It’s impos­si­ble for film crit­ics to dis­cuss Vampire’s Kiss with­out fram­ing the dis­cus­sion around the wild Nicholas Cage per­for­mance in the film. In fair­ness to them, this film was essen­tial­ly the moment where his “crazy Cage” per­sona was born and he began devel­op­ing a rep­u­ta­tion as an actor who will go over the top if allowed to run loose. As such, dis­cus­sion of the film itself was obscured in the rush to chas­tise Cage for being too ham­my. This is a shame because Vampire’s Kiss is actu­al­ly a wit­ty, sophis­ti­cat­ed riff on urban VK-HS-blualien­ation that could be seen as a pre­cur­sor to the film ver­sion of American Psycho.

The anti-hero of Vampire’s Kiss is Peter Loew (Cage), a New York pseudo-sophis­ti­cate who goes to ther­a­py, works a nice job as a lit­er­ary agent and spends his evenings on booz­ing around and one-night stands. Things get com­pli­cat­ed when he takes Rachel (Jennifer Beals) home and she appar­ent­ly drinks his blood. He comes unglued, ter­ror­iz­ing a sec­re­tary (Maria Conchita Alonzo) at his office and indulging in strange, dan­ger­ous behav­ior as he con­vinces him­self he is becom­ing a vam­pire. As things get weird­er, it becomes hard­er to tell whether he’s under super­nat­u­ral influ­ence or just los­ing his mind.

Vampire’VamKiss-01s Kiss has been mis­read by count­less crit­ics and fans who can’t get past the unhinged qual­i­ty of Cage’s per­for­mance. Yes, he goes over the top at every oppor­tu­ni­ty here, even eat­ing a real cock­roach at one point, but this is not a mis­take on the filmmaker’s part. It’s actu­al­ly a delib­er­ate design. Vampire’s Kiss is built around Cage’s flights of thes­pi­an fan­ta­sy, using his bursts of inten­tion­al over­act­ing to sat­i­rize a cer­tain type of overindulged, self-absorbed male psy­che that often runs amuck in pro­fes­sion­al set­tings. The sce­nes where Cage ter­ror­izes Alonzo are par­tic­u­lar­ly effec­tive and the­mat­i­cal­ly potent if viewed through this prism.

If you look beneath Cage’s wild per­for­mance, you’ll see the film sur­round­ing is sub­tle and clev­er in how it blurs the line between fan­ta­sy and real­i­ty. Joseph Minion’s script is care­ful to present the hor­ror ele­ments in an ambigu­ous style that can be read a few dif­fer­ent ways VamKiss-02and direc­tor Robert Bierman main­tains that approach in his direc­tion. The third act is espe­cial­ly mem­o­rable, par­tic­u­lar­ly a scene where Cage enters a night­club full of indif­fer­ent par­ty­go­ers to com­mit vam­pire may­hem: said sequence is hilar­i­ous, dis­turbing and sur­re­al at dif­fer­ent times.

The tech­ni­cal end of the film sub­tly backs up their work with style, includ­ing ele­gant pho­tog­ra­phy by future Tim Burton cin­e­matog­ra­pher Stefan Czapsky that uses New York to atmos­pher­ic effect and a clev­er score by Colin Towns that mix­es hor­ror motifs with a New York jazz­i­ness.

Finally, it’s worth men­tion­ing that Vampire’s Kiss also boasts a string of qui­et­ly impres­sive back­up per­for­mances from a most­ly female cast. Alonzo does well in a dif­fi­cult role as the sec­re­tary that Loew preys upon, bring­ing an emo­tion­al real­i­ty and a grav­i­ty to her sce­nes that anchors Cage’s the­atrics. Beal makes an impos­ing fan­ta­sy fig­ure, doing a nice job with a very ambigu­ous moment late in the film, and Elizabeth Ashley man­ages to hold the screen with Cage as the ther­a­pist who tries to bring him back to real­i­ty. Also, look out for actor-turned-direc­tor Kasi Lemmons in a brief VamKiss-03but vivid role as a wom­an that Loew dates.

To sum up, Vampire’s Kiss might be a must for con­nois­seurs of Nicholas Cage the­atrics but it has much more to offer the dis­cern­ing cult film fan than that. As stat­ed ear­lier in this review, its por­trait of a well-to-do man going mad in the big city often feels like the spir­i­tu­al big broth­er to Mary Harron’s film ver­sion of American Psycho. It is as inci­sive in its satire as it is quirky and is deserv­ing of redis­cov­ery.

Blu-Ray Notes: Vampire’s Kiss has recent­ly been released in high-def form by Scream Factory as part of a dou­ble bill with High Spirits. The image looks vivid through­out, nice­ly repro­duc­ing the fre­quent night sce­nes and dark inte­ri­ors, and the 2.0 loss­less stereo track is well-bal­anced and clear through­out. Also includ­ed is the film’s the­atri­cal trail­er, which focus­es on the film’s comedic ele­ments, and a DVD-era com­men­tary track fea­tur­ing Cage and Bierman. The lat­ter is a must-lis­ten for any­one inter­est­ed in this film as it finds Cage describ­ing the thought process behind all his eccen­tric act­ing choice and Bierman chron­i­cling how tough it was to get the film made as well as how Cage’s Method approach could make him dif­fi­cult to han­dle on set.