The Kiss (1988) Retrospective

Dunbar, who are separated in childhood. Felice is sent away on a train with her aunt, who possesses a cursed totem talisman resembling a serpent. En route to Europe, her aunt, compelled by the talisman, attacks Felice, violently kissing her as blood spills from her mouth. The train’s conductor finds her aunt’s deformed corpse, and Felice departs the train with the talisman.

Twenty five years later in Albany, New York, Hilary (Pamela Collyer) lives with her husband Jack Halloran (Nicholas Kilbertus) and teenage daughter Amy (Meredith Salenger). Their suburban stability is shattered when Hilary receives an unexpected phone call from her estranged sister Felice (Joanna Pacuła), now a globe-travelling model. The two arrange to meet, when suddenly Hilary is killed in a gruesome freak car accident.


Five months later, Felice arrives in Albany again, where she has been working as a model for a vitamin company that has relocated from South Africa. Jack invites her to stay with he and Amy. The family’s matronly next-door neighbor, Brenda (Mimi Kuzyk), a nurse, finds Felice off-putting, and suffers allergies similar to those she experiences around cats. One afternoon, Amy and her friend Heather (Sabrina Boudot) go shopping at the local mall. On the escalator, Heather drops her lipstick, and goes down to retrieve it, upon which her necklace is caught in the grate. Amy attempts to free her but fails, and Heather is badly mangled by the escalator, but survives.

In Felice’s belongings, Amy uncovers the talisman, along with several artifacts, including Heather’s bloodied sunglasses. Amy is suspicious of her, and tension begins to mount between them as Felice makes romantic advances on her father. One night, Jack goes downstairs after hearing a noise, and is attacked by a wild cat who escapes through the kitchen window; Amy is able to find some solace in her love interest, Terry (Shawn Levy). When Amy confides in him of Felice’s mysterious behavior, Terry goes to confront her at her hotel, and stumbles in on her in the midst of a bizarre ritual, after which he is struck by a vehicle and killed, made to appear a suicide.


Amy goes to her local priest to confide in her fears; the priest tells her that her mother had told him of her relationship with Felice in their childhood, and that she believed Felice was schizophrenic. Felice interrupts the meeting; the priest flees and attempts to meet Jack at his office, but is killed by spontaneous combustion by Felice’s powers in an elevator. Jack leaves to go on a business trip, but is contacted by Brenda before he boards the plane, telling him she had a sample of Felice’s blood analyzed by a lab, and that her blood resembles that of a corpse.

Jack deboards the plane and quickly returns home. Upstairs he finds Amy pale and on the verge of death. Felice confronts Jack, explaining that Amy is her bloodline, and that in order for her to survive, she must pass on the curse to Amy and live through her blood. Felice seduces him, while Amy escapes from the house with Brenda. While attempting to escape the backyard, they are attacked by a wild cat, which is revealed to be a therianthropic manifestation of Felice. Brenda kills the cat, and Felice attacks Amy, attempting to kiss her and pass on the parasite.


Jack attacks Felice and the two fall into the swimming pool. Amy impales her with electric gardening shears, and the three struggle in the pool as Felice’s body begins to wither away. The parasite, the physical manifestation of the curse, swims through the pool, swimming to Amy to try and possess her, but is killed in an explosion caused by a propane tank. The three embrace, as Felice’s body sinks to the bottom of the pool.

Dubbed a “psychological thriller” by Lewis, The Kiss is mental rather than physical in its horror. “It’s a movie that disturbs and unsettles you, first of all,” comments Lewis on the Stephen (Gothic) Volk/Tom Ropelewski-scripted film. “Then it builds towards a more and more crushing climax. You feel for the people and the horrible, insidious thing that’s happening to them, instead of just being scared by things jumping out of the dark. But it becomes very, very scary, too.”


It’s one of the few horror movies that leans entirely on a female ensemble. “I was a host,” smiled Pacula. “Basically, my character is not really alive any more but she carries a spirit…it’s a genre film,” she chuckled. “I had to transfer that spirit to the next generation which happened to be a young girl, my niece, who was played by Meredith.”

“What you have here is a very domestic setting a family in a comfortable home barbecuing by the pool,” director Densham amplifies. Before they know it, the whole fabric of their family life has been completely perverted and destroyed. We’re dealing with a character who can project evil over a distance and affect others with it. I tried very hard to make that element real and believable. It’s harder than when you have someone pointing a gun at people, because that’s much easier for the audience to understand.”

Densham points out that this is not merely psychological manipulation by an evil person, but an actual supernatural presence that does real, physical harm. “What makes it different from something like the Exorcist, Lewis maintains, is that in The Exorcist, you had an evil presence that was very obvious and blatant in its methods. Here we have an entity that disguises itself in the form and body of a very beautiful young woman and works secretly, deceptively.

“Another powerful element of the horror is that this beautiful young woman is a relative, a member of the family,” he adds. “I mean, isn’t that the last place you look for pure evil, in your own family? Yet from the standpoint of a child or an adolescent like Amy, an aunt, suddenly appearing on the scene, can be a threatening figure. Just by her presence, she upsets or changes the texture of family life. Everything is appearance, everything is deceptive, and when the evil finally breaks out and rampages around, what have the members of this family got to de fend themselves with?”


Now at the helm of the $6 million The Kiss, Densham keeps a keen eye on all elements of the production, right down to the lighting. For example, he showed director of photography Francois Protat his image bank,” a portfolio of thousands of pictures Densham has collected over the years, to get at the quality of lighting required. The director wants The Kiss to feel suffused with light, as if the light was fighting its way into the camera. ”I always want the sense that there is life, positiveness out there. I never want this film to get dark and negative,” he explains.

Such an approach might seem unusual, given the subject matter, but this narrative has three very strong female characters played by three very attractive women-one of whom (Meredith Salenger as Amy) must be a very sympathetic one for the audience. “It just didn’t seem right to me to make a movie with those faces in a way that was negative, Densham frowns. “I wanted Joanna, one of the world’s most beautiful women, to look powerful, and have her beauty as an attribute. It’s important to the story and the theme, so we shot it all as clean as possible, with no smoke except where it seemed valid and appropriate to add depth.”


In the background stands Stephan (RoboCop) Dupuis, who won an Oscar for his work on The Fly and now serves as supervisor of makeup FX for The Kiss. “The most interesting thing for me about this movie, from a technical point of view, is the use of gelatin on the facial appliance,” Dupuis confides. “Gelatin was used for years and years but has been pretty much discarded in favor of foam latex appliances for putting on an actor’s face. Doug Drexler and Kevin Haney, while working on Poltergeist III, developed this new formula for gelatin appliances. The advantage of these is that they are so skin like. they can be colored exactly like an actor’s skin. You put them on, melt the edges with water and no one knows the difference. The appliances are much easier and quicker to make than foam latex. It’s exciting to work with that. The rest is mostly bladder stuff, things that move around in Joanna Pacula’s chest and so on.”

Joanna (Gorky Park) Pacula stars as Felice, a stunning but mysterious fashion model who invades and takes over the lives of a normal American family. Nick (Hitchhiker) Kilbertus plays Jack, the father who, almost too late, struggles to save his daughter (Meredith Salenger) and is aided in his efforts by his friend and neighbor Brenda (Mimi Kuzyk). But it is the alluring Felice herself who requires the most remarkable transformation FX in the movie.


“She goes from being amazingly beautiful through various stages of decay and ends up a wizened old mummylike thing.” explains Dupuis. “In a way, it’s even more difficult than The Fly, because all the appliances are separate and they’re glued onto her body as the disease progresses. On The Fly, Jeff Goldblum wore a suit for the final stages, which he just stepped into.

“With Joanna, it all has to be blended to her own skin, which is quite an ordeal,” he continues. “On top of that, she goes through a sequence where her chest starts heaving as the creature inside starts pushing against her rib cage. It’s quite suggestive, of course. For that sequence, she wears over her torso a skin piece containing a bladder system with tubes. It became quite complex. I don’t want to make her look like an old bag, but a young woman whose skin becomes taut. She still has some beauty, but becomes gaunt, dried out, used up. It’s much more horrible and scary that way. There is also the disease, a growth that spreads over her toward the end, and all the cuts and blood and fire. There was a lot to do in a short time, with only five weeks for preparation.”

Chris Walas, who shared the Fly Oscar with Dupuis, was actually in charge of makeup FX but concentrated on the mechanical FX leaving the appliances to Dupuis. The lion’s share of the mechanical FX lay in the several versions of a demon cat that assists Felice in her effort to transfer the evil entity inside herself into young Amy.


There are many shots involving the demon cat.” notes Walas, who’s now directing The Fly II, “so we made different models. The one we use for close-ups is fully articulated, using cables. Its eyes and facial muscles move, its ears and lips. Its jaws snap, of course, and it spits. There’s a tube in the cat’s throat so it can spit a tremendous distance.

“For longer shots, we use simpler versions of the cat.” he goes on. “There’s one special one. for instance, that we use for the scene when it gets burnt up at the end. The thing moves so fast in the story, it’s almost a blur, but we had to make it look real. It looks a lot like an ordinary cat, but when you actually stare at it, it’s quite different. The claws and legs are separate pieces for when it attacks people and scratches their faces off and so on.”

Even with all its pretty pictures and Walas-Dupuis FX prowess. distributor Tri-Star remained cold on the completed project: They changed the title twice and bumped The Kiss’ theatrical release date on several occasions. A fate which befell the same studio’s underrated-and barely released-Night of the Creeps.

Film critics and historians have claimed the film to be an allegory of the AIDS epidemic of the late 1980s.

Directed Pen Densham
Produced Pen Densham John Watson
Screenplay Stephen Volk Tom Ropelewski
Story Stephen Volk

Joanna Pacula as Felice Dunbar
Meredith Salenger as Amy Halloran
Nicholas Kilbertus as Jack Halloran
Mimi Kuzyk as Brenda Carson
Jan Rubeš as Gordon Tobin
Shawn Levy as Terry O’Connell

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2 thoughts on “The Kiss (1988) Retrospective

  1. Terrible film. I only remember 3 things. How sexy Joana Pacula was, how big Meredith Salenger’s tits were, and how pretty boy femmey the boyfriend character was.

    Liked by 1 person

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