Vampire's Kiss

1989, Movie, R, 105 mins

Review

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Peter Loew (Nicolas Cage) is an affected, self-centered literary agent living in New York, and his life is the usual mess. In therapy because he doesn't understand why his love life--a series of one-night stands--isn't making him happy, he takes out his frustration on his high-strung secretary, Alva (Maria Conchita Alonso). Full of spite, Loew assigns Alva a pointless, time-consuming project, then berates her mercilessly for her failure to complete it quickly. But Loew's petty problems come to an abrupt halt when he picks up Rachel (Jennifer Beals), a beguiling beauty who just may be a vampire. After he has been bitten by Rachel, Loew becomes convinced he is turning into a blood drinker. His smokey-voiced therapist (Elizabeth Ashley) thinks Peter is just projecting, but Alva--reduced to quivering terror whenever Loew comes into the office--isn't so sure. She confides her fears to her brother and tries to stay home from work, but her practical mother will have none of it; work is just one of those things you have to deal with, Mom reasons, and bad bosses go with the territory. But Alva is convinced that even if he isn't a vampire, Peter Loew is the true Boss from Hell. Loew's behavior degenerates rapidly: he eats bugs and pigeons, blacks out his windows, wears sunglasses day and night, indoors and out, constructs a makeshift coffin for himself, and dreams of the exotic Rachel. Tortured by the need to know for sure if he's a vampire and aware that Alva carries a gun, Loew tries to prompt his secretary to shoot him; he threatens to rape her, and Alva fires at him point blank. Since Loew doesn't feel a thing, he's now convinced of his vampirism. Making his way to a trendy club, he selects his first victim. After tearing out her throat and drinking her blood, he returns home bloodied and bedraggled, ignored by jaded passers-by. But surprise: Alva's brother is waiting, and dispatches Loew with a stake through the heart.

Written by Joe Minion (AFTER HOURS) and directed by Robert Bierman, VAMPIRE'S KISS is a terminally hip black comedy that carefully dodges the key question to the very last, never committing to Loew's vampirism or indicating unequivocally that it's all the delusion of a selfish, unbalanced young man. The seductive Rachel seems to be the real thing, but perhaps that's just Loew's imagination trying to turn a superficial, unsatisfying sexual encounter into an outre erotic thrill. It's true that Alva's gun is loaded with blanks, so her shooting of him didn't prove anything. And a stake through the heart, well, that will dispatch mortal flesh and blood as easily as one of the undead. It's a tough balancing act, one VAMPIRE'S KISS manages with surprising skill.

But what truly distinguishes the movie is Cage's performance, which is so off the wall that even if you don't like it you have to watch in awe. With his voice a strangled, nasal whine, his hair combed straight back, and clothes just the wrong side of casual perfection, Cage's Loew is a thoroughly artificial creation, a man who's made himself over according to an ideal so obscure that it eludes everyone but him. Who better to be a vampire's victim than such a studied misfit? Loew's abuse of the cowering Alva generates the movie's funniest moments, even as it veers dangerously close to the humiliating truth of many workplace relationships (Sigourney Weaver's monster boss in WORKING GIRL has nothing on Loew). Hurling himself across his desk shrieking, "Alva! Am I getting through to you?" or gleefully chanting, "Too late, too late, too late..." when Alva finally completes the loathsome task she's been assigned, Cage's Loew is a grotesque whose outrageous whims and psychotic mood swings are risible and painful to watch in equal degrees. And you don't have to read reports that Cage really ate that cockroach to start squirming the moment it scuttles across the stove top; from the glint in his eye to the crunchy punchline, the scene is flawlessly verisimilar. If Peter Loew would chow down on a giant roach, wiggling legs and all, then why should Nicolas Cage flinch?

At a time when the vampire has all but vanished from movies except as a figure of fun, VAMPIRE'S KISS makes use of its traditions with skill and insight. Its tone is brittle and sly, and viewers willing to go with it will find much to amuse and admire. VAMPIRE'S KISS had a very limited theatrical release in 1989 and is here reviewed as a 1990 video release. (Sexual situations, violence, adult situations.) leave a comment

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