Ah, February! Mardi gras, pancakes, romance, Eat Ice-Cream for Breakfast Day and Women in Horror Month! In support for the latter, I thought this month that I’d focus on a few of my favourite female directors, writers and artists, and because the best romances come decadently dressed with a splash of violence and gore, this week I’m looking at Xan Cassavetes’ Kiss of the Damned.
Act I: The lovely Djuna (Josephine de la Baume) glides through her lakeside mansion with supernatural elegance, apparently anaesthetised by the impeccably tasteful arias playing continually on her 1970s hi-fi. A loyal housekeeper keeps a watchful eye during daylight hours, whilst at night Djuna can variously be found hunting wild animals to satisfy her vampiric blood-lust, or popping down the shops to pick up handsome young men. Thus begins her affair with Paolo, played by Heroes‘ Milo Ventimiglia. Rugged yet soulful, screenwriter Paolo brings a whiff of excitement to Djuna’s relentlessly bland cycle of opera and bush tucker. When, after an industrial snogging accident, Paolo finds himself unexpectedly nosferatu novitatis, Djuna welcomes her young beau to the liberal vampire lifestyle. Soon, the pair are romping through the woods together and drinking ‘politically correct plasma’ with the well-heeled vampire set, but before long their romantic idyll is knocked into a cocked hat by the arrival of Djuna’s libertine sister, Mimi (Roxane Mesquida).
Kiss of the Damned is beautifully photographed, with a rich palette of warm amber and Prussian blues shot through with visceral reds, and the soundtrack too, is thoughtfully put together. Recalling Angelo Badalamenti’s work on Lost Highway and Fire Walk with Me, fuzz guitars and metallic synths rub up against crackling trip-hop beats, whilst Steve Hufsteter’s ‘Love Theme‘ conjures up a vibe of seventies eurotica. As Tim Lucas notes, the stylish visuals and moody soundtrack give the film a consciously retro feel which evokes the ‘glossy vampires’ of Daughters of Darkness and The Hunger,  yet in terms of characters, the dynamic between Djuna and Mimi also shares common ground with the mother – daughter tensions of Neil Jordan’s Byzantium. As in that film, Kiss of the Damned uses vampire mythology to explore the idea of becoming trapped for an eternity in a dysfunctional family relationship, yet it feels as though Cassavetes could have taken this idea further, as her vampire sisters never stray too far from good girl/bad girl stereotypes. More fun and interesting is Cassavetes’ idea of a sophisticated vampire matriarchy. Although it borrows much from True Blood, as Lucas also points out , a scene which depicts a group of snobbish vampires bemoaning their disempowerment in human society is sharply funny.
Overall, Kiss of the Damned succeeds as an entertaining tale which puts an interesting spin on aspects of the vampire myth, without trying to reinvent it, and benefits from some engaging characters who are sympathetic without being stripped of their monstrosity (spoiler: no sparkles). The plot isn’t entirely flawless, but the snags are largely forgivable, mainly because it’s very easy to be seduced by the film’s dark deliciousness. Bloody gorgeous.
Kiss of the Damned is available on Netflix, and on Blu-Ray Regions A & B and DVD Regions 1 & 2.
,  Lucas, T., 2014; Video Watchdog #176
© RMRenfield and Blackwood Article, 2015