Film Review: Kiss of the Damned

Bloody awful.

When screenwriter Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) meets Djuna (Joséphine de la Baume) in a Connecticut video store (remember them?), one would think that he, like any other average consumer of pop culture, would be somewhat clued into her true identity. This weird chick is a loner, has a strange accent, likes bizarro old black-and-white films, translates arcane foreign writing, and has a skin condition which necessitates her avoiding the sun. Duh, she’s a vampire!

After a night of, er, love, Paolo becomes a bloodsucker too, besotted by Djuna and his strange new, eternal world. But their crimson idyll is shattered with the appearance of the well-meaning Djuna’s truly evil, uncontrollable sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida), who just likes to make trouble. It becomes the duty of Xenia (Anna Mougalis), the elegant ringleader of the vampires (and off-Broadway actress!), to step in and take control of the situation.

Xan Cassavetes, the daughter of director John and actress Gena Rowlands, obviously thinks she’s reinventing the wheel with this would-be sophisticated, trashily pretentious epic about ultra-chic bloodsuckers. Kiss of the Damned has the most stale, been-there-seen-that vibe to it, especially for anyone familiar with Daughters of Darkness or The Hunger (which even in 1983 felt empty and enervated). Shot in relentlessly obfuscating dark tones, it strives for an eerie mystery that is quickly destroyed every time any character opens his or her mouth to deliver yet another wince-inducing, failed epigram. (“Does the existence of Mr. Hyde make Dr. Jekyll any less of a monster?” “You’re sipping the beluga of politically correct plasma!”)

What Cassavetes has inherited from her famous dad is his erratic, often turtle-like sense of pacing, as the camera sits statically, waiting for the actors to perhaps improv something, anything. (This writer freely confesses that he has always found John Cassavetes’ vaunted reputation a decided puzzlement. Sure, he pioneered verité storytelling, but it’s also the responsibility of a filmmaker to engage the viewer.)

And, coming from a female director, this is a strangely degrading, misogynist work, with none of the numerous women in it coming off as anything but freaks, mega-bitches or bimbos, as Cassavetes revels in their many spats and violent, bloody tussles. For Djuna’s first vampire reveal to Paolo, the auteur has her handcuffed and writhing in bra and panties, as if to say I’ll give you Victoria’s Secret! The actresses all seem to be channeling Eva Green at her most gothic, with highly varying degrees of success.

If the existence of the undead is indeed real, then the great writer Djuna Barnes, wherever she is, must be wondering what she ever did to deserve the questionable homage given here by the lead character’s name. The Twilight franchise just reached its torturous end, begging the question: Did we really need this? I, for one, would like to call a moratorium on all vampire-related films for at least another decade.