Skip to content

Plot: fair maiden is haunted by strange dreams and stranger occurrences.

There wouldn’t much of a global gothic horror industry, especially in continental Europe, if it weren’t for the British house of Hammer reimagining the old Universal horror monsters for the new times in the fifties and sixties. The Spanish language countries (Spain, México, the Philippines) as well as Italy took the gothic horror formula of Hammer Films and gave it a regional flavor all their own. Each country played up the genre to its cultural sensibilities/prejudices. While generally playing by the same rules and conventions there are distinct differences between continental European gothic horrors and their South/Latin American counterparts. Hammer’s influence was so strong that even Pakistan contributed to the genre in 1967 with Zinda Laash or Dracula In Pakistan (or alternatively The Living Corpse) as it became internationally. The Italian gothic horror ostensibly took after Riccardo Freda’s and Mario Bava’s I Vampiri (1957) and the Hammer production The Horror Of Dracula (1958). However, the tides of change were washing over Mediterranean gothic horror by the mid-sixties and interest in them was waning. To accomodate the changing tastes Terror In the Crypt upstaged the old formula with a hefty dose of implied lesbianism and witchcraft.

La cripta e l'incubo (or The Crypt and the Nightmare, released internationally as simply Terror In the Crypt and alternatively as Crypt Of the Vampire in North America) is an interesting case for an international co-production. Helmed by an Italian director and crew the two name stars of the feature were Spanish exploitation pillar Adriana Ambesi as well Hammer Films icon Christopher Lee. Lee would complete his detour into Italian gothic horror with Castle Of the Living Dead (1964) the same year. With a screenplay from Tonino Valerii (as Robert Bohr), Ernesto Gastaldi (as Julian Berry) and José Luis Monter Terror In the Crypt is a distinctly Italian affair. Joseph Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla has long been an inspiration for the gothic horror genre and frequently served as a foundation for many productions. The earliest adaptation was Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932) and Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses (1960). In the early seventies Hammer Films, then ailing and struggling to keep up with the changing times and tastes, used it for The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Lust for a Vampire (1971). Daughters Of Darkness (1971), The Velvet Vampire (1971) and The Blood Spattered Bride (1972) set the Carmilla story in then-contemporary times. Terror In the Crypt is distinct for being a more or less faithful adaptation of the famous 1872 LeFanu novel. While some of character names have been changed it covers most, if not all, major plotpoints and adds some Italian flair to it all. Filming at Castello Piccolomini in Balsorano, L'Aquila, Italy aided immensely too. As one of the country’s famous horror castles it would feature in Crimson Executioner (1965), Lady Frankenstein (1971), The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973), Black Magic Rites (1973) (or The Reincarnation Of Isabel as it’s more widely known), Sister Emanuelle (1977) and the infamous Andrea Bianchi romp Malabimba (1979). Half a decade before Adriana Ambesi steamed up the screen in Spain’s first vampire movie Fangs Of the Living Dead (1969), she experienced Terror In the Crypt.

In a grand castle amid a great vast forest in Styria lives lovelorn and lonely Laura Karnstein (Adriana Ambesi, as Audry Amber) with her affluent father Count Ludwig Karnstein (Christopher Lee, as Cristopher Lee), an aristocratic Briton widower retired from service to the Austrian Empire, and his nubile trophy wife Annette (Véra Valmont, as Vera Valmont). Laura has been suffering recurring nightmares wherein she sees family members coming to a gruesome end. Her most recent nightmares see the slaying of her cousin Tilda (Angela Minervini) and the dreams have Laura sufficiently startled. Looking after Laura’s well-being are maid Rowena (Nela Conjiu, as Nela Conjiú) and butler Cedric (José Villasante). Fearing that Laura might be possessed by the witch Scirra of Karnstein, who centuries ago cursed the Karnstein bloodline, Count Ludwig calls upon the services of historian Friedrich Klauss (José Campos). Klauss is tasked with reconstructing Scirra’s life and finding a portrait of her deep within the castle’s time-worn vaults.

One day a carriage accident brings Lyuba (Pier Anna Quaglia, as Ursula Davis) and her mother (Carla Calò, as Cicely Clayton) into the Karnstein household. The two girls immediately recognize each other from a dream and a strong bond grows between the two. The two grow inseperatable and Lyuba suggests they visit the ruins of the village of Karnstein. In the meantime housekeeper Rowena is revealed to be a practitioner of the black arts but she is brutally murdered before her spells and imprecations can accomplish anything. Count Ludwig and Friedrich continue their search for Scirra’s portrait and her tomb. The two eventually find the hidden portrait and are startled that Scirra bears a very strong likeness to young Lyuba. The search for Scirra’s coffin leads them to the discovery that Franz Karnstein (John Karlsen), Tilda’s griefstruck father, had been hiding in the castle bowels all this time. The three pry open Scirra’s tomb only to find Lyuba lying within instead. The three drive a stake through Lyuba’s heart lifting the age-old Karnstein curse and making Lyuba’s black carriage disappear just as Laura was about to board.

Along with fellow British expatriate Barbara Steele, Christopher Lee stayed employed in the fantastic – and horror cinema of continental Europe from the mid-to-late sixties. Steele famously became a royalty in Italian gothic horror. In her decade-long tenure Steele played in about a dozen of Italian productions, nine of which were horror. Lee, on the other hand, appeared only in about four. Also on hand is John Karlsen, later of Belgian arthouse vampire romp Daughters Of Darkness (1971). Adriana Ambesi was a regular in peplum, chorizo western and comedy. In her 14-year long career she ventured into horror a meager three times. Ambesi had crossed paths with Lee before in Giuseppe Veggezzi’s presumably-lost Katarsis (1963) and would do so again here. Towards the end of the decade she would play a supporting role in Amando de Ossorio’s gothic horror potboiler Fangs Of the Living Dead (1969) opposite of Anita Ekberg, Rosanna Yanni and Diana Lorys. Pier Anna Quaglia would star in that other Barbara Steele gothic An Angel For Satan (1966) as well as the jungle adventure Eve, the Wild Woman (1968), the comedy Alfredo Alfredo (1972) (with Dustin Hoffman and Stefania Sandrelli) and the giallo Reflections in Black (1975). Terror In the Crypt benefits tremendously from a portent, pompous score from Carlo Savina (as Herbert Buckman) who infuses it with copious amounts of theremin, clarinet, harp and ominous washes of organ. It’s something straight out of a fifties science fiction production. The “K” emblem from The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960) can also been seen and there’s a witch trial similar to that of Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960).

Compared to earlier gothic horrors of the sixties Terror In the Crypt is far more pronounced in its eroticism. Laura is initially paired up with Friedrich Klauss, but no chemistry to speak of develops between the two. It isn’t until Laura meets Lyuba that the obligatory romantic liaison with Klauss is discarded completely. It’s implied that Laura and Lyuba share a much deeper bond beyond that of an ordinary friendship. While bereft of any actual nudity Laura finds herself frequently sleepwalking and waking up topless in the castle chambers. Likewise does Lyuba sleep without a top on and although both Ambesi and Quaglia weren’t in the habit of flaunting their chests Terror In the Crypt is quite risqué for the time. A precedent with on-screen disrobing in Italian gothic horror was set with The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960) and Castle Of Blood (1964) that saw brief nude scenes from Maria Giovannini and Sylvia Sorrente, respectively.

In Terror In the Crypt Ambesi will always have her back to the camera and Quaglia is modestly covered by bedsheets which doesn’t change the fact that it is far more liberated in its portrayal of sexualty than Roberto Mauri’s The Slaughter Of the Vampires (1964). Where that movie hinged upon the bountiful decolettage of Graziella Granata here Ambesi and Quaglia each have a scene of implied nudity. Not only that, likewise it’s implied that Laura and Lyuba are engaged in a sapphic tryst. That Count Ludwig has a mistress young enoug to be his daughter with Annette almost a full decade before the pairing of Narciso Ibáñez Menta and Helga Liné in The Dracula Saga (1973) is at least prescient of where the genre was headed. It all sets the stage for the wicked and wild seventies when permissive attitudes allowed an increased focus on erotic tension between female characters and a greater amount of on-screen nudity.

Plot: newly-weds fall under the spell of vampires in remote castle.

The Kiss of the Vampire is not one of Hammer’s more famous vampire films. The original Dracula (1958) was followed with the fantastic The Brides Of Dracula (1960) and Hammer Studios was eager to capitalize on its success producing eight Dracula sequels between 1960 and 1974. The Kiss of the Vampire was originally intended as the third installment of the franchise but ended up being reworked to such a degree that it became a stand-alone feature. What it does carry over from The Brides Of Dracula (1960) is the vampirism as a social disease afflicting the bourgeoisie and upper class motif. It features none of the company’s big names and much like the later The Plague of the Zombies (1966) it is a highly atmospheric and thoroughly enjoyable second-tier title. Thankfully Hammer Studios always poured their everything into the productions, even the smaller ones. There’s a lot to like about The Kiss of the Vampire and in Hammer tradition there’s no shortage of absolutely beautiful comely British belles.

Where The Kiss of the Vampire shares the strongest affinities with is Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934) from which it pilfers the basic premise. The vampirism as a social disease afflicting the decadent bourgeoisie motif is something straight out of Hammer’s own The Brides Of Dracula (1960) and to a lesser degree the Graziella Granata feature The Slaughter Of the Vampires (1962). The Kiss of the Vampire was Tasmanian director Don Sharp’s first feature for the house of Hammer. He would helm the Harry Alan Towers written and produced The Face of Fu Manchu (1965) and its sequel The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966), the second (and last) of the The Fly (1958) sequels with Curse of the Fly (1965). His last notable directorial feature was the subterranean horror production What Waits Below (1984). Sharp lenses his Hammer debut with finesse, intelligence and flair. Perhaps The Kiss of the Vampire isn’t one of Hammer’s grandiloquent vampire features but is wonderful all the same.

In an unspecified remote Southern European country honeymooning American couple Gerald (Edward de Souza) and Marianne Harcourt (Jennifer Daniel) are stranded on their way to Bavaria when their 1903 De Dion Bouton Type Q automobile runs out of petrol. Gerald orders Marianne to stay put as he searches the surroundings for people that might be able to help them find fuel. The two take up lodging in the distant and desolate inn of Bruno (Peter Madden) and Anna (Vera Cook). As the young couple are settling into their new surroundings Carl (Barry Warren) and Sabena (Jacquie Wallis) come to invite them to a masquerade ball they will be hosting at their palatial abode where they live with their father Dr. Ravna (Noel Willman). The couple end up confused as Carl and Sabena make haste to depart in their horse and carriage as soon as they’re told that the sun is breaking through the overcast skies. While trying to procure much-needed petrol to continue their journey the couple make their acquaintance with Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans) who spouts ominous cryptic warnings about the Ravna clan and their true intentions. Gerald is, understandably, puzzled by the doctor, half-mad with terror, and his nigh on incoherent ramblings.

On their first night they are invited to spent the evening at Castle Ravna. Marianne is given immediately smitten by Ravna’s hunk of a son Carl, who insists on playing a piano piece especially for the occassion. Gerald is fortunate to find himself in company of the patrician Sabena. The couple are taken by the clan’s kindness in their time of need. When they run into Zimmer again they notice that for some hitherto unknown reason has a bone to pick with the noble Ravna family, but he shrugs it off as provincial narrowmindedness. It’s not until the Harcourts are invited to a prestigious masquerade ball on the Ravna estate that Zimmer’s warnings suddenly become crystal clear. Before Gerald very well realizes it Marianne has fallen for the considerable charms of Dr. Ravna and his brood are insistent that he doesn’t leave the premises. To that end they have the local law enforcement on the payroll with the town constable (John Harvey).

As it turns out not only is Dr. Ravna a well-respected man of science, but also the head of a blood cult with which he intends to usurp the world of the living. Thanks to a bit of quick thinking and a bout of cloak and dagger Gerald is able to escape the masquerade without attracting any attention. By this point Zimmer confided in him that he lost his nubile daughter to the Ravna. When Gerald runs into the Ravna once the ball has ended and he inquires after Marianne’s whereabouts, the doctor and his spawn deny that she ever existed and that he must be imagining things. Driven to increasingly desperate measures Gerald sees no other way than to break Marianne free from bondage in her golden cage. As he sneaks into the Ravna’s palatial sarcophagal abode he is cornered by Dr. Ravna and his brood and the comely Tania (Isobel Black), who had been pretty much a wallflower by this point and Zimmer’s long-lost daughter, tries to vampirize Gerald into subservience. Having spent the last days frantically trying to find a solution, any solution, the old professor desperately recants an age-old incantation from an arcane tome that unleashes a swarm of bats that kill the vampires and give Gerald and Father Xavier (Noel Howlett) enough time to rescue Marianne.

The production design and sets are positively lavish for a secondary feature. The ornate Ravna castle interiors are a joy to behold in just how detailed and stuffed to the gills every location is. This being a non-tentpole feature The Kiss Of the Vampire features none of Hammer’s more marketable names. It was very much like The Plague Of the Zombies (1966) that way a few years later. This was the Hammer of a different age when patrician babes like Veronica Carlson, Stephanie Beacham, Kate O’Mara, and Marie Devereux were ubiquitous and omnipresent but none of them feature here. The recurring pastel color palette in the dresses and drinks probably formed the basis for the bright and colorful production design on the Hammer horror send-up The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) with Vincent Price. Jacquie Wallis’ Sabena is a noble looking redhead that would be played by Luciana Paluzzi, Rosalba Neri or Rosanna Yanni had this been a Mediterranean feature. The only real blemish here are the very obviously rubber and fake bats on a string that attack the vampire clan during the epic finale. This was a scene originally envisioned for The Brides Of Dracula (1960) but was never filmed. Nevertheless special effects men Les Bowie, Kit West, and Ray Caple all amassed highly impressive resumées with some of the biggest Hollywood productions of the day.

The Kiss Of the Vampire was sexier and bloodier than any of the old Universal Monster horrors. In its heyday Hammer pushed the envelope as far as they could. It’s easy to see how something would like this would inform the work of somebody like Jean Rollin. It’s a small jump from this to something as The Rape Of the Vampire (1968). Likewise, it’s more than a little ironic that the Mediterranean European and Latin American gothic horror that Hammer came to inspire would push the ailing company towards their legendary glamour lesbian vampire flicks in the the early-to-mid seventies when the company was in its twilight and Hammer Horror was on its last legs. The Victorian epics from the house of Hammer updated and often improved upon the creaky Universal horror icons of the thirties – and were considered pretty risqué at the time. Even before the glamour years Hammer filled its features with all the blood and bountiful bosomed babes (never lacking in cleavage but rarely showing anything more). Hopelessly antiquated by today’s standards (and incredibly charming for exactly the same reason) The Kiss Of the Vampire is a relic from a bygone age. That Hammer itself would soon face imminent redundancy and obsolescence is a story for another day….