‘Seduction. Romance. Murder. The things one does for love.’
Vampire’s Kiss is a 1988 American comedic horror film about a yuppie publishing executive who believes he is the victim of a vampire. He starts exhibiting increasingly erratic and violent behaviour. Meanwhile, he pushes his put-upon secretary to extremes as he tries to come to terms with his delusions.
The movie was a box office failure but went on to become a cult so-bad-its-good film due to its bizarre tone and Nicolas Cage’s over-the-top performance.
Directed by Robert Bierman from a screenplay written by Joseph Minion. The Hemdale-Magellan Pictures co-production stars Nicolas Cage, María Conchita Alonso, Jennifer Beals and Elizabeth Ashley.
Nicolas Cage plays one of the world’s biggest douchebags in the 1988 film Vampire’s Kiss.
Peter Loew (Cage) is kind of like American Psycho Patrick Bateman’s less successful cousin. He’s got a nice apartment in New York City and he wears fairly snazzy clothes and he has this weird, stuffed-up way of speaking. By night, Peter spends all of his time at the bars and the clubs, trying to get laid. During the day, Peter is a literary agent, sitting around in his office and spending most of his time tormenting his secretary, Alva (Maria Conchita Alonso).
Peter has recently been tasked with finding the Heatherton Contract. It’s a contract from 1963, one that was signed long before either Peter or Alva joined the company. All Peter knows is that the contract is somewhere in a huge stack of files. Harold Heatherton wants a copy of the contract so that he can frame it. Peter wants the contract so that he can advance at his job and make even more money. Alva just wants to be left alone.
“Alva!” Peter spends his days yelling from the office.
“I hate my boss!” Alva says as she spends the morning crying in bed.
Yes, Peter is a jerk. He maintains a toxic work environment. He’s a misogynist. He’s the type of @sshole who screams at Alva to go find the Heatherton Contract and then stares at her backside as she walks back to her desk. He’s a terrible human being and he’s steadily getting worse. That’s because Peter is convinced that he’s turning into a vampire. There’s even a lengthy scene where he stands in front of a bathroom mirror, moaning that he has no reflection. Of course, we can see that he absolutely does have a reflection.
In his apartment and his office, he is often visited by Rachel (Jennifer Beals). Rachel has an ’80s perm and fangs. Rachel bites him in the neck. Rachel sucks his blood. But is Rachel there or is she a figment of his imagination? Is he truly a vampire or is he like Patrick Bateman or the lead character in George Romero’s Martin? He has become so consumed by his fantasies of being an all-powerful monster that he can no longer tell the difference between fantasy and reality?
Vampire’s Kiss is understandably best known for Cage’s demented performance. Cage bulges his eyes, screams his lines, and spends a good deal of the film walking around with his shoulders hunched up. This is the film for which Cage famously ate a live cockroach. It’s undeniably watchable, though I think Cage made the mistake of playing Peter as being obviously unhinged even before he decided that he was a vampire.
The scenes where he obsesses over the Heatherton Contract start out as mildly amusing but become more disturbing as the film progresses and Peter grows more and more deranged. From the moment that he started to chase the terrified Alva through the office, the film became so unpleasant that I just wanted it to hurry up and end. On the plus side, Alva does get revenge though I think it would have been more effective (or maybe, just for me, more satisfying) if the film’s final action had been carried out by Alva herself.
Vampire’s Kiss is a film that has quite an enthusiastic cult following. I must say that I’m not a member of that cult, though I can understand why Cage’s unhinged performance has its fans. The film is about twenty minutes too long and it reveals the truth about Cage’s “vampirism” far too early but, if nothing else, Cage really does throw himself into it.
Lisa Marie Bowman, guest reviewer via Through the Shattered Lens
“There’s little drama in watching Cage act strange after he’s been bitten. He always acts strange. Even when Cage is effective (Moonstruck, Raising Arizona), he seems eerily out of touch with reality […] What this movie needs isn’t criticism, it’s more like a stake through the heart.” Rolling Stone
“Cage’s excessive acting style has been called neo-expressionist, a term that might also be applied to the moody, burnished colours of Stefan Czapsky’s photography, which transforms New York into the Gothic city of Loew’s distorted imagination. A viciously funny study of yuppy alienation…” Time Out
“Problem is that Cage’s over-the-top performance generates little sympathy for the character, so it’s tough to be interested in him as his personality disorder worsens. The supporting cast is given little to work with, as Alonso mostly cowers and Beals mostly bites Cage.” Variety, December 31st, 1987
“Vampire’s Kiss is a great example of how he can make a good film f*cking amazing. It goes well with Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction (1995) if you are down for a moody escape from the typical vampiric romance tropes. Be nice to Saint Cage, he is just a spastic nerd like many of us and flicks like this easily can make up for the unwatchable first Ghost Rider and other stinkers for years to come.” Video Religion
“For those of you who enjoy manic Nicolas Cage, Vampire’s Kiss is the creme de la creme. His frenetic rapacious scene-chewing makes it impossible to separate the film from his performance. If you’d like to see Nicolas Cage descending into madness for 103 minutes, this is the film for you.’ Your Stupid Minds
The original script was apparently intended “as darkly comic and deft as its bizarre premise,” by Joseph Minion while he grappled with depression. Minion has said that while on vacation in Barbados with his then-girlfriend, Barbara Zitwer, he wrote the screenplay as a response to his “toxic relationship” with her.
Dealing with themes of isolation, loneliness, and domination, Zitwer, who would come on as a producer for the film, found the final product to be “horrifying.” The story was extremely emblematic of their relationship together and Minion’s depiction of Zitwer as a “vampire and destroying him,” was a clear foreshadowing to the end of their relationship during production.
Originally intent on directing the project, Minion soon gave the position up stating that the “darkness of it,” was too much for him to bear. Instead, the film was helmed by British newcomer Robert Bierman who held previous experience working on commercials and short films. This sudden departure however prompted the then cast Nicolas Cage to drop out after his agent pressured him stating “this was not a good movie to make after Moonstruck.” However, Cage’s departure was short-lived.
Going purposefully against the Method Acting technique, Cage “took a highly surrealistic approach” to the role of Loew. Aside from his “pseudo-Transylvanian dialect,” scenes of Cage screaming the alphabet, using the c-word, eating a cockroach, and ranting “I’m a vampire!” unsettled viewers and critics alike.
The cinéma vérité approach included filming a couple of real homeless people who Cage ran into on the streets of Manhattan as he pleaded with them to drive a stake through his heart as Bierman and crew shot from afar. Physicality played a central role in the creation of this character for Cage who in several odd scenes sought to see “how big [he] could get [his] eyes.”
Vampire’s Kiss was released theatrically in the USA on June 2nd 1989. It was released on home video in August 1990. MGM released the film on DVD in August 2002 and Scream Factory released it on Blu-ray in February 2015.
Main cast and characters:
Nicolas Cage … Peter Loew
Maria Conchita Alonso … Alva Restrepo
Jennifer Beals … Rachel
Elizabeth Ashley … Doctor Glaser
Kasi Lemmons … Jackie
Bob Lujan … Emilio
Jessica Lundy … Sharon
John Walker … Donald
Boris Leskin … Fantasy Cabbie
Michael Knowles … Andrew
John Michael Higgins … Ed
Jodie Markell … Joke Girl
Marc Coppola … Joke Guy
David Hyde Pierce … Theater Guy
Amy Stiller … Theater Girl
Helen Lloyd Breed … Secretary in Ladies Room
Sol Echeverría … Alva’s Mother
Jill Gatsby … Victim Girl
Rex Robbins … Sidney Langdon
Yanni Sfinnias … Cursing Cabbie
Rogério Trindade … Doctor Glazer’s Lover
Robyn Knoll … Friday Secretary
Jacques Sandulescu … Ukrainian
Jorgen Schiott … Coffin Bystander
Christopher Sluka … Hanger Out
Stephen Chen … Fang Vendor
Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1
MOVIES and MANIA says:
While there is admittedly minor fun to be had with Nicolas Cage’s bizarre performance, that doesn’t outweigh the negatives of having to endure his self-centred, bullying character onscreen for so long. Unfortunately, despite its few amusing and much-memed moments, Vampire’s Kiss is mostly unfocused and ultimately rather dull.