Released in 1989 ▪ Review posted December 15, 2013
“The main difference between men and women is that men are lunatics and women are idiots.”
I spent most of my childhood in Little Rock, Arkansas, and as a consequence, I have a lot of heartwarming—and soul-crushing—stories.
The first time I saw Fargo falls toward the soul-crushing end of the spectrum. I was 13 years old and starting to understand cynicism, and as I watched the movie, something clicked. I was chuckling through most of the beginning, but by the time the kidnapping scene rolled around I was doubled over. It was only when it was over that I realized almost no one had been laughing but me.
I was stopped twice on the way out. Once because my “inappropriate laughter” had ruined someone’s experience, and then again because if I truly felt what I saw was funny, I needed to find Jesus and let him into my heart.
And so my love of dark comedy was born. I made it a point to find and watch as many films from this genre as possible. I quickly figured out there’s a big difference between a dark comedy and a dark comedy that’s actually funny. It is in the crevasse between funny and earnestly trying to be funny that we find Vampire’s Kiss.
Reviewing this movie presents a specific difficulty. Can I make an objective assessment of Nicolas Cage’s acting when the movie being reviewed is the one most often used to show that Cage’s acting is bad? This is the movie that turned him into an internet meme. Out-of-context clips like this one do not help.
You know what else is hysterical taken out of context? This. Yet that scene is not actually hysterical. In the greater context of The Shining, that is arguably the scariest scene in any movie of that decade.
Here’s another example—Michael Douglas demanding fast food breakfast at gunpoint. Hysterical. But the broader point is the character’s inability to deal with arbitrary rituals and American social norms, or to confront the horrible truth that life is unfair, advertising is fraud, the “American dream” (as Arthur Miller would call it) is dead, etc. If that type of melodramatic portrayal of the postmodern “alpha male’s” mental collapse is so reproachable, how did Nicholson and Douglas get away with it?
It is this exact horror that plagues Nic Cage’s character, Peter Loew, in Vampire’s Kiss, and accordingly it drives him insane. While the fatal flaw of the movie is that it is too ahead of its time, Nicolas Cage’s performance is fantastic. He nails it to the floor. Stakes it to the floor, even.
In addressing the specific flaws of Vampire’s Kiss, let’s take a moment to admit that American Psycho is ostensibly the same movie made with the advantage of hindsight, twelve years later in 2000: A man, no longer able to maintain the high-powered businessman persona he has cultivated, suffers a prolonged mental collapse and becomes aggressive and violent to women.
American Psycho is ultimately better, as the brutality against women is so horrific that the “slow” moments become necessary so the viewer can take a break, all the while nervously aware that the cycle of brutality will soon start again. American Psycho takes a hint from Vonnegut and starts the film with Patrick Bateman already deep into psychosis. In Vampire’s Kiss, you are forced to watch Lowe go crazy—an interesting character study, but poor pacing.
About this movie, The A.V. Club said, “A performance like Nicolas Cage’s gonzo turn in the brilliant 1989 black comedy Vampire’s Kiss—and this is true of many Nicolas Cage performances—raises the question of what good acting really means.” That review discusses many points made by Cage Match so far: that Nicolas Cage challenges what constitutes “good” acting, that he rises to the occasion of any screenplay regardless of what it’s about, and that Cage benefits greatly from a skilled casting director.
Vampire’s Kiss, though a bit of a miss as a black comedy, gives us one of the great “built to unravel” performances of Cage’s career (a couple of others are Leaving Las Vegas and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans). I recommend you watch it, because under all the absurdity, Cage’s performance is magical. It’s the acting equivalent of Ravel’s Boléro. Unlike Boléro, however, Cage’s performance was foisted on an audience much less receptive to its style.
All of Vampire’s Kiss can be watched for free on YouTube, for educational purposes only. [Unfortunately, this video has been removed since this review was published.]
- How was the movie?
- Ahead of its time
- How was Nic Cage’s acting?
- Did his performance make the movie worse?
- Not at all