Xan Cassavetes may not be a name that immediately jumps out at you (well, maybe the last name does if you’re a cinephile…) but that’s all about to change come May 3rd when her feature film debut, Kiss of the Damned, arrives in limited theaters courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
The vampire-infused story follows two sisters who lead very different paths in life- there’s Djuna (Josephine de La Baume), the well-meaning and soulful vampire who has spent a lifetime and more trying to retain her humanity, while her sister, Mimi (Roxane Mesquida), has always been a troublemaker with an unquenchable thirst for blood and anarchy.
After Djuna sparks up a passionate love affair with a human screenwriter named Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia), Mimi’s arrival threatens the passion developing between the two lovers, and soon Mimi’s latest reckless actions trigger a dangerous chain reaction, threatening the entire vampire community as a whole and jeopardizing Djuna and Paolo’s evolving relationship together.
Dread Central recently chatted with Kiss of the Damned writer/director Cassavetes about what inspired her to tackle the horror genre for her debut project, her approach to capturing the intoxicating and often seductive world of vampires and what we can expect from this up-and-comer whose entire life has always revolved around filmmaking and powerful storytelling in some capacity (her parents being iconic film pioneer John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands).
Dread Central: Great job on this movie- I’ve been pretty much done with vampires for a while now, but somehow you found a way to reinvigorate my interests with Kiss of the Damned. Where did the story inspiration come from?
Xan Cassavetes: It actually came to me while I was on a tour of the house; a friend of a friend made a movie there, and when I had the chance to tour the property, I was struck by the setting and how this huge house was just sitting there sinisterly amongst all this wilderness and beauty. I thought the way it contrasted against nature made it perfect for the story I was telling, which also explores the idea of nature vs. unnaturality.
Dread Central: I thought the dynamic between the sisters in the film was particularly compelling and they had a really interesting balance of pain, concern and love. Can you talk about developing that relationship in the script and how much of that was influenced by your own relationships with your own siblings?
Xan Cassavetes: There’s probably a little bit of that stuff in there, but nothing as dramatic as what you see between Djuna and Mimi in the movie- like, at all (laughs). I just thought it would be interesting to follow these two sisters who were bitten by their ballet teacher and to see how someone in a position of authority and trust could take advantage and how that would affect them, separately and together. It forever changed them in some ways, and in other ways they still remained true to their own human natures.
I also wanted to explore how one sister was so desperately clinging to her own humanity despite not being human for a very, very long time and how the other embraces her own endless rage and destructive nature and the ramifications of those decisions. They’re kind of alien to each other but are still drawn to each other through a constant desire to stay connected in some way.
Dread Central: I thought you made some really smart decisions stylistically on this film, particularly with the shooting style and the sound design, giving Kiss of the Damned a great, timeless feel- almost like it’s been locked away in a vault since the 70’s and finally discovered now.
Xan Cassavetes: Thank you so much for saying that- we all worked really hard on nailing down the right look and feel to the movie and spent an INCREDIBLE amount of time working on the sound specifically. To me, sound was everything because in this world vampires have these heightened senses so it only made sense that both the visuals and the sounds would be a lot more vibrant than maybe they’d be in any other kind of movie. Stylistically, it just made so much sense to put a lot of time and effort into both of those elements because it was what was going to really elevate Kiss to something more than ‘just another vampire movie.’
Dread Central: What’s coming up next for you then? Are you planning on sticking around the horror genre for a while?
Xan Cassavetes: You know, I’ve been so busy focusing on Kiss of the Damned for so long that I haven’t really had too much time to focus on anything else. I am finishing up a screenplay this week though which is exciting. It’s sci-fi but not really, kind of a similar approach to how I made Kiss of the Damned. I’m definitely embracing the beats of the sci-fi genre more on that project than I embraced the vampire ones for this film so it will be a bit more traditionally structured.
I just really thought that all those sci-fi ideas and themes make for great storytelling fodder and fertile ground for using metaphors to convey your message. That really excites me as a filmmaker; I can’t wait to finish this script up and get started.
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