Until Twilight came along in 2008 and saturated the genre with a fair amount of angst-ridden slush, we had the likes of Near Dark, Let the Right One In and Dracula (1992) to satisfy our hunger for the vampire love story. Similarly to Twilight, Xan Cassavetes’ Kiss of the Damned has a simple, yet passionate character romance, but it also echoes the relentless gore and uncompromising blood lust of similar films before it.
Beautiful vampire Djuna (Joséphine de La Baume) isolates herself within in a remote, gothic country house, spending her days asleep and her nights watching old movies to distract herself from her loneliness and her dark curse. Once night she meets screenwriter Paulo (Milo Ventimiglia) and he instantly becomes captivated by her. Resisting him at first, Djuna shares her secret and the two begin a passionate affair but soon their union is interrupted by the arrival of Djuna’s powerful and scheming sister, Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) who threatens the whole existence of the vampire community.
Cassavetes has clearly gained inspiration from ‘70s Euro-horror, projecting a real atmospheric, retro feel that works well, from the film’s score to the opening graphics, intimate camera shots, stunning French fashions and even the movie poster. Although not always entirely believable, the love story of Djuna and Paulo is a poignant one and with it arises the theme of the vampire need to have a mate with whom they can spend their eternity – prominent in many a vampire film like We Are The Night, Dracula and even Twilight. De La Baume is exquisite as French beauty Djuna, with her Victorian gothic attire, yellow hair, rust red lips and quiet grace. Ventimiglia’s handsome Paulo provides a quiet, contemplative yet strong companion, saving her from her melancholic existence. Mesquida gives a strong performance as the sexy, manipulative Mimi, providing a stark contrast with her sister, succumbing to all her addictions with monstrous glee and a raunchy gothic look of blood red lips and PVC.
The film is slow paced and clearly any kind of plot complexity is rejected in favour of creating just the right mood: the world of vampires as one oozing with sensuality, romanticism and sophistication. Our vampires here are smart, effortlessly sexy socialites and artists that eat normally, sleep and hide themselves away in grand houses and apartments, emerging to attend glamorous parties with their own kind. Yet, at the same time they endure a violent, secret addiction for blood and sex with many of them desperately trying to resist. The predatory side of them emerges when they become sexually aroused and so the insatiable blood lust is visually synonymous with a hunger for sex, with unbridled moments of erotica. There is also plenty here by way of gore with vampires ripping the necks of their prey like lions, skin hanging from their mouths and blood dripping from their chins – there is even a bit of zombie leg-dragging.
What Kiss of the Damned lacks in plot it more than makes up for in sheer atmosphere – a seductive, stylish and evocative arthouse horror.