Vampire's Kiss (1989)

JUNE 13, 2010


Looking at his filmography, I had forgotten how many generic movies Nic Cage had made in the early 90s. It Could Happen To You, Trapped In Paradise, Honeymoon In Vegas... how could the guy who inspired THIS make such junk? Well, maybe it’s because when he did something interesting, like Vampire’s Kiss, it tanked. Dude’s gotta eat. And buy pyramids.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before (and I WILL do a non canon review/defense of his Wicker Man someday), I’m a big fan of Cage. I love that he brings something unique to every character (even those aforementioned fluff movies probably have some Cage-y moments, I just have no desire to revisit them to find out), and that instead of coasting along in high paying Bruckheimer productions for the rest of his career, he opts to take on oddball, non-commercial projects like Bad Lieutenant and Lord Of War in between his blockbusters. And even those he makes interesting; his touches are pretty much the only thing that makes Gone in 60 Seconds watchable.

So why the hell am I just watching this movie now? HMAD reader Sean even suggested it over a year ago, but I still hadn't bothered even adding it to my queue. It might have come at an early stage in his career (I believe it was his first top billed role), but it’s probably one of his top 5 all time batshit performances, making even his manic performance in Bringing Out The Dead seem subdued. Plus it’s a horror movie, and I watch those every day. I feel ashamed at not having seen it until now.

Of course, had I seen it prior to January, when I finally watched Martin, I might not have appreciated that film as much, since John Amplas is no Nic Cage. They are similar stories, right down to wearing goofy plastic vampire teeth to make up for the lack of having fangs (lest you think this film is just a knockoff, the debt to Romero is acknowledged - check out the name of the garage), but Martin was essentially a drama, whereas this film is more of a black comedy. Also, Martin may have been the main character, but it developed the other characters and gave them arcs. Vampire’s Kiss, on the other hand, is pretty much Cage’s solo show. The other characters only appear in a few scenes each (7th billed John Michael Higgins appears for about 9 seconds), and some of them seem to be imaginary.

Now that’s sort of a spoiler, but the film never really tries to present the fact that pretty much everything is in his head as a twist or anything. He’s clearly “off” right from the start, and the fact that the girl who “turns” him (Jennifer Beals) appears/disappears in thin air should tip you off pretty early on that he’s just a loon. And I love that - it’s not some ‘dun dun DUNNN’ moment - in fact I don’t think it’s ever even explained by a secondary character that he’s been imagining a lot of what we’ve seen. This creates some ambiguity that might not sit well with some viewers (I myself wouldn’t have minded knowing if even the opening, rather normal scene with the shrink actually occurred), but I’ll take uncertainty over things being beaten over my head any day of the week.

But even if you’re not fully satisfied with the film’s climax, you cannot deny what a tour de force Cage provides here. He occasionally has an accent (part of his character’s desire to be distinguished and interesting), he runs around yelling “I’m a vampire!” over and over, makes a coffin out of an overturned couch... Cage-philes will be incredibly satisfied with this film, and then some. Even the little moments killed me - I particularly loved when he talks to a woman through her window asking to be let in (not in the vampire way), and then when she gets up to open the door, he rings the doorbell anyway. And then there’s this, which I felt compelled to film and upload for you all:

This is part of a long subplot about how his secretary misplaced a contract for one of their big clients. It’s certainly a boring subplot on paper (up there with the merger nonsense from Meet Joe Black), but it’s almost worth it for this scene, which I later discovered is already on Youtube (in much better quality) several times over. We fans know a classic Cage moment when we see it.

There’s also the much ballyhooed moment where he eats a cockroach, which is indeed impressive, but they also cut away from the scene so quickly that we can’t be sure that he indeed swallowed it. I don’t doubt he really did it, but I wish the director and editor had let the moment sit a bit longer. It also makes the later moment where he eats a pigeon a bit disappointing. I wanted to see him chow down on one of those things!

MGM HD offered a brief look at Cage’s career after the film, which seemed to have been comprised of EPK notes about the films. Also, they only used MGM movies to show him at each stage of his career, which caused a problem or two. While Moonstruck, Wild At Heart, and Leaving Las Vegas are certainly worth mentioning, I wish MGM had shelled out a few bucks to Disney (producer of all of his Bruckheimer films) to use one of those to showcase his “action hero blockbuster” phase, instead of Windtalkers, which was a colossal failure and pretty much ENDED his action movie era (his only R action film since was the terrible Bangkok Dangerous; his other action films have been aimed primarily at families, i.e. the National Treasures and the upcoming Sorcerer’s Apprentice). And how can one look at his career without mentioning his Oscar-nominated turn in Adaptation? So in short: nice idea, but kind of pointless. I’d rather they just put on ads for upcoming showings - it’s a channel I only recently discovered that I had, and they show a lot of great stuff on there. They also shouldn’t be spending money on anything that isn’t the next Bond film or The Hobbit. Sam Mendes and Guillermo Del Toro have both had to move on to other shit because of their financial woes. And they’re spending dough to have some editor string together clips from his 4 MGM movies and ignoring his 30+ others? Who the hell is your financial advisor? Nic Cage?

What say you?

P.S. If mentioning like half of his movies by name in this review got you interested in filling in some gaps in your Nic Cage mental library, the AV Club found this today, interestingly enough: CAGEFLIX.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


  1. What you kids don't remember is that this film was actually somewhat controversial when it came out. People really didn't get the humor. Only recently, after its barebones DVD release, are critics starting to recognize VAMPIRE'S KISS as one of the greatest movies of all time. Which it totally is. This is the film that should have won Cage his Oscar, not his shambling zombie act in LEAVING LAS VEGAS.

  2. I love this movie. I have often described it as feeling like Cage thinking he's in another movie. Like his insane, outer-space-wacko performance was something the writer-director-producers never anticipated but just ran with from day to day on the set. Because the movie has a really dark, tragic edge to it and could almost be played as a riff on MARTIN (as you've said). On the page, this might read "straight" to a degree, you know?

    But Cage IS the movie. His insanity is something to behold. I mean, what if Eric Stoltz had played Peter Loew? Or Robert Downey Jr.? Or James Spader? Or Eric Roberts? I think you would literally have AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT MOVIE.

    I love talking about this movie with people who have seen it because they end up getting this look on their face. One that says "Holy shit, you've seen that movie too? It's fucking crazy, right?"

  3. I wrote my own passionate defense of Nicolas Cage and The Wicker Man. Unfortunately it's loaded with lame jokes, so no one paid attention.

  4. Cage in Bad Lieutenant - best performance of the year.


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