A sly tongue-in-cheek tribute to old-school horror films, especially Tony Scott’s “The Hunger” and giallo maestros like Mario Bava and Dario Argento, Xan Cassavetes’ vampire story “Kiss of the Damned” reps a fitting debut feature from the director of movie-buff-tastic docu “Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession.” Saucily thumbing its nose at the insipid teen love of the “Twilight” franchise, “Kiss” reimagines its bloodsuckers as horny, supercilious Eurotrash with addiction issues, sucking the life blood from naive American thrill-seekers. Rapacious lovers of cult cinema will sink their fangs into this when Magnolia’s genre arm Magnet releases it later this year.In a Connecticut mansion nestled in the countryside, vampire Djuna (Josephine de la Baume), a translucent strawberry blonde decked out in quasi-Victorian duds and Agent Provocateur lingerie, sleeps by day and hunts animals by night, cared for by loyal, mortal servant Irene (Ching Valdes-Aran). Screenwriter Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) is so smitten, he willingly sacrifices his humanity in order to enjoy undead kicks and an eternity in the sack with her. However, a snake soon enters the garden of their deathless love, in the shape of Djuna’s vampy-in-every-sense sister, Mimi (Roxane Mesquida), a “disturbed creature,” as Djuna describes her, who can’t resist feasting on humans, particularly at the climactic moment during sex. Mimi is supposedly just passing through on her way to vampire rehab in Phoenix, sponsored by the mansion’s philanthropic-minded owner Xenia (Anna Mouglalis), a well-known Broadway actress who never does matinees. Xenia, reminiscent of a society grande dame, wants her fellow vampires to give up human blood in favor of that of animals, or even artificial plasma. The issue is debated during an amusing Gotham-set party scene where many of the supporting roles are played by filmmaking friends of the helmer, such as producer Stephen Winter and director Jonathan Caouette (“Tarnation”), channeling wealthy hipsters with decadent appetites. As some might expect, given Cassavetes insider heritage, and taking into account “Z Channel,” “Kiss” is veritably soaked in the blood of movie lore, riffing on De Sica and Bunuel, among others, with digs at the industry that include a blood-sucking agent, played by Michael Rapaport. Shot on an Alexa digital rig by Tobias Datum, the visuals are lush, and the colors slightly lurid in a good ’80s way that matches the femmes’ subtly retro fashions. The quick-cut hunting scenes are referential and genuinely creepy. Other tech credits are pro, especially the spooky mesh of sound and music.
A Magnet release of a Deerjen, Verisimilitude production in association with Bersin Pictures. (International sales: Magnolia Intl., New York.) Produced by Jen Gatien, Alex Orlovsky. Executive producers, Adam S. Bersin, Jacob Pechenik, Riaz Tyab, Jonathan Vinnik, Jesse Itzler. Co-producers, Jacob Jaffke, Jonathan Montepare, John F. Lyons. Co-executive producer, Dawn Cullen Jonas. Directed, written by Xan Cassavetes.
Camera (Deluxe color, Arri widescreen, HD), Tobias Datum; editors, Taylor Gianotas, John F. Lyons; music, Steven Hufsteter, Demdike Stare; production designer, Chris Trujillo; art director, Ian Salter; set decorator, Daniel R. Kersting; costume designer, Audrey Louise Reynolds; sound (Dolby Digital), Michael Sterkin; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Eric Offin; special effects make-up, Ozzy Alvarez; visual effects supervisors, Eric Alba, Jim Rider; visual effects, Method Studios; stunt coordinator, Anthony Vincent; assistant director, Josh Newport; casting, Kerry Barden. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Critics' Week), Sept. 6, 2012. Running time: 96 MIN.
Josephine de la Baume, Milo Ventimiglia, Roxane Mesquida, Anna Mouglalis, Ching Valdes-Aran, Michael Rapaport, Riley Keough, Maria Hassabi, Luis Gispert, Jefferson Bjoraker, Jonathan Caouette, Stephen Winter.