Canada / USA, 1988
Director: Pen Densham
Starring: Joanna Pacula, Meredith Salenger, Nicholas Kilbertus, Mimi Kuzyk
The Kiss is a supernatural erotic horror that effectively mixes a foreboding atmosphere with a pervasive sexual undercurrent that is rare in today's cinema.
From the very first scene the score sets an appropriately menacing tone. A sense of malevolent dread pervades, cluing you in to the inescapable feeling that something very, very bad is about to happen. Something indescribably evil, grasping upwards from the heaving, putrid slime that inhabits your darkest nightmares and lives underneath your bed.
Belgian Congo, 1963 - young Felice is being sent off to boarding school by train, accompanied by her Aunt. As her father and sister say their goodbyes, they are interrupted by a wild-eyed African woman who seems quite upset at the startled colonials. We don't know what she's saying, but it doesn't sound good ...
As they set out on their train journey, Felice's Aunt shows her an African statue that she is carefully carrying around with her. It's a somewhat phallic looking object with a long tongue that has, apparently, been in their family for hundreds of years. Later that evening the train suddenly screams to a halt, and Felice finds her Aunt's fingers clutching at her neck as she leans in for ...
... the kiss.
Felice emerges from the train, alone. Different.
25 years later, New York State. Amy (Meredith Salenger) is a sweet catholic schoolgirl receiving the sacrament and renouncing Satan. It's her 16th birthday, and unlike all her friends she's still a virgin. A typical all-American girl, living an upper-middle class life with her perfectly happy family in their perfect home.
In the middle of her birthday barbecue, a mysterious phone call comes from Aunt Felice ... an aunt that Amy never knew she had. After a short argument on the phone, Amy's mom hurries from the party to the local shops. But before she can get what she went for, a freak road accident causes a pickup truck to swerve from the road, smashing her through a shop window. Amy's perfect family life is shattered.
Six months later Amy's father Jack is drinking heavily, and his business is suffering. But they are surprised by an unexpected visitor - none other than Aunt Felice (Joanna Pacula). Felice is a supermodel visiting from Europe, and being family, is invited to stay with them.
The sensitive Amy doesn't particularly care for her Aunt, and before long her friends start coming to unfortunate ends. Amy starts having suspicions, and when she discovers weird voodoo paraphernalia in her Aunt's suitcase, she freaks out. Her father won't hear anything of it though, because Felice has been getting her claws into him too.
As the casualties mount, its not long before Jack starts to believe his daughter's accusations, and a battle for Amy's virginal soul ensues.
Even though Pen Densham was a relatively inexperienced director at the time, he skillfully imbues everyday items with ominous portent. The snakelike drift of a hose in the family pool, the mechanical grind of an escalator at the mall. The evil is all around us, around YOU, and you never know when it might bite. Meanwhile, a constant low-grade anxiety diffuses from your speakers thanks to Peter Robinson's chilling score.
For good measure there are also some creative kills, and a rabid mutant cat that meets its end in one of the film's comedic moments.
The story may be a little fantastic, and some of the special effects dated ... but these minor quibbles don't take away from the film's strong points - the superb score and the casting of the two lead actresses.
Pacula, with her east European accent and high cheekbones, imbues her character with primeval sexual voodoo. While invoking her curses, naked in a room full of candles, she erotically strokes the phallic African statue, arousing it to action. And when the final coup-de-grace is delivered, arches her back and parts her lips in sexual ecstasy achieving death and orgasm simultaneously. It's a chilling and erotic performance reminiscent of Nastassja Kinski in 1982's Cat People.
Salenger fills the role of innocent virgin, and her swimsuit, convincingly. Although voted as Maxim's Hottest Movie Star of the '80's, she did not appear in many movies of note, choosing instead to concentrate on graduating from Harvard. The contrast between her sweet innocence, and the worldly malignancy of Pacula's character sets the metaphorical scene in a battle between good and evil.
When The Kiss was released in 1988, it wasn't exactly a blockbuster ... but since then it has slipped even further into obscurity and has now been largely forgotten. Which is a shame because they just don't make 'em like this any more.
If you enjoy erotic horror movies such as Paul Schrader's Cat People, and Alan Parker's Angel Heart, then you may well enjoy this one too. Though not in the same class, it has a similar atmosphere. Now if I can only find it on DVD for a reasonable price!
Note: Many reviewers have really slammed this film, picking on inconsequential things such as an actor smiling too much, and the bad fashion. Hell, this *was* the '80s after all! Relax and enjoy the classic 80's vibe.
Canada / USA, 1988