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Plot: scientists investigate occurrences at cursed manor. Hilarity ensues!

Bloodbath at the House Of Death has gotten a bad rep over the years, or ever since it came out in 1984. Margaret Thatcher had come out victorious in a landslide re-election and during the second term faced the National Union of Mineworkers 1984–85 miners' strike and survived an assassination attempt by the Provisional IRA in the 1984 Brighton hotel bombing. Britain crumbled under a crippling economic recession and experienced inflation and rising unemployment. Thatcher’s Torie administration proposed legislation touting deregulation, privatization and entrepreneurialism as the solutions to get the country up and running again. No wonder then that entertainment became lighter and Bloodbath at the House Of Death is a good example of just that. Whatever its merits it was tragically overshadowed upon general release by controversial comments made on a public forum by the creative force behind it. Granted, this is not some underseen classic that has remained buried for many years but as far as semi-comedic horror spoofs go, it’s actually wonderfully on-point.

Great Britain has a long history in horror. From the days of Hammer, Tigon, and Amicus to maverick independents as Pete Walker and Norman J. Warren. Spoofs have been around since the dawn of cinema and horror – rife with larger-than-life villains and never-changing plot contrivances and ur-character archetypes – always was a target-rich environment and ripe for a good ridiculing. The man behind Bloodbath at the House Of Death was Kenny Everett. Everett was an openly right-wing and closeted gay media personality who found fame as a DJ on BBC Radio 1 and who hosted his namesake shows The Kenny Everett Video Show, The Kenny Everett Television Show on BBC1 and The Kenny Everett Radio Show on BBC Radio 2.

Kenny Everett and Cleo Rocos in 1988

Everett was a consummate and versatile performer who specialized in lewd humor. He apparently also was something of an avid horror fan. Bloodbath at the House Of Death is a spoof of English – and American horror but does not limit itself to the confines of that genre alone. With Everett anyone and anything was and is a possible target. Sadly, Bloodbath at the House Of Death saw a troubled general release and was perhaps unwittingly sabotaged by the man himself when he embarked upon an unhinged "Let's bomb Russia!" tirade at the Young Conservatives during the 1983 general election. For this Everett was goaded by director Michael Winner and the legacy media and moral arbiters of the day embarked upon a veritable witch-hunt and critically savaged Bloodbath at the House Of Death in retaliation. Was that undeserved? Well, that depends on what you want it to be. It’s not as if this was some long lost classic or forgotten masterpiece.

Joining Everett and his frequent collaborator and assistant Cleo Rocos are domestic comedy fixtures Sheila Steafel, John Fortune, Barry Cryer, Pamela Stephenson, and sometime Page 3 girl Debbie Linden. Linden was one of the curvaceous cuties frequently on display with Benny Hill on The Benny Hill Show (1978) and Debs could also be ogled on The Dick Emery Comedy Hour in 1979. Linden was a hostess on game shows 3-2-1 (1978-1987) and Give Us a Clue (1979) and could frequently be seen in the Tennent’s Lager commercials during the 1980s. She got her start in the movies with Pete Walker’s Home Before Midnight (1979) and The Wildcats of St Trinian's (1980). As a Page 3 Girl she posed topless in The Sun and Daily Star in 1981 and thanks to her newfound fame (relative as it was) she landed the role of Old Mr. Grace's saucy secretary for a 5-episode arc in 1981 on the series Are You Being Served? (1972-1985). Problems were looming as miss Linden had developed an alcohol and cocaine dependency for some years prior and around this time was living life in the fast lane as she was dating Lemmy from legendary heavy rockers Motörhead. Towards the end of the decade legal problems caught up with her as Linden was issued a suspended prison sentence for a fraud case leading Debbie to become homeless and twice attempting to take her own life. She was interred at Kingston Cemetery, Greater London. Bloodbath at the House Of Death also marked the last British film appearance of horror legend Vincent Price who had just come off his spoken word bit on Michael Jackson’s Grammy Award-winning smash hit ‘Thriller’ and relished in the part.

North Surrey. August the 12th, 1975. “Thursday… give or take a day”. Headstone Manor, a "businessman's weekend retreat and girls summer camp", is cloaked in night. Out of the nearby woods robed monk-like figures materialize. The monks burst into the mansion violently slaughtering anyone and everyone within sight. When the monks’ bloodwork is done 18 residents have met their untimely end. Some are shot, others are stabbed, slashed, hung, and defenestrated. Nobody is spared. When a nubile maiden (Debbie Linden) offers her curves for clemency she too finds herself among the victims. The next day the police arrive to investigate. Inspector Sidney Smyth (David Lodge) can find not a single clue that could explain the reason for the mass carnage and sudden onslaught of homicide. The chief (Barry Cryer) is equally puzzled. Since then locals consider Headstone Manor curse referring to it only as the House of Death. Eight years later Dr. Lukas Mandeville (Kenny Everett) and his high-strung assistant Barbara Coyle (Pamela Stephenson) are compelled to investigate strange radioactive readings in the area. For this they have put together a crack team of the brightest minds – John Harrison (Jone Fortune), Sheila Finch (Sheila Steafel), upper middle class and flamboyantly gay scientists Elliot Broome (Gareth Hunt), Stephen Wilson (Don Warrington), as well as neutral observers Henry Noland (John Stephen Hill) and Deborah Kedding (Cleo Rocos) – and take to setting up the required equipment. What they don’t know is that the Sinister Man (Vincent Price) and his blood cult still roam the foggy woods and have taken up residence in the bowels of the palatial mansion.

The main plot was meant as an obvious spoof on old those Universal haunted house evergreens as House On Haunted Hill (1959), The Haunting (1963) and The Legend of Hell House (1973) and it plays out like the then-popular slasher. By the mid-eighties the Satanic Panic hadn’t really subsided and the Satanic cult subplot feels straight out of The Masque of the Red Death (1964), All the Colors of the Dark (1972), Black Magic Rites (1973) and Satan’s Slave (1976). Once all that established Bloodbath at the House Of Death then, in no particular order, pokes fun at An American Werewolf in London (1981), Ghostbusters (1984), Jaws (1975), The Invisible Man (1933), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), City Of the Dead (1960), The Stepford Wives (1975), The Tingler (1959), The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), The Exorcist (1973), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), Carrie (1976), Alien (1979), The Amityville Horror (1979), Friday the 13th (1980), Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980), The Shining (1980), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), The Entity (1982), and even Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Everett took an everything but the kitchen sink approach and while there a commendable avalanche of visual gags, slapstick and situational comedy not all jokes quite land and the entire thing is incredibly puerile. The corkscrew decapitation is splattery fun, Debbie Linden’s role as a bosomy babe is hilarious and we got a chuckle out of the “maybe a slap to the face will help?” scene. It’s almost impossible to fathom that Peter Jackson wasn’t aware of or hadn’t seen this and We’re Going to Eat You (1980) when he was envisioning his Bad Taste (1987).

There’s no contesting that Kenny Everett in all likelihood was the funniest man on British TV in the eighties. The leap to the big screen was both inevitable and expected yet his brand of lewd humor didn’t translate well to the big screen. When the jokes don’t land at least there are Cleo Rocos and Debbie Linden bouncing around but they only can do so much. While Bloodbath at the House Of Death is a decent enough horror spoof it never quite reaches the lofty heights of Blazing Saddles (1974), Spaceballs (1987) nor Naked Gun (1988-1994). Hell, Satan's Cheerleaders (1977), Nocturna (1979) and Galaxina (1980) parodied their chosen genres better and were funnier on average. Perhaps it’s telling that after this Everett never ventured into cinema again. A good spoof knows what conventions to ridicule or how to use its parodying to move the story forward. The Satanic cult subplot is genuinely funny, as are the riffs on Alien (1979) and Ghostbusters (1984). Things get a bit random towards the end where Everett throws just about everything but the kitchen sink at the viewer in hope that something will stick. For a movie called Bloodbath at the House Of Death it leans on spoofing science fiction an awful lot. If you’re expecting a parody on Pete Walker’s The Flesh and Blood Show (1972) or Amicus' And Now the Screaming Starts! (1973) – look elsewhere. Kenny Everett was a fine comedian, but this should’ve been better.

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….