“Kiss of the Damned”
Starring: Joséphine de La Baume, Milo Ventimiglia ,Roxane Mesquida
Vampires are by definition a retro construct. Living forever means always looking back. The future is merely a continuing cycle of corruption and death. Flesh-and-blood is the only reliable thing around. In cinema, vampire stories have served a multitude of purposes. Everything from the transmission of venereal diseases to racial and nationalistic bigotry has provided allegorical connections in a horror genre never without a sexual component.
Xan Cassavetes (daughter to the Godfather of independent cinema) pays stylish homage to vampire films of the past 40 years with a blood-soaked predator thriller based on romantic obsession — BDSM comes gratis. Aesthetic elements from Italian giallo horror films, Hammer movies and American vampire flicks are on moist display.
Djuna (Joséphine de La Baume — “The Princess of Montpensier”) lives in a remote Connecticut mansion where she hides from the sun. The home’s absent but charitable matriarch Xenia is a Broadway diva who never does matinees. Xenia oversees a global community of well-to-do vampires whose world-weary ennui is offset by their appreciation for the finer, quirkier, things in life.
Djuna refers to her “skin disease” after meeting Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) for the first time at a video store; it isn’t 2013. Luis Bunuel’s “Viridiana” Paolo is in town on a sabbatical to write his next big script. Needless to say, Paolo is easily distracted by Djuna’s off-kilter allure. She generously gives him fair warning before putting the bite on. She goes so far as to make him chain her to the bed during sex, but Paolo is an adventurous type. Bite him, she does.
The mechanics of the story are clear-cut. The arrival of Djuna’s bad-apple sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) threatens to derail Djuna’s and Paolo’s romantic plans to travel away to Italy together, if not bring down the whole vampire community that Xenia has protected though exotic means. Synthetic plasma is a mainstay. Another unexpected entrance — by Paolo’s overanxious agent Ben (Michael Rapaport) — gives cause for some tempestuous excitement.
Clothes come off. Fangs are bared. Bodily fluids spill in a vampire movie that is as much about tone and style as it is about the seductions and bloody attacks that take place. Cassavetes fabricates plot references to films such as “Rosemary’s Baby” and “All About Eve” for informed film buffs to revel in.
A line between desire and execution is blurred to suspenseful effect, as when Djuna envisions acting out her barely tamed inner nature on an unsuspecting would-be victim. Cassavetes’s solid command of fluid cinematic language creates visual bubbles that infuse a dreamlike quality. “Kiss of the Damned” is a dark sex fantasy after all. The beard of blood that drenches down from a female vampire’s mouth is at once a humiliation and a messy acknowledgement of man’s animal nature. Decadence and debauchery are equal parts death and creation in a cool little vampire movie that makes the “Twilight” franchise look like kid stuff. CV