Vampires have been done to death. From "True Blood" to "Twilight" it seems like originality in the creatures of the night genre has been played out. So what makes "Kiss of the Damned," the new film about fanged folks from Xan Cassavetes of the famed Cassavetes clan so different? Long-toothed accouterments aside there’s a sexuality, sensuality and overall erotic vibe rife throughout the film that has long been missing from the politically correct fare of today’s films – think "Henry & June" for the bloodsucker crowd.
Captivating vampire Djuna is an undead gal with a routine. She sleeps days, awakens nights, feasts on animal blood in lieu of human and passes the time with ordinary distractions like watching movies. But one day while scouring the video store shelves she becomes entranced by screenwriter Paolo and the chemistry is hot and heavy. So much so that when she finally reveals to the smitten Paolo her animal condition, he not only embraces it but happily joins her in immortality. Enter Mimi. As Djuna’s troubled and power hungry sis, Mimi runs through life like a house on fire and soon Djuna and her love story become kindling for the feisty female with high ambition.
There’s a familiarity within "Kiss of the Damned" – a jealous sister out to get her due, a love too good to last, the ups and downs of being a vampire, ect. – but it’s all colorful background to one of the sexiest thrillers in recent years. Unafraid to show sin, skin and unbridled passion, Cassavetes follows the inspired style of greats like Adrian Lyne and Atom Egoyan whose goal is to stimulate not simply titillate. And her three willing leads all pull their own emotionally and physically honest character weight with massive screen bravado. Josephine de La Baume as the captivating yet cautious Djuna, Milo Ventimiglia (in the best work of his career!) as the infatuated Paolo and especially Roxane Mesquida as the mischievous Mimi all provide the necessary sizzle and substance that elevates Cassavetes work above the typical erotic thriller fare.
It’s rather fitting that the magnetic poster for "Kiss of the Damned" is designed by artist extraordinaire Akiko Stehrenberger. Both her and Cassavetes have a rare captivating emotional sensibility that comes across loud and clear in their work. "Kiss of the Damned" follows those few films that take on an age-old fable and still give us a reason to watch. More then just a flashy skin flick with style, "Kiss of the Damned" lays all its ample wares passionately barren for all to see – its this power and not a simple vampire bite that takes the breath away.