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
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.