Loosely modeled after 1970s-style vampire flicks, Kiss of the Damned (2012) incorporates many of the iconic elements of films from that era, including the sparse opening credits in electric purple and pensive second-crew shots of treetops and the mundane, suddenly but illogically bathed in meaning. But is a nostalgia for that aesthetic enough to carry a contemporary film?
Kiss of the Damned begins as vampire Djuna locks eyes with a man across the video store. They broody, bearded writer, Paolo, follows her outside, invites her for a drink, and quickly finds himself at her place. When asked about her work and daytime availability, Djuna tells Paolo she has a “skin condition.” Alright. We’ll go along with that.
Sensing that her interest in Paolo is based on more than just an empty stomach, Djuna tells him to leave and not to call. Ever. Unfortunately for Paolo, he doesn’t listen. In fact, he responds by doing everything a girl would normally want her hot boyfriend to do: he calls, he comes over, he tries to steal a sordid kiss through the gap of her chained front door….
When it’s clear that Paolo just won’t go away (and that she really doesn’t want him to), Djuna invites him into her home, in a fun twist of the vampire-human invitation rule. She confides that she is a vampire, and in possibly the best kind of sexual foreplay ever, chains herself to the bed to prove it to him.
Djuna is a monster burdened by her curse. She doesn’t want to hurt Paolo, but she does want to show him her true self, so to speak. But Djuna’s dark side means nothing to Paolo, who calmly unchains her from her shackles mid-transformation and let’s her take him right there, body and neck vein. And just like that, they both commit to some unspeakable bond and pretty much decide to move in together. Again…: sure.
Djuna teaches Paolo the tricks of the vampire trade, most of which will sound pretty familiar to the viewer. In fact, most of the film’s allusions to 1970s-style films feel pretty familiar. They are subtle enough, and perhaps updated enough, that they don’t feel hokey or unnecessarily contrived. But when Djuna’s sister, Mimi, shows up, her entire first scene looks poorly overdubbed. If that was purposeful, it was unnecessary. But it passes quickly enough and her lips match her words for the remainder of the film.
Mimi and Djuna are quintessential opposites. The characters go out of their way to say as much, but the film also takes an opportunity to show the sisters’ differences side by side. We see Djuna and Paolo on a romantic date, dressed up at a fancy restaurant and planning a possibly infinite future together. Meanwhile, Mimi is dressed down, busy picking up some cute, fresh meat in the back alley of a loud night club. Their encounter is cut very short.
Just as soon as you begin to get used to the extreme closeups used in the film, you begin to wonder if something is wrong. Is Mimi the guiltless killer and troublemaker everyone makes her out to be? Is her presence making Juno and Paulo unravel at the seams? What does all this have to do with the high society vampire circle led by the stage actress, Zinnia? And do vampires ever get cold? (If their necklines are any indication, we’d say the answer is “no.”)
In the end, each vampire falls victim to his or her hungers. And each pays for their sins, though the “good” vampires are able to move forward together. Truthfully, none of it matters. Vampires live for centuries, carrying their burdens while being burdened by few of the memories they carry. They hunger, they must feed, they develop few meaningful connections to select mortals, and they move on with their unending, largely pointless lives. Or at least, that’s the feeling viewers are left with at the end of a film with no relatable characters except the ones who end up chopped up and buried in the back yard.
Kiss of the Damned didn’t particularly lack plot, nor was the storyline too complicated or unfulfilled. (Though, some of the plot did roll forward a little too easily.) It’s just that the “point” of the film wasn’t the story at all. Arguably, it wasn’t even the characters, their relationships, or any sort of opportunity for “character growth”—because there was none of that.
Like the 1970s-era films it emulates, Kiss of the Damned is about indulging in the deadly sins: lust, greed, hunger, envy, a little wrath. If that’s what you’re in the mood for, then this film offers you a short respite from your mortality. If you want something just as beautifully shot, but with richer, more tortured characters, we recommend Byzantium instead.
Kiss of the Damned rated a 17 by the criteria of our Great Vampire Challenge. It’s sufficiently vampire-y, with most of the usual vampire things, and lots of sexy vampire sex, but none of the heavy-handed contrived vampire social history. See how it ranks against other vampire films. Then check it out on Amazon Instant Video.