The Kiss

(Pen Densham, Canada/USA, 1988)

BY LAURA KERN | October 31, 2022

Suckers for crazy-ass voodoo curses that travel down female family bloodlines should delight in The Kiss, a film that got lost among the wealth of 1988 horror gems like Child’s Play, The Blob, and Pumpkinhead, and still hasn’t found its rightful place in the pantheon. It stars the always-appealing Meredith Salenger as Amy, a girl just trying to enjoy her ordinary Albany teenage existence, going to the mall with her best friend and crushing on a boy who works there—though her life instead begins plummeting into hellish depths.

While Amy’s confirmation party is in full swing, her mom is brutally killed by a truck after she flees to the gun store in a panic upon receiving a call from her estranged sister. A few months later, Aunt Felice (Joanna Pacula), whom Amy didn’t even know existed, shows up, a model by profession but by no means a model citizen. Amy’s well-intentioned, kinda doofy dad (Nicholas Kilbertus) is transfixed by her—she does, after all, secure him some architecture gigs, and looks irresistible in her aerobics getup—but Amy buys none of Felice’s sympathetic-relative act, even before finding her collection of creepy African talismans.

As entertaining as it is nonsensical, The Kiss holds up on present-day viewings, especially if you’re someone (like me) who watched the VHS on repeat. Balancing the film’s aggressive foreshadowing are some touchingly realistic character dynamics, most memorably between Amy and her next-door neighbor Brenda (scene-stealer Mimi Kuzyk), a nurse whose choice to have Felice’s blood tested reveals unsettling results. The film also features some showstopping special effects, devised in part by Chris Walas, the mastermind behind the Nazi face-melting in Raiders of the Lost Ark and the creatures for Gremlins and The Fly (he later directed The Fly II). Pretty awesome, though less technically impressive, is the cheesy-looking black cat Felice unleashes on people (or shape-shifts into à la Cat People)—such a nasty little bugger that you don’t feel guilty wishing for its demise. Pen Densham directed only one theatrical feature before The Kiss and one after, neither horror, which is a shame because he exhibits a true talent for the genre. Watching Felice do whatever it takes to achieve her curse transference by mouth in exchange for eternal life—from the first nasty attack on Amy’s friends on an escalator to the climactic explosive showdown in a pool—is simply loads of slimy, witchy fun. 🩸


is a writer, editor, and horror programmer based in New York. She is the editor of Bloodvine and her writing has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, Film Comment, and Rolling Stone.

X: @killerkern

How to see The Kiss

The one U.S. DVD release of The Kiss is long out of print and very hard to find, and the film isn’t streaming anywhere at the moment. You can watch a pretty rough-looking—and censored—version of it on YouTube via a 1999 episode of Joe Bob Briggs’s MonsterVision series for TNT.
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