August 1, 2013

Kiss of the Damned (2012)

Directed by Xan Cassavettes. Starring Jos├ęphine de La Baume ("Djuna"), Milo Ventimiglia ("Paolo"), Roxane Mesquida ("Mimi"), and Anna Mouglalis ("Xenia"). Rated R.

Source: Region 1 DVD (Magnet/Magnolia)
Running time: 01:35:22
Country: USA

In second-generation filmmaker Alexandra "Xan" Cassavettes's feature-length directorial debut, KISS OF THE DAMNED, a lonely female vampire named Djuna is on the verge of settling down with her new male companion Paolo when her younger sister Mimi (also a vampire) makes an unexpected visit and intrudes on their lives. KISS OF THE DAMNED doesn't break any new ground whatsoever in the vampire genre, but the style-over-substance approach by Cassavettes results in a moody and beautifully-shot throwback to the atmospheric vampire films of the 70s, like DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS and the films of Jess Franco and Jean Rollin to name a few.

KISS OF THE DAMNED is your typical romantic vampire tale that focuses on the inherent loneliness and tragedy of being a blood-sucker who lives eternally. For me, the relationship between Djuna and Paolo is secondary to the relationship between Djuna and her sister Mimi, played wonderfully by French actress Roxane Mesquida (RUBBER, SHEITAN). I especially like how they oppose each other, as not just sisters but as vampires, personalities, and territorial creatures. Whereas Djuna is the older, wiser, and more old-fashioned sister who longs for romance and feeds mostly on animals, Mimi is the immature and rebellious one who carelessly kills other humans and has multiple sexual partners.

In an interview with Roxane Mesquida, she suggests that perhaps her character doesn't even exist in the context of the film and is merely a figment of Djuna's imagination. There's evidence that would suggest otherwise, but I can see Mimi as an alter-ego of Djuna if I were to suspend disbelief or look a little more deeply into it than what's on the surface. Speaking of Roxane, she's pretty amazing in this. I've been a huge fan of her ever since I first took notice of her in the bat-shit crazy SHEITAN, in which she showed glimpses of being able to play an evil character. In KISS OF THE DAMNED, her ability to play a convincing (but likable) antagonist is fully realized. Her character's intro is also one of the highlights of the film.

As I said, KISS OF THE DAMNED treads familiar waters and it touches on a lot of the conventions of the vampire genre and the traits of vampirism in film (the sudden uncontrollable urge to drain someone of blood, the heightening of senses, erotic, etc.); it's just a matter of what Xan brings to the table in terms of style and characters. KISS OF THE DAMNED is stylish more in the sense that it's successfully atmospheric throughout rather than it being 90-something minutes of eye candy, although it should be said that this film is beautifully-shot and framed for the most part. The most concise way I can sum it up is: imagine the opening credits of THE HUNGER stretched out for an entire film. That said, a lot of the credit for the film's atmosphere goes to the haunting and sexy soundtrack comprised of Noise Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Drone, and an original score by Steven Hufsteter that sounds somewhat inspired by Mike Patton's work as a composer.

The vibe I got from KISS OF THE DAMNED was that Cassavettes took a concept and maybe some visuals and decided to build a film around it without a concrete idea of what she wanted to do. I don't mean that in a bad way, but it does come across to me like a quick production that Cassavettes executed with the help of friends and limited resources. I don't know if that's the case or not, but, judging by her commentary track on the DVD (what little of it I listened to anyway), I would assume she took some general ideas and themes and jumped into it head-first just for the sake of expressing whatever was swirling around in her head. Whatever the case, it works. Ultimately, because of Cassavette's knowledge of film and her apparent interest in art, KISS OF THE DAMNED is whatever you want it to be: a spoof, a satire, a sincere contribution to the vampire genre, etc. While it does meander and lose momentum at times, KISS OF THE DAMNED has everything you could want in a sexy, moody vampire film, and it's a successful throwback to the artsy vampire movies of yester-year.

Score: 7


  1. Great review, brotha! I've heard some good things about this one, and you dropping Rollin's name and comparing it to the opening of The Hunger is certainly intriguing to my taste. Also, I too dug Roxane Mesquida in Sheitan. I need to get my hands on this one asap!

  2. Thanks, man! I hope you enjoy or appreciate it. Either way, I'd love to know what you think of this one.