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‘Vampire’s Kiss’ (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 02, 1989

"Vampire's Kiss" is a one-of-a-kind movie, proving -- for all time, perhaps -- that singularity can be as much of a curse as it is a blessing.

What it also proves is that it is possible for a person to stay in New York too long. Take Peter, for example: young, well-to-do, handsome, a successful literary agent by day, womanizing bar crawler by night -- a dictionary-definition yuppie.

As yuppies go, Peter is one of the stranger ones, particularly as Nicolas Cage plays him. One night, he picks up a sultry number in a red dress (Jennifer Beals) who proceeds, once they're in bed, to satisfy herself by feasting on his jugular. Almost immediately he begins to feel run down and anxious. Little tensions become gargantuan. When his secretary (Maria Conchita Alonso) is unable to locate a contract, he jumps up on top of her desk, shouting madly and wagging his forefinger in her face. Mirrors, too, become something of a sore point.

Gradually, as his behavior grows more and more erratic, Peter becomes convinced that he has turned into a vampire. He hasn't, though -- not really. Of course, metaphorically, he's been a kind of parasite for years, preying on young women, using them and disposing of them. It's on this symbolic level that the picture sets up camp. But using words like metaphor and symbol is a stretch in this context. It makes the picture appear to be up to something, and it's not -- at least not something worthwhile.

Directed by Robert Bierman, "Vampire's Kiss" is stone-dead bad, incoherently bad, but it goes all the way with its premise -- and when I say all the way I mean all the way. You've heard of actors making a strong choice and going with it? Well, see it in the flesh! Stomping, snorting, his hair hanging over his eyes like a curtain of foppish dementia, Cage acts as if he has been taking hits off of Dennis Hopper's gas mask. There's no way to overstate it: This is scorched-earth acting -- the most flagrant scenery chewing I've ever seen. Part Dwight Frye in "Dracula," part Tasmanian devil, Cage makes the previous champ -- Crispin Glover in "River's Edge" -- look like Perry Como.

If Bierman had been able to create a compatible comic atmosphere the movie might have become an instant cult classic. And even with Cage, you have to fight your way through the uncertainties of tone, the funereal pace and the inept staging to find any enjoyment. Still, you're not exactly sure if the material is meant to be funny or is laughable merely by default.

Cage makes sure that we're never bored, though. In one scene he gobbles down a live pigeon; in another, he converts his sofa into a makeshift coffin by turning it upside down and lowering it down on himself. No amount of description can prepare you for these mad excesses. They have to be seen to be believed.

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