The Kiss (1988)
The Kiss (1988)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 41 min.

Release Date: October 14th, 1988 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Pen Densham Actors: Joanna Pacula, Meredith Salenger, Mimi Kuzyk, Nicholas Kilbertus, Sabrina Boudot, Shawn Levy, Jan Rubes, Celine Lomez

 


 

I

n the Belgian Congo in 1963, as exotic animals – and their various harvested parts – are prepared for packing into a train, little Felice says her goodbyes to her father and her older sister Hilary. She also boards the train, going with her aunt on a trip. Accompanying them in their cabin is an ancient artifact (an African talisman) with a long tongue and an angry face, which holds some sort of supernatural power, aiding in a frightening ritual that finds the suddenly deformed aunt kissing Felice, transferring a demonic power.

25 years later in Albany, New York, Hilary Halloran (Pamela Collyer) is an adult, married to architect Jack (Nicholas Kilbertus), and they have a teenaged daughter named Amy Bridget (Meredith Salenger), who has just finished the rite of confirmation. When Felice (Joanna Pacula) calls up the family out of the blue, having had virtually no contact in all this time, Hilary becomes visibly spooked, making her way into town to buy a gun. In a bizarre series of accidents, a truck ends up running her over, resulting in her death.

5 months later, Amy and her father are steadily recovering from the tragedy. The girl, in need of guidance, particularly in the realm of a potential boyfriend (Shawn Levy as Terry, a Krazy Kakes employee) and having sex, talks regularly with family friend and next-door neighbor Brenda (Mimi Kuzyk), whose career as a nurse and whose divorced status gives her an edge with motherly advice. But then Felice Dunbar shows up, introduces herself, and gets invited to stay with the Hallorans (a bad omen, to be sure). After all, she’s family.

“I’m not feeling very religious myself these days.” Pitting theological people (and rituals and symbolism) against witchcraft isn’t a new idea, but it’s generally a dependable formula. The beginning of this film, however, is a mess, not only with the spans of time, but also with the establishment of characters and their relationships. Nevertheless, bits of gruesomeness and a few grisly makeup effects work their way into the jumbled introductions, creating a sense that something horrifying could occur at any moment. The foreshadowing is especially clever, ranging from an innocuous pool vacuum to a decidedly more sinister, toothy hedge trimmer.

Though the picture moves far too slowly, Felice’s steady integration into the Halloran home is effectively creepy, borrowing notes from “Rosemary’s Baby” and lending to “The Guardian” a couple of years later (there are also curious references to “Blonde Venus” and “Fright Night”). And the eerie events that continue to pile up, suggesting that Felice is responsible for morbid tragedies, are smartly merged with disbelieving adults and skeptical authority figures. “I was sick! She did it to me!”

Amusingly, the various attempts to either alleviate the predicaments or uncover uncomfortable truths only escalate into greater disasters – many of which involve a vicious devil cat that is hilariously unconvincing. But with components of “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” a pervasive helplessness concerning Amy’s age, and fewer and fewer people to turn to for help, “The Kiss” manages several impressively suspenseful sequences and a downright thrilling finale (though the score during these shots sounds conspicuously similar to “Aliens”). The mood and atmosphere tend to win out over the sillier concepts, building up macabre moments, unsettling imagery, disquieting acts of violence, and bloody deaths that make the overall effort unexpectedly entertaining.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10