Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Vampire’s Kiss – review


Directed by: Robert Bierman

Release Date: 1989

Contains spoilers

It has been a while since I last watched this film, but as I watched it for this review it reminded me of why I love the vampire genre. More so than any other ‘monster’ medium the vampire is the most pliant. This is no horror movie (at least not in the classic sense), it may not even contain a vampire; it is a damning indictment of yuppie culture, it is a film about misogyny, it is a film that portrays one man’s absolute breakdown and, above all else, it is a darkly black comedy.

The film opens with sunset over Manhattan, mellow horns play at first to be replaced with a more orchestral piece underscored with strings as the camera pans around the gothic spires of the New York skyline. It is an evocative opening that segues into daytime New York and we hear a voice that belongs to Peter Loew (Nicholas Cage). He is speaking to his therapist, Dr Glaser (Elizabeth Ashley). From what he says we gather that he met a woman but, despite the passion of the night, in the morning he wanted her gone. He has real commitment issues.

In a bar we see him with another woman, Jackie (Kasi Lemmons). They leave the bar, more than a little drunk, and go back to Peter’s apartment. They are down to underwear when a bat flies into the room through his open window. Jackie freaks and runs from the apartment. Peter seems to fight it for a moment before running also; they dress in the corridor and get a cab. The next day at work, which is a literary agency, Peter (sans socks) instructs a secretary, Alva (Maria Conchita Alonso), to find a missing contract.

meeting RachelThe next time he sees his therapist he states, at the end of the session, that he found himself turned on as he fought the bat. Back at work Alva has made a mistake by looking in files, for the missing contract, that Peter had already checked. He becomes rather annoyed with her. That night, in a bar he meets a woman named Rachel (Jennifer Beals) – he takes her home.

Rachel bites for the first timeThey are on his bed when she grows fangs and bites him. At first he is in pain and panicked but that turns to sexual ecstasy. In the morning he is shaving and cuts himself – there was no mark on his neck before this. He brings coffee to the bedroom – which, given his confession to his therapist, is unusual – he is talking to her but as the camera pans she is not in bed. He notices this and his hands shake violently.

The film now progresses with Peter loosing Jackie as he descends into the relationship with Rachel, who may or may not be real. During this period his behaviour towards Alva becomes more bullying until he rapes her. All the time he is loosing his mind, believing that he is becoming a vampire.

eating a cockroachGiven the nature of the blog I want to look at Peter’s ‘transformation’. It is small things at first; loss of temper, pain in his neck. Then he seems to become more sensitive to sunlight. As he walks along a street he sees a neon cross, collapses and then runs from it. He even eats a cockroach – something Cage actually did for the film.

'loosing' his reflectionThings do get more and more extreme. At one point he is in a toilet looking in the mirror and asking where he is, as he has no reflection. The audience can see that he has a reflection. This is mistaken by his boss, who is in a stall, as amateur dramatics. Whilst all this is going on Peter is watching films such as Nosferatu.

failed suicideThings come to a head when he attempts to rape Alva, who nearly walks in on Rachel feeding on Peter – in his mind at least. He chases her through the building and corners her, so she pulls a gun – one that contains blanks. When she doesn’t shoot him, aiming at the floor instead, he attacks her and then tries to kill himself – of course he doesn't know it contains blanks and as far as his fractured mind is concerned he is now immortal.

acquiring fangsHe smashes the mirrors in his apartment and covers the window; by turning the couch upside down he constructs a ‘coffin’. He, of course, has no fangs and so goes to buy some. The nicer ones are too expensive for the lack of funds in his wallet so he buys some cheap Halloween plastic fangs. He catches a pigeon and eats that.

the bottom of the spiralAt the height of his insanity he enters a club, by now he has affected the gait of a B movie vampire. He manages to woo a woman, alone in a side room, by flashing the fangs, which she apparently thinks quite charming and amusing, but when he puts his hand down her top she slaps him and he attacks her in return – biting her neck and killing her.

Jennifer Beals as RachelSo was Rachel real? It is possible she was a real person. He does meet her in the club, twice it seems. Speaking to him as a vampire she tells him he is disgusting and she will have nothing to do with him. This may have been a psychotically constructed Rachel. He grabs her on the dance floor and she barely recognises him and seems very human. Perhaps she was the woman mentioned at the beginning? Was she a vampire, probably not, but she was one in his mind. Why a vampire? Perhaps it was triggered by the bat or it was symbolism of him loosing himself to a relationship – a woman draining his life away. We do not know because Peter does not know.

Peter in full bully modeIt is clear that he is a misogynist and unable to form relationships. That is the culture he is in, as well as his personality, and this is why it is a damning indictment of the yuppie culture. When he chases Alva into the washroom the all male Board think it hilarious. We see him looking at relationships with both longing and disdain and a comment is made about work and love, specifically about the necessity of love. With his treatment of Alva, this film could be shown as an anti-bullying training video.

Star of the show is Cage. His affected accent takes some getting used to but it is one that the character affects to make himself seem more intellectual. However the quality of Cage’s acting, as he spirals deeper and deeper into insanity, cannot be underestimated. It is a fine performance.

Maria Conchita Alonso as AlvaAlonso is rightly vulnerable as Alva, fearful of her boss yet nervous of loosing her job. I have read commentary that suggests that she wouldn’t be so docile and yet, whilst I have never seen such extreme behaviour in the workplace, I have worked with the victims of bullying and it can take a great deal of courage to tackle the workplace bully. In my opinion the writing and acting was spot on.

One for those who like their comedy as black as pitch and their performances top notch. 8 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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