Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #541
Number of Views: One
Release Date: June 2, 1989
Sub-Genre: Vampire/Black Comedy
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $725,131 (US)
Running Time: 103 minutes
Director: Robert Bierman
Producers: John Daly, Derek Gibson, Barry Shils, Barbara Zitwer
Screenplay: Joseph Minion
Special Effects: Ed French
Cinematography: Stefan Czapsky
Score: Colin Towns
Editing: Angus Newton
Studio: Magellan Pictures
Distributors: Hemdale Film Corporation, MGM Home Entertainment
Stars: Nicolas Cage, María Conchita Alonso, Jennifer Beals, Elizabeth Ashley, Kasi Lemmons, Robert Lujan, Jessica Lundy, Johnny Walker, Boris Leskin, Michael Knowles, John Michael Higgins
Suggested Audio Candy
 Colin Towns “Vampire’s Kiss”
 Colin Towns “Tunnel Vision”
Love him or loathe him, there can be no denying that, on his day, Nicolas Cage is a force few could reckon with. He’s made his fair share of turkeys over the years and can be cringeworthy when in full-on theatrical mode, but when a film plays to his strengths, there is no question over his screen presence. Mike Figgis’ Leaving Las Vegas is a perfect example of this man at the very peak of his A-game and his Oscar-winning turn as fading alcoholic Ben Sanderson was truly a thing of sublime beauty. Granted, his résumé contains its fair share of questionable career choices but, that said, he has never fallen out of favor with Hollywood executives looking for a bankable name to pin their hopes on. More power to him I say.
Astonishingly, while I was familiar with Robert Bierman’s 1988 fang fest Vampire’s Kiss, I had never been presented with the opportunity to explore it further. Arriving at the tail-end of the decade, audiences had already had their fill of vampires with the likes of The Lost Boys, Near Dark and Fright Night, and its arrival was greeted by a strangely muted response and paltry box office returns. It never particularly appealed to me either and I was more than happy to let it pass me by but, in the interest of equal opportunities, I finally decided to offer up my jugular. Goddamn I’m glad that I did.
It may not have the trendy appeal of its fanged cousins and lack the bite of more bloodthirsty vampiric fare but Bierman’s take on nocturnal noshing is a real gem of a movie that deserves far wider acclaim than has ever been granted it. Cage plays fiercely driven literary agent Peter Loew, a man on a one-way trip to the brink of his sanity and fading fast. Long working hours at the office are interspersed by shallow sex with whatever floozy he can get his hands on during his clockwork jaunts to seedy back street nightclubs. Life has lost all meaning to Peter and he has reached a distinct crossroads in his existence.
Then he meets Rachel (Jennifer Beals) and, after wooing her back to his apartment, things look set for a night of sweaty coitus and fractured head beards. However, this feisty vixen isn’t particularly interested in what he is packing in his jockeys and, instead, has designs only on his jugular vein. As they say “once bitten, forever smitten” and, once any primary pangs of pain have subsided, Peter is more than happy to let her take her fill. Suddenly, a one night stand isn’t sufficient and he welcomes her nightly visits and the pheromones she releases with each subsequent feast.
“The work’s not just go away, Alva. It never just “goes away”… THE GODDAMN CONTRACT IS SOMEWHERE IN THE GODDAMN FUCKING FILES!”
The thing is, Peter still has a job to hold down and, in timid secretary Alva (María Conchita Alonso), he has himself the perfect placid pawn to harass within an inch of her life. He becomes fixated with tasking her to locate a long since misfiled contract from 1963 and torments her at every available opportunity. Occasionally he suckers her in with a hint of compassion then whammo, flies off the handle and reminds her that she is little more than pond algae to him and has no use whatsoever. The poor girl doesn’t know whether she’s coming or going and begins to dread clocking in each morning for fear of another unsolicited outburst. If laughing at others’ misfortunes provides you with your kicks, then their numerous one-way interactions may well rupture your hernia.
Meanwhile, Peter’s relationship with therapist Dr. Glaser (Elizabeth Ashley) offers up many priceless exchanges as she entertains each of his wild notions with wonderfully deadpan composure. Their regular sessions afford him the chance to get a load off his chest even though he isn’t remotely interested in her prognosis and, instead, just enjoys having someone to rattle on to. His tenuous grip on reality is slipping fast and keeping up the charade of everyday life is growing increasingly difficult. It’s shit or get off the pot time for Peter and there seems no other feasible option than making the transition into fully fledged creature of the night.
“I’m a vampire! I’m a vampire! I’m a vampire!”
This is where I damn near shit a kidney. You see, pointed incisors don’t appear to be forthcoming, and he is growing tired of waiting for the metamorphosis to happen so Peter opts for the next best thing and purchases himself a set of new-fangled vampire gnashers. With his wallet now emptier than John Merrick’s date planner, a deluxe set is out of the question so the $3.95 bargain basement alternative has to do. They barely fit in his maw and watching him attempt one of his rousing monologues with a grill full of cheap plastic is truly a joy to behold.
Moreover, he assumes the stiff posturing of Nosferatu in an attempt to go the whole hog and converts his overturned couch into a makeshift coffin to further authenticity. The sight of him chasing pigeons around the boulevard like a deranged heathen will remain with me until my dying day. Then, while I struggle to regain my composure, he’s spitting feathers back at his pad and nasal snorts of sheer delight ensue. I’m hard pushed to recall a time when my belly laughed so emphatically and sore ribs were scant price to pay for the blackened comedy plutonium that Cage willingly supplies.
His performance is so far over the top that it is halfway down the other side and, you know what, that’s fine with me as it is absolutely called for in the pursuit of having our funny bones tickled. However, pratfall aside, Vampire’s Kiss is more than simply an excuse to die laughing. While initially, his character is hard to warm to, given his egomaniacal nature and lack of compassion for anyone other than himself, eventually our defenses begin to drop and we take this deluded rapscallion straight to our hearts. Whether or not he is a bona fide arch-fiend remains hazy although it ultimately matters not as his portrayal of snowballing mental frailty makes for a fascinating case study.
Vampire’s Kiss is a glorious affair, never more so than once Peter succumbs to his nocturnal instinct and goes all in with little more than a pair of twos and greatly diminished chip stack. It may not be an out-and-out classic in a conventional sense but, make no mistake, this is compulsive cinema and the most refreshing take on vampire folklore since Jon Amplas flashed his faux fangs for George A. Romero’s Martin back in 1977. Speaking of which, that is perhaps the film that it most resembles, albeit with a fair deal less subtlety and sporting one helluva hefty pair of size twenty clown shoes. I implore you to seek this out after dark and quench freely from Bierman’s font as the rewards are way beyond calculable should you lend yourself to its inescapable charm. As for me, I’m off to purchase some plastic gnashers. See you around midnight fellow snackers.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: What vampire movie would be complete without a few punctured jugulars to keep us well fed? Blood is at a premium and this is understandable given that we’re left in the dark for the majority of the picture as to whether or not Peter’s a vampire or simply wack-job. Meanwhile, his carnal endeavors are well documented throughout and Bierman provides the odd dash of bare pelt to encourage the blood to rush to an entirely different area.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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