The best way to describe Vampire’s Kiss, or more to the point, Nicolas Cage’s performance is by paraphasing that line from This is Spinal Tap that it’s a fine line between stupid and clever. Cage is currently playing Dracula in Renfield, which has underperformed both with credits and at the box office. I haven’t seen it but I think the problem is the idea of Cage as Dracula is better than the execution.
Considering that Cage has been called a vampire as someone has found a 19th Century photo of a man who looks like him, it seems he would be perfect playing such a character. Yet, in Vampire’s Kiss, he’s not exactly a vampire. He just thinks he is. And this is a concept that could have very easily been a brain dead comedy but the script by Joseph Minion, who penned the dark comedy After Hours, directed by Martin Scorsese, walks the line between a dark comedy and a psychological thriller.
Add Cage’s over the top performance along with guerrilla style filmmaking and you have one of the most heavily polarized movies of the last 40 years. Cage, who was just under 18 when he appeared in Fast Times at Ridgemont High so he couldn’t be in some night scenes under California law, was still fairly young in this movie. He plays Peter Loew, a literary agent who lives the high-life in New York City during the 1980s. He’s basically Patrick Bateman a whole decade before Christian Bale would Moon Walk while talking about Huey Lewis.
One night after club-hopping, Peter returns to his condo with Jackie (Kasi Lemmons) and as they’re about to have sex, a bat flies through the window as he tries to battle it. Later, he tells his therapist, Dr. Glaser (Elisabeth Ashley), it aroused him. Then, he goes out to a club and finds Rachel (Jennifer Beals). They return to his condo where in the process of making out, she bites him on the neck.
Or does she? The question of his relationship with Rachel is also an issue. The next morning he makes coffee for both of them but we only see Peter as he hands a cup to no one. But he’s seeing Rachel still in his bed. Rachel seems to pop up from time to time giving her a supernatural quality. But is that the case or is Peter just hallucinating. Over time, he suspects that Rachel may have bitten him turning him into a vampire which has explained his erratic behavior.
He also bullies and harasses his secretary, Alva Restrepo (Maria Chonchita Alonso), on finding a contract from years earlier for a writer lying to her about the seriousness of it. His treatment of Alva might have gone undetected in the late 1980s, but today it would be seen as near criminal. He constantly berates her and even follows Alva into the women’s restroom without any repurcussions as the rest of the men at the office joke about her behavior. If anything else, it’s a telling look at the “Boys Club” of yuppies from the era.
Cage also alternates between a regular American accent and what can best be described as a poor man’s attempt at a Eurotrash accent. Sometimes, in the same scene, Cage alternates between the two. Robert Bierman who directed the movie, basically just lets Cage go wherever he wants with the role. At one point, he spouts the entire alphabet raising in intensity and volume with each letter in front of Glaser. I can tell it wasn’t intended as Ashley just looks shocked and tries to keep the scene going by saying it’s good he knows the alphabet.
The budget on the movie was only $2 million which included scenes filmed on the streets of New York were filmed guerilla style. Cage reportedly was only paid $40,000 and spent the money on a 1967 Corvette Stingray. This low budget meant they had to cut corners meaning they couldn’t pay extras, so they just filmed real people’s reactions. There’s a scene of Peter screaming “I’m a vampire!” over and over while running down a sidewalk like someone just poured cold water on him that captured the reaction of the passerbys. Reportedly, he had to perform the scene multiple times to get it the way Bierman wanted. Another scene in which Peter uses a two-by-four broken from a wood pallet get people to stab him in the heart was also done by a dishelved Cage with fake blood on him walking up to regular people.
Cage also famously ate a live cockroach on screen. Originally, the scene called for him to eat a raw egg. But Cage decided a coackroach would be more suited for a person losing their mind. He had to eat two cockroaches because they had to film the scene twice. Off screen, Peter captures a pigeon and eats it I’m presuming raw. Cage has regretting having to eat the cockroaches.
Regardless, it’s one of his most outrageous performances and that’s saying a lot considering his career. At the era, Cage was going all in his roles playing them in similar fashion in Peggy Sue Got Married, Raising Arizona and Moonstruck. His method of acting has its own form especially with a scene where he berates Alva in his office. It has become a popular meme as he said his goal was to see how wide he could get his eyes. A still from the scene is shown above.
It’s an insane movie as Peter’s grasp on sanity becomes more loose and he eventually tours the night clubs with a cheap pair of toy fangs. He even goes so overboard to sexually assault Alva even when she does find the contract. In many ways, the movie is a metaphor for the 1980s scene where yuppies spent their nights out and their days figuratively sucking the blood out of the America during the Reagan/Bush era.
I wouldn’t even doubt that Bret Easton Ellis, who created Patrick Bateman in his 1991 novel American Psycho, was impressed by this movie. Like that character, Peter is another example of what happens when young men have too much clout, too much money, and a low regard for women. When he hallucinate meeting a woman name Sharon (Jessica Lundy) through Dr. Glaser, it doesn’t take long for him to grow tired of her as he plays out a spat talking to himself.
While the plot of the movie drags at times, mostly because of the funding, Cage’s performance is the crazy glue that keeps it together and makes it worth watching.
What do you think? Please comment.