What is Vampire’s Kiss?
Nicolas Cage is perfectly cast in this devious black comedy of a New York literary agent whose latest one-night stand lands him in bed with vampire Jennifer Beals, who takes a big, bloody bite out of his identity. The emotionally unstable executive develops an aversion to sunlight, a fear of crosses, and a sudden appetite for cockroaches (not to mention a sadistic pleasure in tormenting hapless secretary Maria Conchita Alonso), but is it a supernatural curse or schizophrenia?
Vampire’s Kiss (written by After Hours scribe Joseph Minion) walks a dangerous line between satire and psychosis, which Cage pushes to surreal levels with a manic, unhinged performance. “I’m a vampire!” he howls, shuffling down alleys and snapping his cheap plastic fangs, less a Dracula than a bug-eyed, psychotic Renfield. Both funny and unsettling, this is one of the most demented takes on the genre.
What does it take to make a movie classic? That is an interesting question and something that varies from person to person. For fans of vampire cinema, VAMPIRE’S KISS is something that I think exists roughly in the middle between a genuine classic of the genre versus a cult classic that is more guilty pleasure than cinematic masterpiece. It’s just such a WEIRD movie that you have to accept the ups and downs as both building to something part of the greater whole. It is, however, something that I definitely consider to be one of the must-see vampire movies of all time. Assuming you consider it a vampire movie at all.
The big “twist” (in so much in that it is only a twist if you expect one going in) is the fact that it’s ambiguous whether the protagonist is a vampire at all. Indeed, the typical movie goer probably leans towards the fact that Peter Lowe (Nicholas Cage) is just having a psychotic break where he thinks he’s a vampire. Either that or he got rabies from being bitten by a bat. It doesn’t matter, either way, because seeing the transformation is horrifying (and hilarious) at once.
The premise is Peter Lowe is a literary agent working in New York during the Eighties. A yuppie in their most deplorable cocaine-addled, sexist, and entitled form, Peter is not someone to admire to begin with. He’s particularly cruel to his secretary, Avla (Maria Conchita Alonso), who is implied to be someone he wants to sleep with but rebuffs any of inappropriate office advances. Just to settle what kind of jerk that Peter is, whenever he has a one night stand, he brags about it to his female therapist.
Peter’s life goes topsy turvy when he has a chance encounter with a bat followed by a date (Jennifer Beals) who bites the hell out of him during a sexual encounter. Afterward, Peter starts to degenerate both mentally as well as physically. Nicholas Cage pulls out all of the stops in his bizarre overacting and starts doing things that verge on the silly (turning his couch into a makeshift coffin) to the outright horrifying (starting to terrorize Alva over a file that she can’t find). Eventually, this moves from comedy to outright horror when Peter assaults Alva and buys a pair of plastic fangs to try to kill people for blood.
A warning about Vampire’s Kiss for those sensitive to such subjects, there is a sexual assault in the movie that is a main plot point. Nothing is shown in particular but the traumatic horrifying effects it has on its victim is shown in full. Peter Lowe also eats a live cockroach (that Nicholas Cage ate in real life), does graphic murder, and generally behaves in a manner of someone who is turning into an all-too-believable monster when he’s not acting like a vampire. It’s this darkness of the American Psycho variety (Christian Bale even said he took cues from Nicholas Cage in this movie) that makes the story so memorable.
Is this a good movie? I mean, it certainly sticks in the mind and is a fascinating experience but it’s not exactly a fun one. The horrific bits contrast with the satirical, almost goofy, acting style of Nicholas Cage. This is a movie that spawned the infamous “I’m a vampire! I’m a vampire!” running scene that has to be seen to be believed. It’s dark, disturbing, and ridiculous in equal measure. Some people like that kind of eclectic handling of the material while other people hate it. I think you’ll have to judge for yourself.