Sunday, November 11, 2012

Vampire's Kiss

Oh, Nicolas Cage. Where would we be without you? Well, there would be fewer bad movies out there, but would that make the world a better place? The unintentional laughs induced from his remake of The Wicker Man alone prove Cage has done some good, even if not in the way he intended.

The general wisdom of Nicolas Cage seems to be after starring in a number of good-to-great movies (Raising Arizona, Moonstruck, Leaving Las Vegas) and Hollywood action blockbusters (The Rock, Con Air), he became less picky about his projects, churning embarrassing and over-the-top performances in the likes of Ghost Rider, the aforementioned Wicker Man, Knowing, and Season of the Witch. Looking back on Vampire's Kiss (1988), it's apparent this development in Cage's career is not a surprise.

Vampire's Kiss seemingly tries to be the Hollywood yuppie's answer to Martin, a low-budget thriller from Night of the Living Dead director George Romero. Like Martin, Vampire's Kiss concerns itself with a man who may or may not be a vampire. In this case, that would be Peter Loew (Cage), a publishing executive who becomes convinced of his vampirism after a mysterious woman (Jennifer Beals) bites him on the neck during a one-night stand, and ultimately this destroys his life. Like Martin, there is ambiguity about whether he really is a vampire or whether it's some kind of psycho-sexual neurosis. Even the endings of the two movies are the same in that being a human or a vampire wouldn't have changed what happens.

Martin was an effective and atmospheric character study and could be read on multiple thematic levels: economic class struggle, Old-World hysteria, superstition versus reason, adolescent angst, family oppression, religious hypocrisy, loneliness, addiction, illusion versus reality. Vampire's Kiss had potential to reach similar subtext. I see dramatic, satirical and horror potential in the premise of a high-powered New York yuppie who spends his days berating his staff and his nights seducing women becoming convinced he's vampire. Instead, it's a very silly, haphazard, and clumsy comedy.

I call Vampire's Kiss a comedy because I don't know of any other category to label it as. It's not scary. It's not thrilling, exciting, or dramatic, but by "virtue" of its star, the film becomes quite silly. This is by far the most baffling performance I've ever seen of Nicolas Cage. First of all, he talks with this weird, obviously fake accent. Imagine a Saturday Night Live skit that called for a deliberately bad Shakespearean dialect, and you get the idea. Cage is constantly mugging for the camera, furrowing his eyebrows, bugging his eyes out, jumping onto desks, chasing after people, and screaming randomly. This might have been effective if the movie built to it - i.e. present him as reasonably normal and gradually make him more manic as the narrative progresses - but he's like this even before being bitten. Watching a disturbed person murder and rape people (as Loew does) because he thinks he's a vampire could be chilling, but after being convinced he's one of the undead, Loew buys a set of plastic fangs and runs around the streets crying out "I'm a vampire! I'm a vampire!" It'd be sad if it wasn't so funny.  

So the movie fails as a dark satire of yuppies and as a serious thriller, but it's also rather uncomfortable at times. Peter is especially cruel to one of his secretaries, Alva (Maria Conchita Alonso), who he threatens on numerous occasions for failing to find an important contract in the company files. Watching  what Alva goes through is like watching another, more serious movie. She's really upset, threatened by, and afraid of her boss. He more or less terrorizes and tortures to where she fears for her life but feels pressured about losing a much-needed job, and it culminates to where he assaults her. Watching Nicolas overact is hysterical, but watching this poor women being tormented is just awful.

Maybe with a different actor, someone who could convincingly portray a "master of the universe" type who loses it (James Spader, maybe), Vampire's Kiss might have worked as a chilling, disturbing, and insightful descent into insanity. But that would mean giving up the real-life insanity and bizarro acting of Nicholas Cage,and isn't that why we go to the movies in the first place? To watch someone who is uncomfortably funny?

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