The Kiss (1988) poster

The Kiss (1988)


Canada. 1988.


Director – Pen Densham, Screenplay – Tom Ropelewski & Stephen Volk, Story – Stephen Volk, Producers – Pen Densham & John Watson, Photography – Francois Protat, Music – J. Peter Robinson, Special Effects – Louis Craig & Les Prod. de L’Intrigue, Makeup Effects – Stephen Du Puis & Chris Walas, Production Design – Roy Forge Smith. Production Company – Trilogy Films/Richard B. Lewis.


Joanna Pacula (Felice Dunbar), Meredith Salenger (Amy Halloran), Nicholas Kilbertus (Jack Halloran), Mimi Kuzyk (Brenda), Shawn Levy (Terry O’Connell), Sabrina Dourbof (Heather), Pamela Collyer (Hilary Halloran), Peter Dvorsky (Father Joe)


Teenager Amy Halloran’s mother is killed in a car crash while going to meet her sister Felice, a top fashion model. Not long after, Amy’s father meets Felice at the graveside and invites her to move in. Amy develops a dislike of Felice, particularly after she seduces her father. She comes to believe that Felice is using African magic to kill off her friends and is now trying to possess her.

This Canadian production is proof that bad filmmaking is not limited to the B and Z budget ends of the genre. The Kiss is a film written entirely without any coherent raison d’etre. It has been assembled more out a grab-bag of genre clichés than any coherent plot.

The plot is a kitchen sink that manages to throw in everything from an obligatory Alien (1979)-styled chesturster to various novelty supernatural killings a la The Omen (1976). The Kiss also tries to jump on the 1980s fad for makeup effects horror and offers up one of the most laughable animatronic monsters ever put on screen – a killer cat.

Director Pen Densham aims for style but the wimpily overdone pseudo-sinister 80s synth score and fake red herrings fail miserably and there is only a tacky amusement to be found in the entire film. Mostly, The Kiss is a film driven by its gory set-pieces. There is not much connection or even sense or motivation given to any of them, just a desire to showcase makeup effects.

The Kiss can certainly be enjoyed on one level for the novelty silliness these offer – a priest burned alive in an elevator; a scene where a teenage girl is decapitated after getting her necklace caught in the grille of an escalator; the obligatory teen hunk who gets creamed by a multi-wheeled truck after being chased by the mutant cat; and the entertainingly silly set-piece where the mother is thrown through a storefront window after being hit by a car and her severed leg is left underneath a truck.

Joanna Pacula as Aunt Felice in The Kiss (1988)
Joanna Pacula as Aunt Felice

Everything is supposedly rationalised by a vague voodoo and an even vaguer possession plot. This is underlined by some unintentionally hilarious Freudian symbolism where the new aunt gets to represent everything from a female Oedipus complex and pseudo-lesbianism to fear of menstruation and health foods. Crude Catholic imagery lies everywhere throughout the film – the film often seems like an hysterically overwrought panoply of Catholic fears. The scenes where Meredith Salenger hallucinates that the heart on an anatomical dummy has come to life, crosscut with scenes of her father and Joanna Pacula having sex, while she menstruates on the seat in a classroom is utterly laughable in terms of the ludicrously over-the-top symbolism.

The climax – involving the emergence of the parasite possessing Joanna Pacula, exploding swimming pools, reanimated corpses, a propane barbecue canister that suddenly turns into a belching thirty-foot tall flame jet, hedge clipper attacks, and the mutant cat being pitchforked and torched on poolside lamps – leaves one laughing uncontrollably. The mutant cat is utterly ridiculous, a rare fall down for the usually excellent makeup effects artist Chris Walas, who provided sterling work on films such as Scanners (1981) and Gremlins (1984).

Polish-born former model Joanna Pacula, with her high cheekbones and piercing grey eyes, has a certain cold beauty, even if the part is entirely one-dimensional.

The team of Pen Densham, Richard B. Lewis and John Watson has made a number of other genre entries between them – including writing and producing the Kevin Costner Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (1991); writing and producing the lame cop and gnome comedy Upworld/A Gnome Named Gnorm (1991); writing, producing and creating the tv series Space Rangers (1993); writing/producing the sf tv movie Lifepod (1993); and as producers of the tv revival of The Outer Limits (1995-2001), Tank Girl (1995), the Peter Benchley tv mini-series Creature (1998), the tv mini-series remake of Stephen King’s Carrie (2002), The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (2002) about teenagers living in a world of comic-books and the tv series revival of The Twilight Zone (2002-3). Lewis also created/produced the Canadian tv series Poltergeist: The Legacy (1996-9).

Screenwriter Stephen Volk has also written the likes of Ken Russell’s Gothic (1986), William Friedkin’s The Guardian (1990), the BBC’s live ghost investigation special hoax Ghostwatch (1992), Superstition (2001), the psycho-thriller Octane (2003), the British tv series Afterlife (2005-6), the ghost story The Awakening (2011) and the mini-series Midwinter of the Spirit (2015).

Trailer here

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