This Schlocktober, Comics Bulletin will be exploring the world of horror cinema, featuring thirty one films released between Halloween 2012 and Halloween 2013. Next up is writer/director Xan Cassavetes‘ Kiss of the Damned.
Hearkening back to the classic European Vampire exploitation films of the 60s and 70s, Kiss of the Damned, is gorgeously filmed with an exquisite soundtrack. It’s also filled with lovely people who expose their naughty bits again and again (the ladies, anyway). The story, however, falls short of doing much more than titillate, get a little boring, and then wrap up in a fairly passive, pedestrian way.
Then why is it being included here, you ask?
Because it is a downright beautiful piece of work, despite the shortcomings. Thematically, Xan Cassavetes’ script touches on your standard conflict between the vampires who want to go straight and those who embrace their wild side. Well, one vampire who wants to embrace her dark side while tempting the squares to transgress alongside her.
That’s the element of the script that could have used more attention; pushing these characters into actively engaging with their natures. Instead there’s a lot of talk — particularly at a snobby, tedious social engagement with the “classy” vampires — about evolving socially, building a civilization, and not being the monsters they used to be. But in the process of the film, each of the main characters either can’t restrain themselves from murdering humans, do it in a dream state, or otherwise give in to their passionate animal side.
And then everybody feels bad.
But it’s the passivity of the characters that I found most problematic. This is a film that despite being an erotic thriller with blood and fangs, no one but the wild child Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) ever actively pursues any agenda — unless we include Milo’s (Milo Ventimiglia) initial all-too-human obsession with Djuna (Joséphine de La Baume). Even the finale, when transgression gets punished, it’s not by any intentional act. A car crash and a witness who sits back and does nothing are the instruments of normalization in this script.
Even the possible ramifications of the vampire leader, Xenia (Anna Mouglalis), falling off the wagon are waved away passively as Mimi does herself in.
Which raises an interesting point that I wanted to see explored: this notion that civilization and culture implies coldness, control, and passivity. The vampires say they want to create a civilization like the humans have done — be establishing a moral code and forcing themselves to live by it — but they’ve missed the fact that passionate engagement with the world is what built civilization. Those moral guidelines are transgressed as often, maybe more often, by humans than by unrestrained vampires.
In the end, Mimi is the only character in the film that I cared about and wanted to see more of. Everyone else was blandly beautiful and boring. That’s not a vampire society I would want anything to do with.
But Kiss of the Damned is still a film to see. Just don’t watch it alongside something like The Vampire Lovers (1970) or Vampyros Lesbos (1971) or even The Hunger (1982); classics that inspired this film, but did it right.
See our previous review here.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.