I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with vampire movies. Growing up I was spellbound by the terrifying glare of Bela Lugosi in the classic Universal Horrors, while The Lost Boys (1987) came out when I was ten and proved to be a defining movie in my adolescence. Meanwhile I have to confess Blade (1998) didn’t really get me all that excited, nor did Underworld (2003) and the dawn of a new century just seemed to bring with it a slew of rent-a-vampire movies (The Forsaken, The Breed) that seemed to offer little in originality.
More recently however there has been a wave of independent filmmakers attempting bring something new to this tired strand of the horror genre. From the superb Swedish film Let Me In (2010), through to Stake Land (2010) and Midnight Son (2011) the vampire movie is indeed in the midst of a renaissance – dare I say almost in rebellion to the vapid commercialism of the Twilight franchise?
Kiss of the Damned piques the interest first and foremost as in the director’s chair is none other than Xan Cassavetes, daughter of John, who is shooting her first full length feature. We open to an exterior shot of a sizeable property by the side of a lake. In it, we see Djuna (Josephine de La Baume) watching De Sica’s Indiscretion of an American Wife (1953). She appears to be besotted by film as soon after we witness her taking a trip to her local video store to return a stack of movies which is where she first sets eyes on Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia). After a brief drink they retreat back to Djuna’s palatial house where after engaging in some Luis Bunuel (who wouldn’t want to date this woman!) things become intimate, at which point Djuna stops and decides the night is over.
The following day Paolo finds he can’t get Djuma out of his head and attempts to see her. A telephone call to her house is deflected by the housekeeper, while a personal visit leads to a passionate kiss on the doorstep resulting the spilling of blood. Djuma feels she has no other choice but to inform Paolo of her vampirism – which he of course scoffs at, until that us she chains herself to the bed with the intention of transforming before him. Paolo remains besotted, so much so he unshackles her so they can make love and in the process the inevitable happens, Djuma sinks her teeth into Paolo’s neck. This union of raw passion and desire is about to encounter a problem though in the shape of Djuma’s sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) who decides to call over and stay for a week. She’s wild, a little out of control and the exact antithesis to her sister – and she is about to cause trouble.
The overriding feature of Kiss of the Damned is undoubtedly class. It’s directed by someone with an overt appreciation of film-making whose passion for film history is to be found in every scene. With two smouldering French actresses for the leads, the Euro-connection doesn’t cease there as the films influence undoubtedly has a tip of the hat towards masters such as Rollin, Argento and even Polanski.
This is a vampire film for people who appreciate the medium and have spent the last few years in utter despair at the dilution of the term ‘vampire’ into a tween-pleasing fetish towards asexual beings with Barbie and Ken genitalia. Kiss of the Damned oozes sexuality, but plays with it in a subtle manner while its eclectic soundtrack dominates the film, bursting through every scene perforating the celluloid yet conversely remains in the background. Xan Cassavetes film really is a pleasure to digest from beginning to end and demands to be sought out by horror aficionados.