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30 years later and Vampire’s Kiss starring Nicolas Cage is as crazy and misunderstood as ever. Though it has lived on through endless memes, Vampire’s Kiss is far more than just a bonkers Nicolas Cage, rage-a-thon. In fact, Vampire’s Kiss may be one of the sneakiest works of genius in the last 30 years. Combining elements of Bram Stoker and The Twilight Zone with a hint of Hammer Films, Vampire’s Kiss combines these unique influences in a riveting, often hilarious, and never boring package.
Peter Loew is the average, everyday New York City D-Bag of privilege. Peter lives a life of carefree excess as a literary agent and ladies man. When we meet Peter, he is in the midst of his latest hook up with a beautiful woman named Jackie (Kasi Lemmons), when the two are interrupted by a bat that invades Peter’s bachelor pad. The bat sends the two running and everything appears resolved when they attend to Jackie’s apartment to finish their night.
The following day Peter attends therapy with Dr Glaser (Elizabeth Ashley), and goes on about his love life. When pressed, Peter admits that he was actually more turned on by his encounter with the bat than he was by sex with Jackie. Dr Glaser doesn’t quite know what to make of this odd revelation. The scene transitions normally enough, and we are to assume that as a therapist in New York City Dr Glaser may have heard stranger confessions before before.
At work, we begin to see Peter’s slide into demented behavior. For reasons, Peter sets his sights upon a secretary named Alva (Maria Conchita Alonso), and because she is the newest employee at the company, he forces her to seek out a missing contract that he absolutely must have. Throughout the next hour we will watch as an increasingly unhinged Peter tortures poor Alva over this contract until a full on psychotic break sends the film to its harrowing, high comic/tragic solution.
Amidst another night of cruising for women, Peter is enchanted by Rachel (Jennifer Beals). When the two go back to his place she appears to engage in a fetishistic act of biting Peter’s neck, leaving a bite mark behind. This act leads Peter to begin to lose his grip on sanity. Slowly, Peter begins to believe he is a living, breathing, vampire with a desperate desire for blood, and a loosening grip on reality.
Vampire’s Kiss was directed by Robert Bierman, who is not a director of any renown. Bierman moved to television after Vampire’s Kiss flopped at the box office 30 years ago, and never looked back. It’s hard to say if Bierman was some kind of strange visionary, or if he was merely on hand to give life to Nicolas Cage and let the actor loose on this material in ways that border on completely out of control. Screenwriter Joseph Minion also didn’t have much of a film career aside from Vampire’s Kiss, which furthers the theory that Nicolas Cage was the true driving force of Vampire’s Kiss.
A strange hallmark of Nicolas Cage’s career are voices. Cage is infamous for taking a character, and adopting a specific accent for that character. Cage has in fact been accused of tanking entire performances due to his desperate, fetishistic dedication to odd accents. Stories about Cage’s accent choices in movies such as Peggy Sue Got Married, Con-Air, and Face Off are equally bizarre and fascinating.
Cage’s accent of choice in Vampire’s Kiss doesn’t appear to have any basis in any locale. Unlike his Italian or Southern accent, Cage’s Vampire’s Kiss is an affectation that can only be the invention of Nicholas Cage’s constantly raging id. Part southern California surfer and part pop culture Transylvanian, Cage’s accent is wonderfully bizarre and incomprehensible. I was obsessed with Cage’s accent and I remain transfixed by it.
Regardless of who is responsible for Vampire’s Kiss, be it a one time feature director turned secret visionary, or an actor unshackled from Hollywood expectations and truly exploring his talent, Vampire’s Kiss is somehow a work of fascinating and unique genius. While it is very easy to get caught up in the highly meme-able Cage moments like his desk leaping, the ABC’s, or those buggy eyes, what shocked me was how riveting the performance is from a simply performative standpoint.
Cage’s Renfield-ian wackiness morphs into something just as genuinely riveting as the great all time Renfield performances. Renfield was the maniac assistant to Dracula rather than being the main character, and the choice to follow a Renfield rather than a Dracula is yet another ingenious, and unexpectedly brilliant choice in Vampire's Kiss.
Nicolas Cage in Vampire's Kiss brings to mind something from an entirely different era of acting. It's something akin to the Hammer Horror movies of the 1960s transported to a very typical looking 80s erotic thriller. Indeed, from a visual standpoint, Vampire’s Kiss is rather bland, but that very blandness allows Cage to stand further out from the movie.
While many will write off Vampire’s Kiss as Nicolas Cage’s meme movie, I found the film riveting, not because I could point to and laugh at Cage’s silliness and over the top raving. Rather, I was riveted by the ever increasing madness, and how compelling Cage is beyond being merely comically unhinged. The film is a high wire tap dance of ever-growing, grand guignol thrills.
Vampire’s Kiss is wonderfully, beautifully, insane, and even 30 years later, with three decades of Cage memery to enjoy, I still could not get enough of it. The insanity reminded me of one of Cage’s most recent works, Mandy, and it occurs to me now that I would love to see a 30 years later reboot of Vampire’s Kiss by that film’s director, Panos Cosmatos with Cage as a consultant. I imagine Sam Rockwell in the role of Peter, and it’s now my ultimate dream movie.