Screenwriter Joseph Minion scored a success in 1986 when his script for AFTER HOURS, written while a student at NYU, was filmed by Martin Scorsese. This led to a brief run of highly eccentric independent films scripted or directed by Minion—including DADDY’S BOYS and MOTORAMA—with VAMPIRE’S KISS being the first of those films to arrive in 1989, distributed (barely) by the late Hemdale Film Corporation and produced by Barry Shils (who also co-produced and directed the Minion scripted MOTORAMA).
Nicolas Cage signed onto this freaky project after hitting it big with MOONSTRUCK, a daring and unexpected choice. He plays Peter, a slimy NYC literary agent who cheats on his girlfriend and harasses his immigrant secretary. One night Peter finds a vampire bat flapping around his apartment, and the following evening picks up an alluring vampire babe in a bar. Peter takes her back to his apartment and she bites him on the neck.
From there Peter starts doing weird things like gobbling cockroaches and chatting with people who aren’t actually present. He also steps up his harassment of his secretary, and, in a fit of total insanity, rapes her in the basement of their workplace.
Peter decides he’s a vampire. He buys a pair of plastic vampire teeth from a novelty shop and acts out the part, going out at night and sleeping during the day in a makeshift coffin (actually his living room couch tipped over). But when Peter actually kills a woman by chomping her neck, the police are alerted to his activities—and nor is his secretary’s tough mechanic brother especially happy about his sister being raped by Peter…
What makes this humorous yet gross and oddly discomforting film interesting is the fact that it never quite reveals its hand as to whether it’s an eccentric horror movie or corporate satire. In truth it’s both, not unlike AMERICAN PSYCHO without the pretension.
Its shortcomings are those of screenwriter Joseph Minion, who based on his three major screenplays (VAMPIRE’S KISS, AFTER HOURS, MORORAMA) comes up with wonderfully bizarre concepts but has trouble organizing them into a compelling whole, and rarely ever provides a satisfying conclusion. It’s well known that Martin Scorsese heavily reworked Minion’s ending for AFTER HOURS, yet VAMPIRE’S KISS director Robert Bierman lacked Scorsese’s skill and experience. Thus the script’s flaws are fully evident in the finished film, which is bold and unique, yes, but also disjointed, uneven and burdened with a really crummy ending.
Yet the lead turn by Nicolas Cage makes it work. Speaking with a ludicrous upper-crust accent and affecting seriously outrageous postures and expressions (Cage has admitted that in one pivotal scene his primary motivation was to see how far he could open his eyes), it’s one of the most out-of-control performances of all time, and eclipses those of everyone else in this film (whose cast includes skilled players like Maria Conchita Alonso, Elizabeth Ashley and future director Kasi Lemmons). I don’t know that I’d call Cage’s work here “good,” but it is an undoubted standout in the field of over-the-top emoting, up there with the work of such unfettered thespians as John Carradine, Oliver Reed and Klaus Kinski.
Hemdale Film Corporation
Director: Robert Bierman
Producers: Barry Shils, Barbara Zitwer
Screenplay: Joseph Minion
Cinematography: Stefan Czapsky
Editing: Angus Newton
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Maria Conchita Alonso, Jennifer Beals, Elizabeth Ashley, Kasi Lemmons, Bob Lujan, Jessica Lundy, Johnny Walker, Boris Leskin, Michael Knowles, John Michael Higgins