At a certain point, low-budget genre films started self-applying the retro label as an excuse for their movies’ cheapness or unpleasantness, reaching its apparent nadir with the recent Grindhouse phenomenon. What a genuine pleasure a film like Kiss Of The Damned is, then: a film steeped in a fairly niche sub-genre that puts everything it has into delivering a sensory experience for the viewer.
Milo Ventimiglia plays Paolo, a talented but unhappy screenwriter whose time out of the city is interrupted by the beautiful Djuna (Joséphine De La Baume). Djuna attempts to keep Paolo at a distance, but their mutual attraction results in his discovery that she is a vampire. Deciding to join her in the ranks of the undead, Paolo begins a new and wonderful life with his lover, but the arrival of her troubled sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) threatens to ruin everything.
Kiss Of The Damned is the first feature film from Xan Cassavetes (the daughter of independent film figurehead John Cassavetes), and it shows a confidence and style that marks her out as a very exciting talent to watch. From the opening credits the film has a beguiling look and sound that draws the viewer in, as well as a heightened sense of theatricality that is mirrored in the dialogue and performances. The script is very arch, often tipping into camp (“This is the beluga of politically correct plasma”), but it’s entirely self-aware.
Without being a direct parody or pastiche, Cassavetes’ film pays homage to a sub-genre of vampire movies that at their best would overwhelm the viewer with its intoxicating atmosphere. At their worst, these films would be little more than an excuse for the inclusion of soft-focus lesbian sex scenes. The erotic life of vampires plays a big part in Kiss Of The Damned, but it doesn’t feel extraneous or exploitative; it’s part of the heightened sensory world that these characters inhabit.
The cast is clearly on-message. De La Baume and Ventimiglia’s chemistry is believable, although it’s unclear whether or not the latter’s impossibly impeccable manners are supposed to be funny (Paolo’s gratitude for everything from a compliment to coq au vin is conveyed often, with great sincerity, to anyone who will listen). Anna Mouglalis (Romanzo Criminale) is very well cast as the clan’s stylish leader who moonlights as an acclaimed stage actress (“Of course, I don’t do matinees”), but it’s Roxane Mesquida (Kaboom) who steals the show. She gives a glorious scenery-chewing performance as the wild Mimi.
The target audience for Kiss Of The Damned is admittedly rather small, and whether or not it will appeal to you may depend on the amount of affection you have for high camp. As self-aware as it is, the film does occasionally tip over the fine line into outright ridiculousness. Similarly, the plot treads a very traditional path and proceeds exactly as you’d expect it to.
However, as a cinematic experience it’s simply beautiful to watch. If you give it a chance, you’ll discover a hypnotically scored and shot, intoxicating homage to such great films as Daughters Of Darkness. Kiss Of The Damned is a wonderful late night feast for the senses.