Our review of Vampire's Kiss / High Spirits (1988) (Blu-ray), published February 26th, 2015, is also available.
Seduction. Romance. Murder. The things one does for love.
"Mama always said that life was like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna get." Mama Gump was a wise woman, filled with many spot-on pearls of wisdom. I'm particularly fond of this little gem as it's a nice way to remind ourselves that life is dynamic. This vibrancy keeps our day-to-day meanderings from getting dull and dreary. I appreciate the changes that come our way…most of the time.
There are some times when you don't want to be surprised; for me, one of those instances is when I see a movie. Now, I'm not simply referring to the fact that sometimes a movie you think is going to rock actually sucks big time. No, not that. What I'm describing is the expectation of watching one type of movie and getting something completely different instead. Here are two examples, one good and one bad:
• Good: Fight Club.
From the previews, I was expecting one type of movie; however, what I saw in the
trailers was but one small piece of the film. Finch created an absolute
masterpiece that went far and beyond my expectations and was a pleasant and
Vampire's Kiss is billed as a dark comedy. After first perusing the trailer on the disc, I thought I was about to watch a bad Nicolas Cage vampire movie. Wrong! This movie is utterly and shamefully mis-categorized and is, in my opinion, not a dark comedy in any way, shape, or form.
Because of this misdirection, I absolutely hated this movie. The movie runs one hundred or so minutes and I was holding to that fact that I was watching a dark comedy/vampire movie until I hit the ninety-minute mark. At this point, I suddenly understood that the trailer and box lied to me; and that this movie is not a dark comedy about vampires. For the last fifteen minutes, the truth became apparent and the movie took on a whole new shape. Upon my second viewing (for the commentary track) with the correct knowledge of what type of movie this really is, I did not hate this movie at all.
Facts of the Case
If you haven't seen this movie, then I do not want to ruin a potential movie experience for you. Thus, my story outline will be a bit vague and somewhat brief.
Peter Loew (Nicolas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas, Honeymoon in Vegas) is an executive for a small publisher in New York City. He's your typical late-'80s yuppie who is arrogant, egotistical, rude, condescending, and extremely cocky. He thinks he's god's gift to women, and that he is "the man." As conceited and self-serving that he is, Peter realizes, surprisingly, that he has issues. Thus, he does see a psychiatrist, Dr. Glaser (Elizabeth Ashley, Mallrats, Dragnet), in hopes of working out some of his problems. Unfortunately, Peter's visits with Dr. Glaser are somewhat wasted as they never get to the heart of his issues—because Peter truly doesn't know what his problem is, and he doesn't give the good doctor enough time or information to delve into his psyche.
Being the stud that he is, Peter often visits many of the hip and happening bars in the big city. Time after time, he is able to pick up hot babes and take them back to his place for one-night stands. He never sees them more than once, and he keeps his distance from intimacy. However, things somewhat change when he hooks up with Jackie. Quickly enough they are back at his apartment, but their fun is interrupted when a bat flies into his place. They unsuccessfully try to swat it back outside but end up leaving and continuing their evening elsewhere. Remarkably, Jackie is able to secure a second date with Peter; not for sex this time, but to visit a local art gallery. Once there, Peter is very uncomfortable and simply leaves Jackie without even saying goodbye. She is infuriated and berates him on his answering machine. Another potential relationship is thus quickly severed.
The next day, Peter begins to get stressed at work; for an important client has requested a copy of his first contract with Peter's firm. Unfortunately, Peter is unable to locate the contract as the client's huge file is terribly unorganized. He thus puts the new secretary, Alva (Maria Conchita Alonso, Predator 2, Moscow On The Hudson) on the task of digging through the huge stack of papers.
While the day starts off badly, things get much better when Peter is able to pick-up yet another saucy and slinky woman that evening: Rachel (Jennifer Beals, The Bride, Flashdance). Soon enough they are back at Peter's place having some steamy fun. Much to Peter's shock, in the heat of passion, Rachel bites him in the neck. It's not a quick nibble. No. She definitively clamps down, breaks flesh, and drinks some of his blood. Peter tries to push her away, but soon succumbs to the intensity of the moment.
Immediately, Peter begins to change. He becomes very moody, very angry, and very afraid of sunlight. He alienates his coworkers, berates Alva, and further sequesters himself from Dr. Glaser, the only person who might help him. Peter's entire world begins to spin out of control, but he cannot figure out why. All he knows is that he needs to see more of Rachel, which she allows. They continue to see each other, and at each visit she sucks more blood from his neck.
Soon, as his behavior degrades further and further, Peter begins to believe that Rachel has turned him into a vampire. Why else does he not like the sun? Why else can't he see his reflection in the mirror? Why else is he so angry at the world? Why else does he take every opportunity to belittle, degrade, and truly torment Alva?
Is Rachel really a vampire, and is Peter really turning into one himself? How much more grief will Peter give to Alva? Will Alva be forced to use the gun in her purse? Will Peter need to suck someone's blood soon? Will Dr. Glaser be able to help Peter?
I have purposely avoided telling you what type of movie this really is in case you want to find out for yourself. Upon viewing, it may be more obvious to many of you; but I wasn't thinking about much of anything except comedy when I popped in the disc. So, for those of you who would like to know, read the last paragraph in this section for a quick skinny on what this movie is really all about.
Rating this movie poses a somewhat unique challenge for me. On one hand, I hated the movie and everything Cage did. At one point, I wondered what the movie would be like if Movie Mask (an item that can "modify" movies on the fly to tone down violence and/or language—I saw it on the news right before I began watching this disc) could delete Nicolas Cage. I also thought that the recent revelation that he married Lisa Marie Presley Jackson was nothing compared to the horridly shocking performance he was giving in this film. On the other hand, the second viewing presented a movie that still has its problems but wasn't as hideous once I knew what to expect—I didn't want Cage deleted after all.
So, how do I reconcile the two positions? Are they reconcilable? Which view is right? Is either invalid? My final decision is that I am going to ignore my first reaction to the movie. As it's based on a false premise, I was judging it from the wrong perspective. Once I knew what was going on, I believe I was able to more accurately judge this little ditty.
Vampire's Kiss was made on a "shoestring budget" of less than $2 million, but you wouldn't know it from watching it. Director Robert Bierman, who has no "big movies" to his name, did quite an exceptional job with his cast and crew in making this quirky film. Set entirely in New York, he uses a wide variety of locations (no sets) and styles to convey the message of the movie. It's quite nice work. His direction is solid, and he gave Cage quite a wide latitude with conveying his character. The cinematography is very good, and shows New York is all its glory. And the acting of the supporting cast is top-notch. My only quibble is with Cage's performance. Even after listening to the commentary track, I still believe his performance was just ever so slightly over-the-top. His weird voice, bug eyes, walk, and manner were just too eccentric even for a character in his situation. You can see for yourself if you decide to watch this one.
The transfers themselves are quite satisfying. On the video side, you can choose either the anamorphic widescreen (yes!) or full-screen (no!) presentation that holds up well for its age. The transfer's only downside is that it starts off subdued, somewhat hazy, with some light dirt. Soon, though, it sharpens up and you get a solid picture with accurate colors, solid blacks, no pixelization (even in numerous fog and sun shots), and no edge enhancement. The audio is a rather unremarkable Dolby Digital 2.0 track that adequately conveys the dialogue, though the bass does come through nicely from time to time. I did find that I needed to set the volume higher than for other DVDs I watch, but that isn't a huge problem.
There are two bonus items for your enjoyment on the disc: the first is the theatrical trailer that completely misleads you about what the movie is about; the second is a commentary track with director Bierman and Nicolas Cage. I was quite surprised to discover that this is a very good commentary track as they candidly discuss the film. Not only do they clarify what's happening onscreen, but they also divulge some great behind-the-scenes details you'd never know—like how big a pain-in-the-butt Cage was on set! This track really helped me to better understand what was going on in the film, and tried to address some of the really goofy things that Cage was doing. There are still some unanswered questions, but I really liked this commentary. Throughout their talk, the two of them continue to espouse this film as a dark comedy. They would point to such-and-such scene and say, "Wow, the audience really laughed here" and such; but I really disagree. The humor they often refer to came during the scenes where Peter is thoroughly humiliating Alva. I didn't think that was funny at all. Maybe that's just me.
As I've been just a tad equivocal in my judgment of the film, I think I need to take a moment to clarify my position. In one regard, there are a great many things I don't care for in the film: Cage's performance and Peter's treatment of Alva, most notably. Both are essential to the plot, yet they both made me uncomfortable. On the other hand, I realize that I've been thinking about this movie quite a bit now, more so than with many films as of late. In that regard, it's done its job by providing quite the thought-provoking experience. But I'm still not sure I like the film. Instead of liking it, I'm more impressed with the film they made. Thus, from that perspective, the film is quite good, and, overall, it really isn't that bad of a film. It's an intriguing look at the subject and really goes a step beyond other films dealing with the same subject matter. I still have mixed feelings on the film, but I think I may end up giving it a third viewing to see if I can solidify my opinion. And that, in and of itself, tells me that this is a film worth watching. If I really disliked it, I wouldn't care and wouldn't want to watch it yet again.
The "secret" theme of the movie is about to be revealed. This is your last chance to skip this paragraph. So, what is this movie really about? It's not a dark comedy. It's not a horror movie. What can it be? This movie is a serious drama that details a man's depressing fall into insanity. The movie shows how Peter's life spirals out of control, and how he fixates on one random event as a focal point for his loss of sanity. What is that focal point? It may not be what you think, actually. Whatever it is, he uses that moment to convince himself he is a vampire and begins to act how he thinks a vampire should act. Couple that with his skewed sense of reality and you get one very confused man who acts exceptionally irrationally—which explains why Cage acts so over-the-top. Now, as you can imagine, expecting a dark comedy and really watching a movie about a man going insane are truly two different things. With that in mind, I hope you can understand my confusion in this instance.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I recall chuckling exactly one time during the film. To wit, I thought I would grace you with that one odd line that amused me:
"Shoot me! Do it or I'll fire you. Do you understand? Unemployment. Can you live with that?"—Peter to Alva
While in my confused state, I did some quick research on the web to find what others have thought of this film. I've avoided other film sites and looked at IMDb, Amazon, and others. In most instances, people have not stated a correct synopsis of this movie, and most believe it to be some type of dark comedy/horror. People keep saying it was a great horror film or such a terrific dark comedy. I'm still amazed how people view this movie in that fashion.
In the end, I'm really not sure if I want to recommend this film. It's an interesting example of the subject matter and was certainly ahead of its time in presenting such a tale. Yet, what truly holds me back is the extreme way in which Cage presents his character. Even for someone going through his situation and thinking he's a vampire, it just didn't sit right with me. Thus, if you read the "last paragraph" in the above section and know what the movie is really about, you may be intrigued by the true subject matter of the film. It is quite fascinating in that regard; but, overall, I didn't completely enjoy the movie. It's a strong film in many ways, and it's presented quite well on disc, so I think you would be safe to at least give it a rental.
Hemdale Films, the original distributor of the film, is found guilty of misleading the public with its description of this film. They are hereby sentenced to seven back-to-back viewings of Transylvania 6-5000 and then seven back-to-back viewings of Falling Down.
Nicolas Cage is found guilty of overacting and is hereby sentenced to three months at the William Shatner School of Creative Performing Arts.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with Director Robert Bierman and Nicolas Cage
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