Have you ever been disappointed by a film only to stumble across it decades later and find it to be a head smacking work of absolute brilliance? That’s my story with VAMPIRE’S KISS. What was I thinking way back in ‘88 when I shrugged this slice of genius off? I guess young Unk was expecting something different (a straight up horror flick) and was just too rigid to go with the funky flow. Well, a changed mind is an open mind I always say and I’m just glad this flick sauntered back into my life. VAMPIRE’S KISS is not your traditional vampire tale; it’s a raven black cult comedy, a portrait of a soul longing to connect while dismantling in the process and a “Wish you here!” post card from late eighties, late night New York. It was written by JOSEPH MINION, the guy who wrote MARTIN SCORSESE’s AFTER HOURS and maybe if I was privy to that nugget of info way back when, I wouldn’t have been so dense to the film’s modus operandi. Truth be told though, I think one needs a bit of life experience, a couple of their own soul sucking vampire encounters, to truly appreciate what’s going on.
NICOLAS CAGE is Peter Loew an insecure egoist with some real intimacy issues. Here’s a guy who wants to fall in love but fears losing himself in the process. One night stands do little to appease his needs and the only sense of self importance he can attain is through vicious power plays at his yuppie job and temper tantrums performed before his therapist (ELIZABETH ASHLEY). He has an interested, fun-loving romantic interest at his disposal, Jackie (KASI LEMMONS), but his head and heart itch for the acceptance of an unattainable beauty, who rebuffed him, Rachael (JENNIFER BEALS). One night a bat flies into his apartment (is it real? I don’t know), and he finds his battle with it more arousing than the available Jackie. Clearly Peter is more excited by the “mortal combat” of love, not the actual attainment of it. From this point on he falls into a pit of fantasy where he is owned and can be loved by a nonexistent vampiric entity. In the made up world inside his head, love is finally possible now that choice and consequences have been obliterated. Peter’s fears of being drained by love have transformed him into a life draining monster himself. Eventually, like a snake eating its own tail, he consumes himself.
CAGE broke my heart a long time ago. No, I couldn’t take a flight on CON AIR with this once astonishing actor, it just hurt too much. Here he is at his pre-sell out, still has a neck, prime; lanky and ridiculous, flailing about like a stringless marionette and shamelessly mugging for all to see. What a great, fearless, go-for-broke, let the chips fall where they may performance. NICK, all is forgiven and bravo. I know that weirdo is still inside you somewhere. I plan to now seek out THE BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL – NEW ORLEANS and to rewatch THE WICKER MAN solely for comedic purposes. I have held a grudge against you for decades and I am now calling a permanent truce. Rank me among your highest supporters…for now.
In contrast to CAGE’s intoxicating showboating is MARIA CONCHITA ALONSO as his long suffering secretary Alva. ALONSO delivers such a quiet, restrained alternative to CAGE’s manic drooling that the collision of the two approaches is spellbinding. Peter (who even has a photo of KAFKA on display in his office) sends poor Alva on a bureaucratic goose chase that’s sometimes uncomfortable to witness but also hilarious. CAGE’s excesses are such that I found myself almost hiding behind my hands in sympathetic embarrassment for both parties. It’s as if he sends her on an equally fruitless journey as his own out of spite and when her goal is miraculously reached before his, it sparks his final self destructive nose dive.
Director ROBERT BIERMAN deserves accolades for opening every cage in the zoo and for letting the script and the city speak for itself. Downtown New York is really allowed to breathe and be itself on screen yet the visuals never overpower the performances (really how could they?) ELIZABETH ASHLEY as Pete’s doctor should also be singled out for delivering some of the film’s funniest, most sardonic lines without a wink. VAMPIRE’s KISS is currently on HULU and you can watch it for free HERE. Clueless Unk circa 1988 may not recommend it, but I sure as hell do.