Review: Kiss of the Damned (Directed by Xan Cassavetes)

Kiss of the Damned (Directed by Xan Cassavetes)
6 10

PLOT: A seductive vampire falls for a human screenwriter and, in the heat of passion, turns him into one of her kind. Their lusty affair is soon turned upside down, however, when her troublemaker sister unexpectedly comes to visit.

REVIEW: Xan Cassavetes' KISS OF THE DAMNED is a mixed bag, at once a pretentious arthouse movie and a nostalgic throwback to vampire movies of the 70s (especially of the European variety). It never quite achieves the kinky-cool vibe it strives for because sometimes it tries too hard, but it's a pretty decent antidote to the bloodless, snore-inducing vampires we're plagued with regularly.

Djuna (Jos├ęphine de la Baume) is a wealthy but somber vampire who lives alone and cherishes old movies. One night at a video store (yes, a video store, which is among the first indications that Cassevetes is going old-school), she meets screenwriter Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) and it's essentially love at first sight. It doesn't take long for her to reveal her secret to him, but naturally he's so drawn to her he's willing to risk his neck, pardon the pun. During a lovemaking session, Djuna bites Paolo, effectively turning him into a vampire and of course cursing him with eternal life. He doesn't seem to mind.

The two seem content to live as high-society types until her younger sister, Mimi (Roxane Mesquida), shows up, shattering their harmony and bringing with her a dark, mischievous sensuality and dangerousness that threatens not only the couple's love, but the relative peace of the vampire community.

Cassavetes has cast her movie well: de la Baume is everything you could want from a decadent vampiress, with an exaggerated accent and sleepy-sexy eyes. Ventimiglia is pretty stiff, but the screenplay requires him to do nothing more but stand still and brood. Mesquida is the real standout, having fun playing the lithe and naughty Mimi; the upheaval she brings with her when she enters the movie gives it a much-needed boost, as when she's not on screen KISS OF THE DAMNED feels stuck in moody seriousness.

Thing about KISS OF THE DAMNED is, when you wipe away Cassavetes' arty aesthetic, we're not seeing anything we haven't seen before. If you've witnessed one sequence where a slinky vampire seduces her man-prey, you've seen 'em all at this point. Similarly, scenes of upper-class vamps discussing the ethics of killing humans while sipping on primo blood samples. Sorry, but Eurotrash vampires are almost as lame as sparkly ones at this point.

Yet Cassavetes certainly intends KISS OF THE DAMNED to be experienced as an homage, peppering her movie with deliberately old-fashioned touches and surrounding it in a score that could have been composed by Goblin. She also includes plenty of thrusting, bumping flesh, and is way more interested in the sexual/seductive side of vampirism than the bloodletting. It should provide some cheap thrills, but frankly you could find something just as steamy on "True Blood".

Extra Tidbit: The film opens today!



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