October 31, 2020

Nick Cage’s ruins film ‘Vampire’s Kiss’

Chances are if you hear about ‘Vampire’s Kiss,’ it will be through a meme or clip of Cage screaming his ABC’s in a terrible British accent. 

In the fall of 1987, Nicolas Cage ran into the women’s restroom, fired a revolver into his mouth, caught a pigeon, ate a cockroach, and ran through the New York City streets screaming, “I’m a vampire,” at homeless people. Why? Because Nicolas Cage is crazy. But he was also starring in a movie called “Vampire’s Kiss,” which is also crazy. Now I will talk about “Vampire’s Kiss.” Because I might be crazy too. 

First, the plot, I guess we can start there. The film follows Peter Loew, a well off publishing executive in New York. Loew’s life is pretty sweet except for being unable to maintain a romantic relationship. During a one night stand, he comes home to a bat in his apartment. Maybe it bites him, maybe he just swats at it to no avail. Regardless, he leaves the apartment and all seems well. Then he meets a woman who turns out to be a vampire, or maybe she’s not. Either way, she bites his neck. After this, he starts going into fugue states. These are usually characterized by some wild and aggressive behavior towards women, mainly his secretary, Alva. Noting this weird activity, he logically concludes that he is turning into a vampire. Eventually, this leads to the things I mentioned in the first paragraph. This is the plot, but viewing what happens is far more important than connecting point A to B.

The bizarre world of “Vampire’s Kiss” results in a crisis of tonality. Is it a dark comedy? Is it satire? Is it a horror film? It’s kind of all those things, and sometimes it tries to be each one in a single scene. So we get Cage’s accented antics accentuated by mimes, fake guns, and plastic fangs. The script has numerous interesting ideas about relationships, city life and mental health; but it seems to be in a manic scramble to blurt them all out at once. Naturally, at the center of this is Cage himself. He’s simultaneously the strongest element and weakest link. Many people quip about his performance and chalk it up to bad acting. However, bad acting involves either overacting or an inability to act. Cage has neither of those issues. 

His commitment to this role is laudable. In a commentary with the director, he talks about the bizarre state he was in during the production, speaking lines to his cat in a hotel room and coming up with strange character motivations. He insisted on eating two live cockroaches just so it would be real. It’s a performance so erratic that the viewer barely has time to gain a foothold. Something is galvanizing about it as well though. You can’t look away, especially in the third act when the film focuses explicitly on mental health. He gives an insane performance in service of a character that is losing his mind. 

Chances are if you hear about “Vampire’s Kiss” it will be through a meme or clip of Cage screaming his ABC’s in a terrible British accent. The film has gained a cult following since its 1989 release, but not in a flattering way. The podcasting circles that it resonates in are usually of the “oh hey, Mark” ilk. This is understandable. Tommy Wiseau screaming about Lisa shares some similarities with wide-eyed Nicolas Cage yelling at his secretary. However, I would argue that equating “Vampire’s Kiss” to a so-bad-it’s-good category of film is a disservice. The elements that are being ridiculed are essential to this strange story of a man who cannot connect with others and ultimately spirals into his own psyche. In this respect, the film portrays an accurate, ugly, and compelling depiction of mental illness. It’s crazy, but there’s a fine line between its genius and insanity.

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