Saturday, April 13, 2013

Kiss Of The Damned (Xan Cassavetes, 2012)

The vampire craze seems to have no end. The popularity of the sexy undead has probably never been any higher. As soon as someone decides to bring back the old radio dramas with a vampire show, they’ll have conquered just about every conceivable form of media. KISS OF THE DAMNED is the latest cinematic outing for everyone’s favorite nocturnal bloodsuckers. It’s generated favorable buzz on the festival circuit and with the indie horror set.

The marketing campaign for the film has been targeting horror fans though, which might be a bit misleading. If you’re a horror fan who enjoys TRUE BLOOD or Tony Scott’s THE HUNGER, the chances are pretty good KISS OF THE DAMNED is going to be right up your alley. But, if you’re looking for the kind of vicious vamps that populated films like 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, this isn’t going to satiate your thirst.

That being said, KISS OF THE DAMNED is a well made, entertaining film. It’s not breaking new ground, but it’s a solid entry in the vampire genre, and is definitely a great introduction to writer/director Xan Cassavetes. Essentially, it’s a kind of twisted family drama built around two sisters and one of their newly turned lovers that is stylistically fantastic and that leaves no detail of the cinematic experience out, though it does focus more heavily on some than others. It’s not going to wind up being lists of classic vampire films, but it’s also not going to leave the audience wishing they had either the price of their ticket or their time back. The performances are all up to the tasks the script gives them, even as none of them is particularly outstanding. Some of that is probably due to the fact that KISS OF THE DAMNED is interested in providing an overall cinematic experience that’s somewhat different than what the majority of film goers are used to or are going to be specifically looking for.

There’s a vivid life to the films visual style that is often absent in horror films. It jumps off of the screen with deep, bold colors, and still maintains stark contrasts, giving it an overall look that is weirdly reminiscent of some of the beautiful night scenes in Nicholas Winding Refn’s DRIVE. Every scene in the films looks like it was shot on an existing location as well, because all of them are gorgeously put together, without ever feeling staged. Add to that an attention to the details of costuming and the film looks gorgeous overall. It’s an unusual detail to note in a horror film and especially in a review for a horror film, but the people in the film all look great in their clothes and their clothes all look great on them, so much so that it’s a noticeable detail that jumps off the screen. The costuming is also different enough from character to character to help add details of who they are individually so that it never really comes across as if they’re all being dressed for the same clothing company advertising campaign either. It’s the kind of detail that adds something unusual to the film and makes it something different in a market place so full of vampires that seem like they’ve either been snacking on the local mall’s American Apparel shoppers or are heading off to a photo shoot for an S&M catalog.

It also has a slightly trashy, erotic sensibility to it that makes it engrossing without crossing the line into exploitation. The kind of sexual metaphor that’s been mined throughout the history of the vampire on film is being used to good effect and gives the film a hint of that trashy, forbidden feeling that Jean Rollin made an entire career out of, but Xan Cassavetes never stoops to the level of turning to sexualized violence in order to provoke a reaction of some kind from the audience. Instead, she deftly maneuvers into slightly titillating territory as a way to reveal aspects of character. She doesn’t flinch from the sexuality, but she’s not using it as a cheap substitute for good writing either. It’s that thing specifically that gives the film some of the feel of the horror films that were coming out of Europe in the seventies, but then avoids the pit falls many of them fell victim to.
Another element of the film that really shines is that the score and music are all outstanding in the degree to which they compliment the visual style of the film and the overall tone. There are some moments in the film where the music adds new depth to the scenes without ever overpowering the rest of what’s going on. In basic instrumentation and in some of the ways the score is used, it really recalls the kind of relationship between Argento and Goblin.

The short version of the story is that KISS OF THE DAMNED is a damned stylish movie. The story is decent, and the performances are able to hold the audience attention, but this is a film that’s really about style. It’s not something that all film makers can get away with. Often, those are the kinds of films that end up feeling empty and/or boring. This one doesn’t. It is able to use atmosphere, tone and style to overcome some of it’s lesser aspects and still create a film that’s fun, visually interesting and has that slight feeling of being something you wouldn’t want your mom to catch you watching. It’s not necessarily for everyone, but for the folks who can enjoy some of the more art house horror or can enjoy it when someone does something impressively stylish with a film, you won’t be disappointed.

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