Kiss of the Damned (2013)

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Kiss of the Damned (2013)Starring Josephine de la Baum, Milo Ventimiglia, Roxane Mesquida

Directed by Xan Cassavetes

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that enjoyment of Kiss of the Damned, the romantic vampire thriller from Xan Cassavetes, is heavily dependent on European cinema, specifically the work of Jean Rollin. I myself have yet to see any of Rollin’s films (for shame, I know), but Kiss of the Damned has received too many comparisons to the French auteur’s work for this fact to be overlooked. Perhaps this egregious hole in my film viewing repertoire compelled me to take a rather bleak view of Cassavetes’ poorly conceived vampire romance that inexplicably features an appearance by Michael Rapaport.

Kiss of the Damned focuses on the romance of Djuna (Josephine de la Baum), a beautiful and decidedly classy vampire, and Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia), an American screenwriter who has secluded himself in an isolated house to work on a screenplay. Following a chance meeting in a video store and a whirlwind romance, the two fall in love, with Paolo eventually being turned into a vampire. Their romance, however, is soon thrown into turmoil, as Djuna’s sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) shows up on her doorstep and threatens to destroy her relationship with Paolo and expose their secret with her increasingly erratic and dangerous behavior.

The first act of the film focuses entirely on the burgeoning love of Djuna and Paolo, if their love was viewed through the eyes of a 16-year-old vampire-obsessed high school student. Their romance is rushed, as the two quickly become entangled in a love affair that Paolo has no hope of escaping. The arrival of Mimi at the start of the second marks the film’s shift from romance to erotic thriller as she spends most of her time drawing the ire of her sister, with Djuna’s pleas to Xenia, the requisite matriarch of the vampire clan, falling on mostly deaf ears.

As an erotic thriller it mostly works, with the blood flowing in a way that highlights the eroticism of the act; it’s not a scary film, but it’s not trying to be, and any acts of violence are viewed as a service to the inherent lustful nature of vampires. But even if you can appreciate the debt paid to Rollin and others, it was a stretch – at least for me – to forgive the forced interactions (“You’re a vampire? You’ve got to be kidding.”) between Djuna and Paolo that once again conjure up images of a high school film student that has yet taken a class on writing believable dialogue. It’s only exacerbated by the accents of the vampires, which sounded like French imitating Russian with a mouthful of marbles. If you’re not laughing, you’re cringing.

As a result, the performances were marred considerably, with de la Baume and Ventimiglia proving to be more suitable for a daytime soap than a feature length film. Whether or not this is intentional and seen as an homage to Rollin is unknown to me, but even so, the insincere chemistry between the two proved to be more laughable than anything else. Mesquida works as an antagonist, bringing a pseudo-Goth aesthetic that contrasts well with Djuna’s flowing golden locks and tempered opinion toward humans, but like the others, she can’t bring much life to the exceedingly hokey dialogue. Finally, the arrival of Michael Rapaport as Paolo’s coke-addicted agent is just downright laughable and threatens to expose the film as more comedy than erotic thriller.

The film concludes on a relatively unimpressive note, which is wholly appropriate for a relatively unimpressive film. While I can freely admit that my inexperience with the work of Rollin and his contemporaries might have clouded my judgment, Kiss of the Damned owes more to “Days of Our Lives” than it does to these lauded filmmakers. It’s an erotic thriller filled with lust, deception, and plenty of blood, and while others may find an appreciation for what it’s trying to do, I found it to be an interminable bore.

1 1/2 out of 5

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Brad McHargue

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  • shadowlands

    I couldn’t disagree more:

    The film owes more to Daughters of Darkness (1971) and The Hunger (1981) more than Rollin. If you like the aforementioned films, I think it is safe to say you would enjoy KOTD. Also, you can see the influence of
    Xan Cassavetes’s father (yes, John Cassavetes) in some of the party scenes and acting, as it is very well-acted. All three leads were fabulous. Their accents are thick, but they’re supposed to be! And yeah, Rapaport was himself like always, but it never hurt any of Spike Lee’s movies. The real star of the show however is the musical artist Demdike Stare, whose work sounds like a horror film soundtrack and when applied to the startling imagery creates some real dark magic.

    I will give you that the conclusion was anti-climactic and slightly disappointing, but mainly I think KOTD is a barometer on how different, intelligent, and perhaps ‘artsy’ one likes their horror. Or perhaps how much great cinematography with amazing European women have an affect on you.

  • AngryChairr

    I have a problem with this review. You reference Jean Rollin as the chief influence for this film and then admit you’ve never seen his work. You then speculate on whether or not the poor acting is in tribute or not, but that point would be irrelevant if you you were aware of or did basic research on Rollin’s work (this isn’t meant to be an insult, if it sounds like one). The acting in Rollin films was uniformly awful. I don’t think any Rollin fan, or film critic for that matter, would dispute this point. But that wasn’t the point of his work. Rollin’s films relied heavily on hypnagogic imagery, placing more emphasis on the dreamlike quality of what’s happening around the characters than what they’re actually doing or saying. In that vein, most Rollin plots follow dream logic in that there is often no logic to what’s happening. Characters make inexplicable decisions and the dialogue could often make no sense.

    So, criticism of a film heavily influenced by Rollin should be focusing on the atmosphere being invoked by the director, not necessarily the performances of the actors. They’re always going to be second to the sexual tension and surrealist, dream-like imagery on display. In a lot of ways, it’s like trying to criticize moderns directors who are influenced by Argento on things like plot or acting; you can’t, because that’s almost never the intention.

    • Brad McHargue

      That’s what made it a difficult review me. I did acknowledge that I hadn’t seen his films, and instead stated that this comparison was based on reviews of other film critics. If you’ll notice, however, I stated several times that my opinion of the film might be a direct result of this (i.e. I just don’t “get” this type of film). As such, I reviewed as an outsider, and as an outsider, I felt certain aspects of the film – acting, dialogue, etc – made it a bad film.

      To touch on this point: “…most Rollin plots follow dream logic in that there is often no logic to what’s happening. Characters make inexplicable decisions and the dialogue could often make no sense.”

      KOTD made perfect sense, it was just stupid.

      I do get where you’re coming from, and I was worried I would receive backlash as I was writing the review. Simply put, I’ve never seen a Rollin film, and while I acknowledge KOTD can be seen as a direct homage to his work, I still found it to be, well, pretty bad.

      But I thank you for your reasoned and incredibly polite response. It’s difficult to review a film, I think, when it so very clearly requires a familiarity with its source material, but I like to think I did a pretty decent job.

    • Brad McHargue

      Though I gotta be honest, if KOTD is an accurate representation of what a Rollin film is like, I don’t know if I could deal with his films. Any specific films of his you recommend I dive into?

      • AngryChairr

        Fascination is what I consider to be his peak. It’s the one film that finds something resembling a cogent middle ground between the Eurosleaze sexual exploitation of lesbians that he was most known/criticized for and the surrealist imagery he’s often under appreciated for. It’s plot is still completely bonkers, but it’s his “best” movie. Rape of the Vampire and Requiem for a Vampire are entertaining in so bad, they’re good ways if you’re judging based on notions of traditional Western storytelling, but you can still see he was at least trying for something. I’d advise avoiding any of his other vampire movies unless you have a strong tolerance for European art films. The pacing is as glacial, and the emphasis is rarely on anything but lesbians or strange visuals. The Grapes of Death is a straight up absurd zombie movie, illogical as all hell, but again that also makes it entertaining. Night of the Hunted is the closest he comes to a strong story, although, it’s all allegorical instead of literal. It owes a bit to Cronenberg’s metaphysical horror by refashioning the zombie movie as an existential crisis of the mind rather than the body, if that makes any sense.

        Hope that helps. But I’m guessing if you hated this, you’ll probably dislike most of Rollin’s work.