let's give thanks to everyone involved at Shout Factory for providing these TV versions of Hammer features.