Truth be told, I love a good vampire movie: Nosferatu, Frank Langella as Dracula, Fright Night, Guillermo del Toro's Cronos, the Swedish Let the Right One In -- excellent examples have come in lots of different forms. That predilection means that I can also enjoy a truly bad vampire movie, and that is where Kiss of the Damned, the new feature from Xan Cassavetes, comes in. This is the first feature from Cassavetes, who just happens to be the daughter of John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands, and it may be her last, at least while working from her own script. Not all directors are meant to write their own screenplays, and as these things go, Kiss of the Damned is a spectacular disaster. The audience at the screening I saw, not made up only of jaded critics, cringed and laughed at many lines of dialogue. The movie is either a tribute to the cheesy vampire films of the 1970s or it is just risibly bad.
The premise is that, if vampires did survive in today's world, they would have to be much more careful about drawing attention to themselves. French actress Joséphine de La Baume (last glimpsed in Bertrand Tavernier's La Princesse de Montpensier) plays Djuna, a self-conflicted vampire who tries to sate her bloodlust by feeding on animals. A network of vampires trying to live under the radar of human society ("Damn vampire solidarity" is an actual line in the script) provides a beautiful house in the wilds of Connecticut. When Djuna spots screenwriter Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia, the American actor best known for the television series Heroes), in a video store of all places (meaning the action must be taking place in 1995), she runs from him, afraid she will kill any to whom she gets too close. Paolo persists and happily joins her in cursed undead immortality, after which they take up a lifestyle pretty much indistinct from an upscale couple in suburban Connecticut, apart from hunting down and exsanguinating opossum and deer. The thing dreaded most by the idle rich, a visit from family, spoils their happiness when Djuna's sister shows up, played with hungry lust by Roxane Mesquida (whom you may remember as the child actress cast by Manuel Pradal in Marie Baie de Anges). Hapless humans serve as occasional snacks, like Paolo's coke-snorting agent played by Michael Rapaport (True Romance, Mighty Aphrodite).
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On the other hand, if you like the thought of watching a group of snooty vampires, led by the self-righteous and artistic Xenia (played by Anna Mouglalis of Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky), discuss how they might achieve the glories of human civilization by imposing laws of self-restraint, all while snorting down amuse-gueules of organic plasma, this is the movie for you. These vampires are, or at least pretend to be, ashamed of their blood-sucking tendencies, meaning that only the out-of-control antics of Mesquida's bad-girl Mimi provide the traditional needle-edge fun and biting humor of B movies. Cassavetes and her cinematographer, Tobias Datum (Smashed), create a slickly produced visual world, heavy on horror-movie cliches -- full moon, mist, quivering hand-held shots. At the very least, it is easy on the eyes.
This film opens today at Landmark's E Street Cinema.