Vampire’s Kiss

August 1, 2012

The other day I was reading an interview with the quirky young actor Nicolas Cage, who played Cher’s beau in Moonstruck and Kathleen Turner’s high school sweetheart in Peggy Sue Got Married. Cage revealed he had his first glimmerings of wanting to be an actor while watching a Jerry Lewis movie.

Ah hah. I read this after I saw Cage’s new film, Vampire’s Kiss, and it suddenly explained a great deal about Cage’s performance. In Vampire’s Kiss, this odd actor does his most demented work yet.

Cage plays a Manhattan power yuppie, a rising executive at a publishing house who terrorizes his office by day and scours the nightclubs for feminine company, always temporary, by night. And he wonders to his psychiatrist (Elizabeth Ashley) about his sense of unhappiness.

One night he picks up the wrong girl, one who makes Alex in Fatal Attraction seem tame. She (Jennifer Beals, of Flashdance fame) is a hot, dark number, but she sprouts fangs and bits Cage on the neck during the night. She keeps turning up at regular intervals to repeat the treatment.

It isn’t long before Cage is leaping around his office in a peculiar manner, and chasing down pigeons in the park for their blood supply. He’s particularly threatening to his sweet secretary (Maria Conchita Alonso), who fears for her safety.

Writer Joseph Minion, who also did the script for the inventive After Hours, is an original talent. The idea that depravity and vampirism are the result of unbridled ambition and life without love is a provocative one, and Minion concocts some clever scenes to play it out. In After Hours Minion had Martin Scorsese to translate his script into film. Vampire’s Kiss is directed by Robert Bierman, who does serviceable but unremarkable work. They also haven’t come up with an ending that feels satisfying.

It’s fun to watch Cage. As he falls further under the bloodsucking spell, he becomes increasingly batty. Shoulders hunched, limbs flying, face contorting, voice jerking into the upper register, he’s a bundle of neurotic mannerisms. When his character goes to a novelty store and picks up a pair of plastic Halloween fangs, Cage begins to resemble the Jerry Lewis of The Nutty Professor.

Whether a subtler actor might have done more intriguing things with the role is open to debate. But Cage is certainly convincing as a menace to society, after and before his affliction.

First published in the Herald, June 1, 1989

The movie probably doesn’t quite work, but it’s so much fun watching Cage in his playpen that the film takes on a layer of fizz; I remain enchanted by the way he pronounces his own name when he introduces himself: “I’m Peter Loeuoweuh.” That kind of heroic leap makes up for some strange choices later in his career.