Review: Vampire’s Kiss (1988)




“A vampire, you idiot! Nosferatu! Christ! The tortures of the damned!” Peter Loew cries to a man who is entering the house of God. Loew is drenched in the blood of his last victim. Hallucinating, tortured by daylight and holding a wooden stake to relieve himself from his brand new miserable existence, he roams the streets of Manhattan.

It seems like a strange start to dedicate Filmfroth’s first review to the actor that made us curl up and laugh in agony  more often than any actor should, but we might as well call it a glorious genesis for the site. Let’s talk Nicolas Cage, in all his bloodsucking, vampiric post-coital, neon cross fearing majesty. Let’s talk Vampire’s Kiss.

Robert Bierman’s Vampire’s Kiss is in itself a not-so-strange movie about a literary agent who thinks he is slowly turning into a vampire. Add Nicolas Cage to that formula and you get one of the most intriguing films in the history of moving pictures. Vampire’s Kiss has become a notorious classic because of Cage’s performance, but beneath this hard-to-look-past one-man’s extravaganza is a film with strengths that are worth noting.



Nicolas Cage’s facial expression in one scene has become a rather overused meme all over the internet. The film stills that are turned into memes are often violently pulled out of their context and given a radical new meaning. However, this might not be the case with the famous Cage face. The tricks Cage pulls off with his eyebrows are in no way essential to the plot and thus in themselves heavily defy their context. This might be said for the whole of Cage’s presence in Vampire’s Kiss: his overly present over-acting is raging on an entirely different level than his surroundings. The way he aggressively recites the alphabet in front of his psychiatrist, the way he roams Manhattan screaming inaudible things, the way he heroically throws back his annoyingly arrogant hair after fighting off a bat is just… well, it’s all pretty weird. And that’s what makes it so amazing.

And so Vampire’s Kiss becomes a Nicolas Cage ordeal. We would like to see the film for what it is, but we can’t hear its logic when the noise of Peter Loew’s smug accent rages on top of it. However, underneath is a film that is actually trying to tell its viewers something. I don’t think Vampire’s Kiss is trying to teach us a lesson, it’s just too weird for that. What the film does is deliver a rather coherent and actually clever narrative, about a young professional who is losing his mind or actually turning into a vampire.

Indeed, the young Peter Loew has reasons galore to go insane, which the film implicitly and sometimes explicitly shows its viewers. First there is the very obvious Kafkaesque nightmare Loew’s career is forcing him into, which he in turn forces upon his secretary Alva. Both are plagued by an untraceable contract hidden deep within the archives, which seems to be one of the main events driving Peter insane. Surrounded by women and tortured by his sexual drive, he drifts between his regular yuppie existence and his new life as a vampire.

Vampire’s Kiss‘s opening credits consist only of shots of Manhattan’s skyline, accompanied by unsettling shitty 80’s music, and after Loew has put in his plastic fangs and has gone to sleep in his provisional coffin (an upside-down leather couch), the film continues with a one and a half minute long montage of a day in Manhattan, showing buildings and traffic with shitty 80’s music again. It’s rather clear that Peter’s concrete hometown oppresses, even agonizes him. After his transformation, whatever it may signify, is complete, Loew desperately stumbles through Manhattan, having a daydream fantasy about his psychiatrist being very casual about the fact that Loew is a murderer and presenting him with, presumably, the love of his life.

The mental background of Vampire’s Kiss main character delivers us from Cage’s hollow but fantastic performance, and so the division between Cage and the plot results in a film that is highly enjoyable and still gives its audience enough to care about behind Cage’s confusing eyebrows. A word of advice: enjoy Nicolas Cage in all his glory, and try to treasure this disastrously hilarious film for what lies beyond Cage’s performance.