Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Kiss of the Damned: Euro Undead Vamping it up in America

Vampires are Old World creatures.  They do not fit so easily in America, or at least a big crowded city like New York.  This is especially true of the reckless Mimi, who creates all sorts of complications for her sister Djuna and her undead sibling’s recently turned lover in Xan Cassavetes’ Kiss of the Damned (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Most vampires keep to themselves, making do with animal blood.  Of course, the human kind is the good stuff, but developing a taste for it is dangerous.  Mimi has done just that.  In contrast, Djuna is content living a quiet nocturnal existence in the isolated mansion owned by Xena, the grand dame of vampires.  Then one night, she catches Paolo’s eye in a throwback video store (a vestige of the old). 

Despite her concern for his well being, sparks fly between her and the slacking off screenwriter.  She soon brings him over to the undead, so they can un-live happily ever after.  Unfortunately, Xenia sends her blood-lusting sister Mimi to dry out with the blissful couple shortly thereafter.  Not surprisingly, having an unstable nymphomaniac with a taste for human blood in their midst puts a strain on pretty much everything.

Yes, Xan Cassavetes is the daughter of John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands.  As one might expect, she knows her art cinema.  While she is not afraid of a little blood, she patiently sets the scene and establishes her characters before getting down to the business end of vampirism.  The result is an uber-stylish, devilishly indulgent film.  Fittingly, cinematographer Tobias Datum renders it all with an evocative retro-Hammer color palette, luxuriating in shades of red.

As Djuna, Joséphine de la Baume is captivatingly elegant and sensual.  Milo Ventimiglia is a bit stiff as Paolo, but Roxanne Mesquida’s Mimi is quite the hot undead mess. She just radiates trouble whenever she is on screen.  Yet, the unlikely Michael Rapaport nearly steals the show in his brief but riotous appearances as Paolo’s crass agent.

Polished and seductive, Kiss of the Damned has a Euro art house sensibility, but it still delivers the goods for vampire fans.  Clearly inspired by the Italian masters, Cassavetes demonstrates an appreciation of the look and form of the genre.  Highly recommended for connoisseurs of continental horror and vampire films, Kiss of the Damned opens this Friday (5/3) in New York at the Landmark Sunshine.