Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Cinema File #285: "Kiss Of The Damned" Review

Rounding out my impromptu trilogy of female-centric vampire movies from the past year, Kiss Of The Damned is a trashy throwback to 70's exploitation cinema with presumptions of artsy flair and just enough knowing nods to the old school horror canon to almost make you forget how shallow and messy it all is. It begins in the dark woods as a demonic, blood soaked killer stalks its prey and howls at the night, with a title card font taken straight out of a Hammer movie, ultimately promising more than it is capable of delivering. There are more than a few memorably stylish moments, maybe just enough to justify one viewing, but in its meandering attempt to do too much with too little, it fails to live up to the classics it is so obviously trying to emulate.

Kiss Of The Damned is the story of a tortured vampiress living alone in a mansion who reluctantly falls in love with a human, turning him into one of her kind so that she can introduce him into her world, only for the dark side of that world to threaten their burgeoning romance. In many ways, the film feels like a very deliberate antidote to the Twilight series, a defiant reaction against so much mushy sentimentality by insisting that monsters need not sacrifice what makes them so monstrous in order to find love. Also, they fuck a lot, and I mean A LOT. I ordinarily wouldn't be so prurient as to put so fine a point on it, but its such a central and recurring aspect of the movie that clearly it was meant to be the thing you take away from it. The savage love scene that sets the plot in motion feels like that beat the entire script was written around, and if Kiss Of The Damned has one overriding flaw, its that shooting kinky bitey sex is not in and of itself a reason to make a movie.

Its shot very well, but in that certain sleazy way that suggests one is masking a desire to indulge in gratuitous vulgarity with a pretentious art house sensibility. If you've ever seen The Hunger, just imagine that film as written and directed by Joe Eszterhas and you'll have some idea how Kiss of the Damned is composed. I wouldn't have as much of a problem if the story weren't so all over the place. The film's momentum is as scattershot as its tone, jumping back and forth between gory violence, softcore steam, and indie chic as it struggles to figure out exactly what kind of movie it wants to be. In the end, it settles for an unsatisfying mish mass of disparate styles and a noticeable lack of substance underpinning them. The most disappointing part is that it actually gets the mythology mostly right, or at least better than most modern vampire movies, but its so preoccupied with its flourishes that it barely has time to establish the rules, doing so in a voice over drowned out by the score.

As I alluded to earlier, there are reasons to like Kiss of the Damned, or at least moments that provide a brief respite from everything else that's wrong with it. For once, the vampires are actually vampires, not just humans with fangs and bloodlust, and even if some of them are trying to kick the blood habit and live a normal life, the beast inside is ever present and depicted with a reverence for this classic cinematic creature. One scene almost feels like an exorcism, or more accurately the exorcism of a werewolf as a vampire is chained to a bed and tempted into mindless savagery, and when they hunt, they're almost zombie-like in their insatiable hunger. The end features one of the best examples of a vampire dying by the light of the sun in recent memory (especially since so few vampires fear the sun anymore), and its the only movie I can think of that treats it as a radiation sickness rather than a heat issue, which is really clever and visually intense. It is in these moments that you get the impression that someone involved with this movie really wanted to pay tribute to the great horror films of the past, but just when it feels like things are looking up, the movie goes right back up its own ass again trying to marry the homage with a modern flair that just doesn't work.

Kiss of the Damned is not a total loss, and out of the three movies haphazardly wedged together into its Frankenstein-like story, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed at least one of them. In a way, the film is sort of a weird middle ground between the previous two films I reviewed in this trilogy, bloody, sex fueled, and unsentimental like Fright Night 2, and just a bit too full of itself like Byzantium. As vampire films go, you could do a lot worse, but they could have done a hell of a lot better, and the only reason I even feel comfortable recommending it is because so few similar movies even meet the low standard that it sets for itself. With the dearth of genuinely good vampire movies being made, a decent if misguided attempt is almost worth it, just to get the taste of shiny baseball playing vampire tweens out of your mouth. Okay, that sounded better in my head, but you get the idea. Also, stay tuned for the hot female version of Tommy Wiseau, you know, if that's a thing you're into.

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