The Kiss (1988 film)

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The Kiss
The Kiss 1988 poster.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Pen Densham
Produced by Pen Densham
John Watson
Screenplay by Stephen Volk
Tom Ropelewski
Story by Stephen Volk
Starring Joanna Pacula
Meredith Salenger
Nicholas Kilbertus
Mimi Kuzyk
Jan Rubes
Music by J. Peter Robinson
Cinematography Francois Protat
Edited by Stan Cole
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release date
  • October 14, 1988 (1988-10-14) (U.S.)
Running time
101 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2.5 million
Box office $1,869,148

The Kiss is a 1988 American horror film directed by Pen Densham and starring Joanna Pacula and Meredith Salenger. The plot follows two young women who find themselves haunted by an ancient parasitic curse that was passed on to one of them by a kiss. Film critics and historians have claimed the film to be an allegory of the AIDS epidemic of the late 1980s.[1]


A short prologue set in Belgian Congo in 1963 establishes sisters, Hilary (Talya Rubin) and Felice (Priscilla Mouzakiotis) 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, but Hilary suddenly dies 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 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 killed in a car accident 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.



The screenplay for The Kiss was written by Stephen Volk, who had previously written Gothic (1986) for Ken Russell, and would follow The Kiss with William Friedkin's The Guardian (1990).[2] Though set in Albany, New York and Los Angeles, the film was shot on location in Montreal, Québec, Canada.[3] Its special effects team was made up of Charles Carter, and Chris Walas,[2] who supplied the special effects on Gremlins (1984) and David Cronenberg's The Fly (1986).

The film originally went under the two working titles The Host and Kissed[3] and saw its release pushed back several times, ultimately given a regional release.


The Kiss was released theatrically in the United States in October 1988 through TriStar Pictures.[4] The film grossed $1.9 million in the United States,[5] and repeatedly sold around 25,000 tickets in Québec, where it was filmed.[6]

Critical reception[edit]

The film received mixed reviews from critics, and holds a 41% rating on internet review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.[7] Janet Maslin of The New York Times called the film "rich in disgusting special effects and poor in every other regard," and remarked its unimpressive performances.[8] Time Out called the film a "daft and derivative possession pic," noting Mimi Kuzyk as providing "the only shred of credible humanity."[9] Leonard Maltin gave the film a mildly positive review, calling it an "occasionally scary horror film that builds up to but downplays the sexual implications of its Cat People–style story of a family curse passed down to each generation by a woman-to-woman kiss."[10]

The Los Angeles Times gave the film a positive review, declaring the film "smart, fast and sassy, as much fun as it is scary in its shock-cut grisliness--but absolutely not for the faint-of-heart."[11]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on VHS, and later on DVD in February 2004 by Columbia TriStar Home Video.[12]


  1. ^ Benshoff 1997, p. 244.
  2. ^ a b Weldon 1996, p. 318.
  3. ^ a b Sites, Brandon C. "Interview With Pen Densham on THE KISS (Joanna Pacula)". Brandon Sites: Critic of Modern Day Horror (Interview). Interview with Densham, Pen. Retrieved April 17, 2016. 
  4. ^ Beck, Marilyn (October 13, 1988). "Joanna Pacula Is Mummified For Upcoming `The Kiss`". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 17, 2015. 
  5. ^ "The Kiss (1988)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 30, 2016. 
  6. ^ Ramond, Charles-Henri (February 25, 2009). "Kiss, The – Film de Pen Densham". Films du Québec. Retrieved April 18, 2016. 
  7. ^ "The Kiss (1988)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 9, 2016. 
  8. ^ Maslin, Janet (October 14, 1988). "Review/Film; Oral Fixation In the Extreme". The New York Times. Retrieved April 9, 2016. 
  9. ^ N.F. "The Kiss, directed by Pen Denshan". Time Out New York. Retrieved April 9, 2016. 
  10. ^ Maltin 2015.
  11. ^ Thomas, Kevin (October 14, 1988). "MOVIE REVIEW : 'The Kiss': It's Smart and Sassy but Not for the Faint-Hearted". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 12, 2016. 
  12. ^ "DVD Review: The Kiss (1988)". Digitally Obsessed. Retrieved April 6, 2016. 


  • Benshoff, Harry A. (1997). Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film. Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-71904-473-1. 
  • Maltin, Leonard (2015). Leonard Maltin's 2015 Movie Guide. Plume. ISBN 978-0-14218-176-8. 
  • Weldon, Michael J. (1996). The Psychotronic Video Guide To Film. St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 978-0-31213-149-4. 

External links[edit]