Kiss Of The Damned (a film review by Frank Ochieng).

Writer-director Xan Cassavetes makes an ambitious yet misguided attempt to sink her teeth into the neck of the vampire vixen market courtesy of her brooding bloodsucking drama ‘Kiss Of The Damned’. Although somewhat imaginative and meditative, ‘Kiss Of The Damned’ is a syrupy macabre melodrama chopping at the sensibilities of an untapped teen scene looking for the latest Twilight-induced tawdriness to satisfy the adolescence fang-fest genre.

Xan (daughter of actor-director John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands) tries to mesh together a wild combination of a sophisticated costume drama with the nostalgic allure of a 70s Euro-creepfest dipped in Victorian decadence. Cassavetes applies the mixture of prim and proper staples of elegance (formal Edwardian dialogue, period piece vogue attire, Harlequin-inspired romanticism, disruptive organ music, provocative cocktail parties, etc.) with contemporary flourishes of random teen trashiness (instant sexual hook-ups, selective cuss words, celebratory party-hearty targets, routine blood-splattering sequences, awkward sibling rivalries, etc.). The lusty results in ‘Kiss Of The Damned’ is stylishly challenging but ultimately a compilation of convoluted theatrics involving high-minded debauchery at the expense of shapely bedroom-eyed bloodsuckers.

The atmospheric moodiness in ‘Kiss Of The Damned’ aspires to be both hypnotic and stimulating. Cassavetes invites a sense of morbid mystique but the drowsy dramatics are oversaturated with wooden acting, creature-of-the-night clichés, cheesy-minded chills and hollow eroticism. Bankrupt of any genuine juice and jolt, ‘Kiss Of The Damned’ is about as secure in its artistic bite as Dracula with loose dentures.

Vampiress Djuna (Josephine de la Baume) is a creamy-skinned beauty (with distinctive diction) imprisoned in her vast gloomy lake house due to some rare skin condition. Her indoor activity is mainly viewing rented movies and the isolation she feels is totally confining to say the least. Soon, a nightly visit to the local video store will change the tedious homebound routine of the dejected Djuna. She fixates her eyes on handsome screenwriter Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) in the process and so the bloody Valentine version of Romeo and Juliet meet and soon retreat to Djuna’s place where the plasma-oriented passion is unleashed.

Paolo is intrigued about the revelation concerning his blood-craving babe Djuna’s confession of being a creature of the night. In fact, Paolo wants to join Djuna in the land of the walking undead and he will get his wish courtesy of their multiple carnal connections. The thought of undergoing this transformation as an immortal individual whose invincibility is boundless delights the giddy Paolo to no end. Djuna reminds her bloody-thirsty boy-toy of the do’s and don’ts of Vampire rules and restrictions.

Djuna may have unintentionally created a monster (both figuratively and literally) as Paolo seems too enthusiastic in his ‘new’ skin as he eagerly hunts down prey to satisfy his constant urges. As if Djuna does not have enough to worry about with Paolo’s new found naughtiness, her dastardly seductress of a sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) arrives from Amsterdam looking to stir up a bloody frenzy. Mimi is an unbelievable trip as she manages to make a play for Paolo while conducting titillating mayhem at underground clubs or orchestrating carefree orgies where every nude body is there for the taking.

Clearly, the scheming Mimi is a conscious-free toxic tart that thinks nothing of draining and dumping her victims at will. In comparison, Djuna seems like a regular stick-in-the-mud to her sibling’s twisted exuberance. Mimi’s agenda, among many, involves claiming the rights to valued property, scoring on potential virginal vampire ‘meat’ and relishing in her sisterly betrayal. Mimi even finds time to toy around with a high-and-mighty snooty lesbian vampire actress Xenia (Anna Mouglalis) by introducing her to a tempting taste of an autograph-seeking blonde specimen.

The philosophical aspect of ‘Kiss Of The Damned’ is rather unique — vampires resisting the golden opportunities to drink human blood while opting for alternative replacements. The need to co-exist with their human counterparts (and show amorous feelings) without ripping them apart as a rabid wolf would do to a succulent pork chop is an interesting concept that illustrates the vampires’ on-going struggles and other suppressed instinctual tendencies. However, Cassavetes cannot quite coat the bland ‘Kiss’ with anything cohesively compelling beyond the nightmarish nuances of bisexual blood biters and an artificial art-film lovey-dovey union.

Despite its bawdy convictions, ‘Kiss Of The Damned’ is an empty blood bank looking for willing donors to buy into its sultry showmance of perverse wonderment.

Kiss of the Damned (2013)

Magnolia Pictures

1 hr. 37 mins.

Starring: Josephine de la Baume, Milo Ventimiglia, Roxane Mesquida, Michael Rapaport and Anna Mouglalis

Directed by: Xan Cassavetes

MPAA Rating: R

Genre: Horror/Drama

Critic’s rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)