Vampire’s Kiss/High Spirits (Scream Factory Double Feature Blu-Ray) | Movie Review

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Vampire’s Kiss

I think that Vampire’s Kiss was made with Nicolas Cage in mind. I think that screenwriter Joseph Minion first thought, “I want to write a movie for Nic Cage,” and then from there decided that maybe a vampire movie about his character going crazy would work just perfectly for him. Honestly, Vampire’s Kiss is Cage at one of his craziest, most high-intensity performances; and as a comedy, it’s a pretty hilarious movie because of it. Director Robert Bierman knows how to channel the weird mannerisms of Cage, the moments of acting where it seems like he has no idea what he’s doing – in Vampire’s Kiss, it all seems intentional, even the purposefully terrible accent!

The film follows Cage’s character Peter Loew, a businessman who has excelled at his job because he’s pretty much the epitome of the phrase “prickish boss.” He tasks his underling Alva (Maria Conchita Alonso) with finding a very old contract hidden in thousands of other files, potentially filed incorrectly; it becomes her only task at work, and it also becomes a reason for Loew’s undoing. But when Loew’s not barking at his employees, he’s going out on the town to find women to sleep with; that is until one (Jennifer Beals) bites him on the neck, leaving him losing control as he transforms into the undead.

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For most of Vampire’s Kiss, the film isn’t about anything at all. It follows Loew as he goes about his day, quickly establishing him as a major ass and then showing how he becomes an even bigger one after his change. Bierman structures this around the stresses of the office; Alva gets a lot of pressure from Loew to find the report, not only because he wants to be an awful person to her but because the inability to find the contract is a symbol for loss of control in his own life. It’s actually a strong metaphor disguised as a Seinfeldian plot about nothing: while Vampire’s Kiss is relatively devoid of a regular narrative structure, it consistently comes back to the contract being the most important part of the story.

But what really makes Vampire’s Kiss a fun film is Cage’s performance, which is so hammy and outlandish that it’s virtually impossible not to laugh out loud. Obviously there are a lot of similarities to Cage’s off-screen behavior, but the exaggeration remains a hilarious part of the film’s portrayal of Loew. There’s a semblance of seriousness here; Bierman presents Loew’s vampire transformation as a form of insanity, that Loew, believing he’s undead, then accepts the usual behaviors of that. The man who normally has complete control of his life finds his psyche slipping, and it causes a landslide of paranoia.

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Cage really hits the humor here, both with his crazy expressions and intense outbursts of crazy rage. More than anything, the laughter comes from Cage attempting to adopt the vampire lifestyle; he perpetually wears sunglasses at work, then attempts to turn his couch into a coffin for sleeping. Eventually the tale takes a turn for the melodramatic in the tone-deaf last half (read: “I also raped someone last night”), but nothing really fails to fire after Cage talks to a brick wall for ten minutes.

Vampire’s Kiss really is a gem that horror fans should check out, especially now that Cage’s playful acts of insanity resonate into his real life. However, it’s not just the humor derived from Cage blowing up that makes the film work; it’s also the somewhat explicit way that Bierman explores mental illness and unconventional or deluded beliefs.

High Spirits

Ah, the romance of fresh infidelity. So sweet it is! Neil Jordan’s supernatural rom-com, where he gets credit for both writing and directing, stars Steve Guttenberg and Beverly D’Angelo as feuding husband-wife couple Jack and Sharon Crawford, visiting Castle Plunkett in Ireland on a getaway that actually becomes the reason for their divorce. They’re joined by a cast of wacky tourist types, all of them interested in Peter Plunkett’s (Peter O’Toole) ruse that the castle is newly haunted. From there, Jordan explores attempts to save the castle from Sharon’s money-hungry father, Mr. Brogan, after he threatens to force the Plunketts out of the deed; but more importantly, Jack falls in love with the ghost of Peter’s ancestor, prompting a night of passion on All Hallow’s Eve.

Jordan’s plot falters for the first half hour of the film, unsure exactly where it wants to touch down. The focus is on Peter’s castle and his attempts to save it; he concocts a zany castle contraption, sort of like the Mouse Trap of hauntings, to draw tourists for nightly visits. Never does he think this is not a good idea, even when every single one of his setups fails. O’Toole gives a delightful performance, especially during his drunken stagger through the castle, but High Spirits jumps away from saving the castle to the more immediate romance between Jack and Mary (Daryl Hannah).

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Jordan paints his characters in broad strokes, often to High Spirits‘ detriment. D’Angelo’s Sharon is a hoity-toity bitch, for lack of a better word, and though she plays it well – too well! – it’s hard to find any sympathy for her late in the film’s conclusion. Likewise, Guttenberg’s Jack is a stereotypical goofball unable to recognize the southward direction of his love life. But the biggest problem with High Spirits‘ plot is that it forces the viewer to accept that, after one chance meeting with Mary where he saves her from being murdered over and over again in her ghostly ritual, Jack falls in love without a doubt.

High Spirits is fantastical, and often that’s enough to win over the viewer’s disbelief. But the chemistry between Hannah and Guttenberg just isn’t strong enough, and part of that is because of the way Jordan is forced to juggle multiple characters that are really only present for a few gags, like Peter Gallagher’s Brother Tony and Jennifer Tilly’s Miranda. Even Liam Neeson as the murderous ghost Martin Brogan is a simple caricature, given enough time to set up the love interest between him and Sharon but nothing more.

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Still, High Spirits has a couple of funny moments, mostly at the expense of Guttenberg’s dimwitted character. These bits are fleeting, though, leaving the movie flailing about during the romantic aspects. Its thematic moral is also questionable at best: what is first meant to be a romantic getaway between Jack and Sharon becomes their undoing, where both cheat on the other and then find happiness in the arms of two ghosts, also leading to Sharon’s death in the process. One could argue that High Spirits is about finding love in the right place and recognizing the schism between couples, but at the same time, this is kind of sketchy gray area.

Special Features

The double-features from Scream Factory aren’t loaded with special features besides presenting the films in good Blu-Ray quality, but Vampire’s Kiss does have a commentary track with Nicolas Cage and Robert Bierman. Other than that, it’s just the films in excellent presentation and a nice menu setup for each film.

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