Starring Nicolas Cage, Elizabeth Ashley, Jennifer Beals, / Peter O’Toole, Darryl Hannah, Steve Guttenberg, Liam Neeson
Directed by Robert Bierman / Neil Jordan
Distributed by The Scream Factory
After dropping a double dose of cult horror-comedy classics with Love at First Bite (1979) and Once Bitten (1985), Scream Factory has paired up another duo of fan favorites (well, at least one of them) from the ‘80s with Vampire’s Kiss (1988) and High Spirits (1988). The scouring of MGM’s vaults continues – and hopefully it never stops because many of the titles getting a release would’ve never seen the light of day if left up to the studio. There’s a lot of gold yet to be mined from MGM’s extensive catalog.
First up, Our Lord and Savior Nicolas Cage stars as a literary agent who is slowly losing his mind (and his accent) in Vampire’s Kiss, the film that launched a million memes. Cage stars as Peter Loew, a frequent burner of the midnight oil who does nothing but work and go clubbing, leaving no time for much of a life. His deteriorating mental state is continually evaluated by his therapist Dr. Glaser (Elizabeth Ashley), who is growing increasingly concerned about her patient. Surprisingly, Peter actually has a girlfriend but he shows little interest in her normally, and once he succumbs to the bite of a vampire (Jennifer Beals) he picked up for a one-nighter he pretty much ditches her altogether.
Peter’s behavior becomes even more erratic in the coming days as he’s convinced he’s becoming a vampire himself. At work, he takes out his manic antics on Alva (Maria Conchita Alonso), one of his office secretaries who is tasked with finding an old contract hidden amongst thousands of files. The scenes where Peter is animatedly berating Alva are where Cage turns up his Cage-o-Meter to eleven. In his off time Peter begins to live like a vampire, sleeping under an overturned couch in his living room, wearing sunglasses during the day and buying a pair of cheap plastic fangs because his own enlarged incisors aren’t showing. With his thinly-veiled insanity beginning to slip by the hour, Peter continues on a path of obsession and self-destruction that isn’t going to end well.
Truthfully, Vampire’s Kiss is not a great movie; it isn’t even all that good. The story is haphazard and there are no strong supporting characters. Beals’ seductive vampire is as enigmatic as can be, while Alonso as Cage’s secretary is little more than a whipping boy for Peter’s outbursts. This film lives and dies by the performance of one man – Cage. He gives Loew an almost unbearably bad accent, which has its own backstory that still doesn’t make it any more tolerable. As expected, Cage can’t hold it from scene to scene but, that too, has an explanation. When he’s bellowing at Alva the faces he makes are immediately etched into memory. Chances are even if you haven’t seen the movie, you’ve seen the infamous shot of Cage’s eyebrows attempting to flee the insanity that is his face. The film may not work very well as a comedy, but there’s enough of a dark derangement present to make it almost unsettling.
From there we move on to High Spirits, which I first saw via VHS rental from Wherehouse sometime in the early ‘90s. This was also the last time I had seen the film, which my nostalgic memory had convinced me wasn’t so bad. This haunting tale concerns the proprietors of a decaying Irish castle which now functions as a bed & breakfast. When the hotel is in risk of foreclosure due to a looming debt deadline owner Peter Plunkett (Peter O’Toole) decides to spice up the attraction by claiming it’s haunted by ghosts. He and his crew of local employees set about rigging the place up to seem like it houses actual spirits, something which only serves to annoy the latest group of American tourists. But during one final night in the castle the visitors see exactly what they came for when Peter’s distant, murdered cousin Mary (Darryl Hannah) appears before Jack’s (Steve Guttenberg) eyes being chased by her husband/murderer, Martin (Liam Neeson). Mary has been doomed to relive her death over and over again, but through some unexplainable twist Jack is able to intervene and prevent Mary’s recurring death. He also finds that he has the hots for a ghost.
Even more bizarrely, Jack’s bitchy wife, Sharon (Beverly D’Angelo), learns that she has more than a few things in common with Martin, the guy who killed his last wife. The two unnatural romances dominate most of the screen time here. There are some amusing ghost hunting bits with Malcolm (Martin Ferrero, whose face you’ll instantly remember when I say he was the slimy lawyer in Jurassic Park (1993) that met a messy end); he’s a paranormal investigator with all the requisite tools for such a job. But mostly, everything focuses on the burgeoning romance between humans and ghosts. Touching.
The best thing I can say about High Spirits is it’s bathed in gloriously cheesy ‘80s charm. It also features solid production design, with the Irish castle adding an extra element of ghoulish aesthetics that were very much needed. Some viewers may also be excited to watch simply because of the cast, which features a roster of notable names. I’d be remiss not to mention the alluring Jennifer Tilly, who is in her prime here. Hell, they got Peter O’Toole and that’s enough gravitas to make nearly anything halfway watchable. This may be a title that’s best enjoyed by those who liked it years ago; newer viewers will probably nod off in short time, which is exactly what my girlfriend did.
Similar to the Love at First Bite/Once Bitten double feature, both films here feature strong 1.85:1 1080p pictures that are exactly the sort of high definition upgrades fans want to see. Grain structure retains integrity, the prints are both clean & free from major debris, colors are accurate and detail is marginally impressive… when the shot is a close-up. There is no DNR, color grading or other post-production processing to be seen here.
Just as the video sources are similar so, too, are the English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo tracks. Front channels feature good separation and minor panning of effects, while dialogue remains clear and discernible throughout each film. Sourced songs once again enjoy high fidelity, adding a greater sense of depth to the overall sound. Subtitles are available on both films in English.
Director Robert Bierman and actor Nicolas Cage provide an audio commentary on Vampire’s Kiss, one that is carried over from the previous DVD. It isn’t often that a major motion picture star sits down to dissect one of their earliest, possibly embarrassing offerings but Cage is game to delve right into every weird facet of this production. He covers a wide range of much-discussed topics, from his atrocious accent to the cockroach eating scene and everything else in between.
A trailer for Vampire’s Kiss is also included.
- Audio commentary on Vampire’s Kiss with director Robert Bierman and actor Nicolas Cage
- Vampire’s Kiss trailer