An American in search of his brother. A man obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe. Kiss Me And Die is a Thriller series highlight for Brit-horror fans, says Richard Phillips-Jones.
TITLE: Thriller – Kiss Me And Die
BROADCAST: 9 February 1974
STARRING: Jenny Agutter, George Chakiris, Anton Diffring, Russell Hunter, John Sharpe
WRITER: Terence Feely (original story by Brian Clemens)
DIRECTOR: John Sichel
The camera pans across the grounds of a manor house. It zooms in on the bell tower atop the building, and the image crossfades to a man dressed in a bedraggled-looking ruff, trapped in a dark room, lit only by a solitary candle.
“Let me out…”, he screams. “Let me out… No, No! Let me out! Please! Let me out! Please, let me out, let me out!”
The candle goes out. Fade to black, and the familiar Thriller titles begin.
We’re barely 45 seconds into Kiss Me And Die, and things are shaping up promisingly already.
Robert Stone (Chakiris) arrives in a remote English village. He listens to a tape recording his brother sent him, describing the place in great detail. Stone then enters the local pub, The Columbine Inn, and asks the landlord for a room. A customer eyes Stone making his way upstairs, and quickly leaves. Meanwhile, the traveller enters his lodgings and checks a pistol he has stored in a small wooden box.
Stone heads back downstairs, orders himself a drink and strikes up conversation with some of the locals, introducing himself pseudonymously as Robert McCabe. As the viewer often expects in these situations, the locals are jovial on the surface but there’s the niggling feeling that this may be a façade.
It transpires that the village has welcomed another American recently, one Jim Stone, who had established a relationship with Dominie Lanceford (Agutter). She is the niece of wealthy landowner Jonathan Lanceford (Diffring), who appears to keep her somewhat secluded at the manor.
Distracting Robert’s attention by asking him to sign the guest register, the landlord then admonishes the locals for speaking to him about the Lancefords’ private affairs. Robert, however already has enough information to start investigating the disappearance of Jim, who it transpires is the brother who sent him the tape recording.
And that’s all the information I will give away here regarding the plot, for this is a fantastic episode which I really do not want to ruin for viewers in advance. What I can tell you is that Dominie has had three serious boyfriends disappear suddenly and mysteriously, and that Jonathan has a severe obsession with the works of Edgar Allan Poe.
Then there’s Old Fred (the ever-reliable Russell Hunter), described as “local handyman, rat catcher, jack of all trades”. Fred turns out to be a most helpful source of information, in exchange for a few pints.
Whilst it’s no surprise that Jonathan is up to no good (when Anton Diffring’s involved, it rarely is), the third act really is a revelation, ranking as easily one of the most elaborate and well-conceived in the entire series. Fans of Masque Of The Red Death will have an absolute field day.
Writer Terence Feely brings some of the English village strangeness he used to such good effect in series one’s A Place To Die, with the American frequently disorientated and wrong-footed in trying to establish who (if anyone) he can trust in this place. By the end of the episode, it has morphed into one of Thriller’s most resolutely gothic entries, and a true series highlight.
TRIVIA NOTES: Kiss Me And Die was retitled The Savage Curse for its later US TV-Movie version, continuing the tradition of treating American viewers like imbeciles. Yet again, a ham-fisted attempt to mimic the story’s climax in the tacked-on main titles rather spoils things. It’s like a particularly poor amateur dramatics society trying to emulate Roger Corman with a camcorder.
Exteriors were filmed in Aldbury, Hertfordshire. A popular film and TV location (its proximity to the Elstree studios was possibly a factor), it was the setting for Shillingbury Tales (1980-81), classic Avengers episodes Dead Man’s Treasure and Murdersville (both 1967), and episodes of Inspector Morse and Midsomer Murders.
This is a good place to point out the sterling work of the designers and art directors who worked on Thriller, talents like Stanley Mills, Bryan Holgate and (in this case) Michael Eve. It must be said, pulling off an effective Gothic atmosphere in a TV studio isn’t the easiest thing, but Eve and the ATV set builders pulled off an absolute blinder on this one.