Review: ‘Kiss Of The Damned’
French New Wave Meets Hammer Horror… Well Sort Of
Friday, May 17, 2013
Even the poster art of Xan Cassavetes’ “Kiss of the Damned” looks retro and that’s not a bad thing when you are revisiting an age old horror convention like vampires. In fact the poster recalls the look of those old 60s and 70s New Wave and Hammer posters -- artfully drawn, a little unsettling, and a woman that looks a little like Catherine Deneuve.
The film focuses on two sisters, both bloodsuckers, but apparently with different takes on their curse. There’s the fair-haired and lovely vampire Djuna (Josephine de La Baume) who lives in a mansion courtesy of an actress friend (yes she’s a vampire too). Djuna is attracted to a human screenwriter named Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) but she attempts to push him away for fear her dark side will take over and she’ll bite him. She, and the local vampire community, have been making a concerted effort to not feed on the human folk so as to sort of fly under the radar. But Paolo shows an attraction to that dark side and welcomes being turned. Then enter Djuna dark-haired and even darker natured sister, Mimi (Roxane Mesquida). Mimi likes to give in to her dark impulses and her desire for human blood. But her reckless behavior not only infuriates Djuna but threatens the vampire elite.
The rivalry between the sisters is the backdrop to what is essentially a New Wavish or maybe a little post-New Wave style romance. The film is gorgeously shot and all the women are cast for their foreign appeal. Xan Cassavetes (daughter of actress Gena Rowlands and actor/director John Cassavetes) has some talented blood running in her veins and for the most part she delivers on her debut feature film.
Her director’s statement in the press notes reads as follows:
I am not a fanatical vampire person, although there are certain vampire films, mainly European, which have burned in my mind ever since seeing them as a teenager. Their beauty, formality and atmosphere continue to fascinate me. They are fantasies that reflect reality with their depiction of a kind of breathtaking power, loneliness and quest for survival. With ‘Kiss of the Damned,’ my first narrative feature, I wanted to tell a story of vampires trying to find the meaning in life, to enjoy the dilemma of forever. I wanted to borrow the tradition of contrasting loveliness and brutality from the vampire films I love, to set a story about confused creatures, trying the best they can to find truth.
A nice revelation and set of intentions for a young filmmaker. Her film does have a certain loveliness and sadness, as well as some of Hammer’s blood and boobs (of course in artsier form here). Occasionally the film falters in tone and comes across as pretentious or awkwardly self-conscious but for the most part Cassavetes keeps us engaged in her existential vampire tale.
The film’s main flaw, and it’s a fairly big one, is the casting of Ventimiglia as Paolo. This poor actor lacks even the smallest shred of charisma. He is so outshined by the actresses in the film that you can’t understand why anyone would want to spend forever with him. The two lead actresses, along with Anna Mouglalis as the elegant Xenia, are well cast. Mesquida and Mouglalis have a particularly good and nasty scene involving a tempting young virgin brought in like a lamb to slaughter.
Also noteworthy is Steven Hufsteter's score that's evokes French films of the 60s and suggests that "Kiss of the Damned" could be like a vampire version of Claude Lelouch's "A Man and a Woman."
“Kiss of the Damned” (rated R for bloody violence, strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use) is an elegant and mostly smart vampire tale for the discriminating art house crowd. It occasionally gets a little too full of itself but it is hypnotic to watch and finds some new elements of the familiar vampire formula to explore.
Companion viewing: “The Hunger,” “The Addiction,” Hammer’s “The Brides of Dracula.”