Despite the gruesome creatures, flying limbs and buckets of blood, horror as a genre can feel pretty stale. For every excellent film there is a dozen forgettable or terrible ones. And there are so many that it takes a lot of wading through the rubbish to get to the interesting stuff. For each day in October I’m going to recommend a different horror film or film about horror. For the most part they won’t be the accepted classics. My selections range from the genuinely excellent to the delightfully strange with a few that are more fascinating than they are great. Hopefully there will be something for everyone and you’ll find something new to give you a scare or maybe a laugh. This is my 31 days of Horror and today I’m talking about: Vampire’s Kiss.
In recent years Nicolas Cage has garnered a bit of a sarcastic love by people on the internet. The many pictures of him bugging out are photo-shopped into funny images and people seem to just enjoy him as a crazy guy in lots of films. I have a completely un-ironic love for Nicolas Cage, he is definitely one of my favourite actors of all time. In excellent films like Adaptation he can be perfectly subdued and then other times he can go full-blown mad like in the brilliant Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Then there’s the other side of Cage. Due to bankruptcy years ago (after buying things like haunted mansions and dinosaur bones) he basically had to start taking as many jobs as possible and since then he has continued to work steadily in good and bad films. No matter what the film is though (except in rare circumstances like Bangkok Dangerous) he will fully commit to it. This was especially the case in his earlier days. Even when the script is nonsensical or just straight awful he will completely invest in the character he is being paid to portray. He can make a film entertaining solely because of his performance. At times this results in bizarre hilarity such as in The Wicker Man where he screams about bees and punches women while wearing a bear suit, or Zandalee wherein he screams and wails in a strange accent while smearing paint all over his body. One of his most brilliantly ridiculous roles though was in the 1988 Robert Bierman film Vampire’s Kiss. It is transcendentally insane. The level to which Cage invested in this performance is staggering but it completely pays off. Vampire’s Kiss is by no means a well-made film, but Nicolas Cage single-handedly makes it a work of comedic genius.
Literary agent Peter Loew (Nicolas Cage) is clearly on the verge of a psychotic break. He rants furiously at his psychiatrist and takes sadistic pleasure in being a jerk towards his secretary. Then one night he is bitten by a woman he goes home with. In his eyes she is a vampire and has just infected him. He starts to live his life as a vampire, wearing shades to hide from the sun and wearing plastic fangs (he intends to wear them until his real fangs grow in). The woman who he believes turned him (Rachel, played by Jennifer Beals) visits him each night to feast on him. As time goes on he becomes increasingly frantic and mentally unstable until reality and fantasy completely blur.
Vampire’s Kiss is labeled as a horror comedy but the mix of an utterly baffling script and Nicolas Cage’s monumentally bizarre performance is really where the comedy comes from. I have no idea what the director was intending with this film but what he has created is a masterpiece in the absurd. But it’s not just the film itself that is so wild; the making of it was too. Cage is notorious for really getting into his roles and this was no different. In one scene where his character is bitten by a bat Cage was insisting a real bat should bite him. He was eventually talked down but he brought that insistence on realism to other aspects. There’s a moment where his character was to eat raw eggs but Cage wanted to take things to the next level. Despite a deep fear of insects he suggested he eat a live cockroach. To this day he says it was one of his most difficult scenes despite being the one who thought of it. It took two takes and two cockroaches. He catches a live pigeon, raves on streets with real people walking past, and talks with a wavering accent that is totally inexplicable. He kind of sounds English but at times that fades away. He said he based it on his father but for what reason is not clear. After making the film he spent his entire paycheck on a car, possibly a more wise purchase than his usual splurges on classic comics and ancient artifacts though.
As much as I think it is a badly made and written film it is hard to say that Cage is necessarily bad in it. Of course he’s ludicrously insane but that’s what his character is meant to be and if it wasn’t Cage in this role then the film would probably be a bore. What other actor could literally just read out the alphabet in one scene and have it be one of the greatest scenes in the film? Everyone else in the film is comparatively restrained in their performances but it’s hard to judge with his rampant intensity. Usually I wouldn’t focus so much on one actor in these but Nicolas Cage owns this film. He is the reason to see it and he solely makes it as glorious as it is. Vampire films may be one of the most oversaturated horror subgenres alongside zombie films. But absolutely nothing is like this.
If you think you’ve seen Nicolas Cage at his wildest but haven’t seen Vampire’s Kiss then you are yet to experience him at his most sublimely manic. The only thing that compares is Bad Lieutenant but this is a different type of crazy. At least in that film there was purpose behind the madness; here it is almost completely without meaning. In many of his performances you can feel a beast is bubbling underneath and here we’re just witnessing the beast unleashed. I don’t know of many other films that are so entertaining solely because of the actions of one actor. This is a series about horror and that’s a word that has been somewhat absent from this piece. What this film has to contribute to horror as a whole is that it breathes life into such a stale subgenre. It shows that the clichéd stories don’t matter as much when a film has something else to contribute. The whole thing is like some surreal performance art piece; he’s like the Marina Abramovic of vampire movies. It’s not just a film worth checking out, it’s one that needs to be seen. You might not know it but you need this in your life.
James M Macleod