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