As film fans, there’s always a handful of films that we allow to pass us by. This isn’t necessarily indicative of their quality or our willingness to enjoy them – sometimes, we’re just a little late to the party.
The career of Nicolas Cage makes for a singular case study. He is by far one of the most unique and divisive figures in Hollywood, and his career showcases a staggering variety of ability. Despite his massive success, Cage remains one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors, mostly because his eccentricity often conceals his talent.
Perhaps no film from Cage’s early career better encapsulates this idea than Vampire’s Kiss, a dark comedy following a man who begins to have delusions that he’s a vampire. Cage’s performance in the film is legendary, although potentially for the wrong reasons – it features a number of scenes and even single frames which live on in infamy as the perfect representations of Cage’s unhinged on-screen antics. However, Vampire’s Kiss is so much more.
Cage stars as Peter Loeb, a highly strung literary agent with intimacy issues. Loeb’s transformation over the course of Vampire’s Kiss is only partly imaginary; though he believes he’s becoming a vampire, he’s simply spiraling as his mental state deteriorates and his world begins to collapse around him. Though at a glance this may seem to be a commentary on mental illness, the message of Vampire’s Kiss is actually far more complicated.
Loeb’s transformation ultimately stems from his loneliness and his detachment from others. His chosen life keeps him distant from others and afraid of true intimacy, and a chance encounter with a bat sets him on a path of vampiric delusions. Loeb’s belief that he’s becoming a vampire is hyperbole – his journey to better himself has become too difficult to bear, and he results to investing himself in another type of transformation entirely.
Of course, much could be read into such themes, but Vampire’s Kiss doesn’t bog itself down in the details of its symbolism. Instead, it’s a simple but well-told story of the self-destructive spiral of Peter Loeb, with any deeper considerations gracefully concealed within its subtext. This makes Vampire’s Kiss feel marginally superficial, although there are a plethora of details that make it a much deeper and more rewarding film than it may otherwise seem.
Another example of the misleading presentation of Vampire’s Kiss is Nicolas Cage’s performance. Widely known as one of the most insane performances in a career filled with insane performances, Vampire’s Kiss sees Cage deliver his lines in a bizarre pseudo-Transylvanian accent, leap onto tables, scream him lines, bulge his eyes, and even recite the alphabet. Taking these moments out of context (or even watching them in context) makes Cage look as unhinged as Loeb himself, but there’s a subtle genius to Cage’s performance that doesn’t become entirely clear until the final scenes of Vampire’s Kiss.
The excessive physicality that Cage brings to the role is obvious, as is the actor’s strange choice of accent. However, a late delusion reveals that the escalation of these traits has been a part of Loeb’s transformation, also highlighting just how much the character has changed over the course of the film without it being expressly obvious. The gradual decline of Loeb is unmistakable – he goes from a successful and well-respected literary agent to running through the streets blood-soaked and disheveled screaming for strangers to kill him – but the extent of his transformation is revealed in a brilliantly edited scene that shows both Loeb’s delusion and his reality. Through this, the brilliance of Vampire’s Kiss really shines through, and it’s something that enriches the entire experience.
A film as subtle and deliberately ambiguous as Vampire’s Kiss was always bound to be divisive, but there’s a reason it attracted a cult following. Vampire’s Kiss is an excellent example of Cage’s wealth of talent, as well as his knack for turning eccentricity into art. Though Vampire’s Kiss lives on in infamy as one of Nicolas Cage’s most insane performances, it’s also one of his finest movies, thanks to a sound combination of writing, directing, and acting.
Summary: Vampire’s Kiss is a film capable of inspiring amusement and deeper thought in equal measure. Nicolas Cage demonstrates the depth and breadth of his talent in a movie so bizarre it was always destined to be a cult classic.
Highlights: There are a number of scenes that stand out as highlights, because Cage is truly electrifying in his on-screen insanity.