Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Kiss (1988)

Film directors with workmanlike sensibilities will often try out a few genres before they find the one that makes bank. I can only assume this was Pen Densham's strategy, when he sandwiched a low-key horror entry titled The Kiss between Moll Flanders and something called The Zoo Gang (IMDb plot summary: “Homeless kids need a place to stay, so they rent the club ‘The Zoo’ out, from Old Leather Face."). Also, the guy wrote A Gnome Named Gnorm, a film which I routinely see going for less than a dollar at library book/vhs sales. If I had known his resume, I would have had low expectations for The Kiss from the first frame (I suppose if I had known The Kiss was co-written by Ken Russell collaborator Stephen Volk I might have at least given it a shot); however, in these lean days my apartment-mates and I go without the internet, so I entered The Kiss blind.

This little horror film is very easy to watch. This is not necessarily a compliment. However, when you watch as many "B" pictures as I do you come to accept diminishing returns, so when something is at least entertaining--if not interesting--it can be a welcome break. No mistake, The Kiss may be predictable and unambitious, warranting its obscurity, yet--it ain't half bad either.

A short prologue set in "Belgian Congo, 1963" establishes two of the main characters, Hilary and Felice Dunbar, and also the generic curse, and a generic cursed totem. Flash forward to the late 1980s, Albany, New York, where Hilary (Talya Rubin) lives with her husband Jack Halloran (Nicholas Kilbertus) and teenage daughter Amy (child star Meredith Salenger). Their suburban stability is shattered however when Hilary receives an unexpected phone call from her estranged sister Felice (Joanna Pacula), now a globe-travelling model. The two arrange to meet, yet Hilary dies in a gruesome car accident soon after inviting Felice to visit her family in Albany. Well, Felice shows up anyway, "five months later" and swiftly seduces Jack, kills a few interlopers, and makes quick enemies with her neice Amy, the film's protagonist.

The plot is rote; I'll not waste too many words in this regard. The film which is probably playing out in your mind is accurate: Felice appears amiable yet mysterious at first, but eventually reveals her true intentions. In fact, Felice turns out to be an undead occultnik femme fatale who must pass on the generic curse (via "the kiss") to a young relative (Amy) before she withers away. Amy wins of course, yet the ending is somewhat ambiguous. Of course, these building blocks say little about this type of genre film: an entry like The Kiss can sail or fail by virtue of its style. Problem is, The Kiss is so damn average. I liked the occaisional 80s slang and fashion, the well-done gore FX by some guys who worked on The Fly and Scanners, and I was especially hyped up by the gonzo black magick rituals Felice performs throughout The Kiss, even if the strikingly handsome Joanna Pacula's performance remains one-note "mysterious." In these scenes Felice writhes nude with body paint, candles, bones, and a mangy stray-cat puppet, which somehow causes people to die in horrible accidents elsewhere. If the film maintained the style of these montages throughout, it would play like a higher-budget Necropolis.

The characters here exist merely as archetypes: dopey husband with a vague office job; highly sexualized yet innocent daughter; valley girl best friend; nosy yet well-meaning neighbor; heroic boyfriend, ad naseum. This is fine. Yet a few wild cards could have elevated the film (come on, yr telling me no magician-tracker from "Belgian Congo, 1963" is following Felice around the globe?). The Kiss is full of missed opportunities.

I can't recommend The Kiss. I also can't say I regret watching it, or that I'd never pop it in the VCR again. Use your discretion.

Note: Has everybody noticed how weird the user-submitted plot tags have gotten on IMDb? Here's what you'll find for The Kiss: Occult, Severed leg, Curse, Model, Murder, Person on fire, Female nudity, Menstruation. Fellow fetishists look out for each other, I suppose.

1 comment:

Paul said...

I know this is old, but I just thought you would like to know that your review is being plagarized here: