Vampire Kiss (1989): Bierman’s Film Noir, Starring Nicolas Cage and Jennifer Beale

Though dismissed by most critics, Vampire’s Kiss is an original noir that sets its familiar story in a realistic context.

Peter Loew (Nicolas Cage) a literary agent who keeps a photo of Kafka behind his desk, spends his nights prowling the discos, looking for love; like most males, he suffers from fear of commitment. Failing to find happiness, he complains to his analyst, Dr. Glaser (Elizabeth Ashley), and in one session, quite hysterically recites the alphabet in an apoplectic manner.

One night he picks up Rachel (Jennifer Beals), and after she bites his neck in passion, he becomes convinced that she has turned him into her slave. An urban swinger, Peter is an intelligent man deeply horrified by what’s happening to him, yet he can’t stop himself, he becomes crazy.

In most Hollywood movies, vampires are demonic bloodsucking freaks, played by the likes of Christopher Lee for frills and thrills. In the late 1970s, a number of movies, such as Stan Dragoti’s Love at First Bite (1979), spoofed the genre, with matinee idol George Hamilton as a mischievous Count Dracula in New York. In contrast, indie movies have reversed the formula and have used vampires as metaphors of anxiety for the arthouse crowd.

Using a style that’s as darkly comic as its bizarre premise, Joseph Minion (who scripted Scorsese’s noirish comedy After Hours) and director Robert Bierman leave it ambiguous whether Peter has become a vampire or is imagining the whole thing. No matter: Whether taken as a straight horror story or as a psycho-erotic nightmare, Vampire’s Kiss mixes fable and satire in stratling manner.

Vampire Kiss works out the Nosferatu legend realistically–the more tragic Peter’s situation is, the funnier it becomes. In the end, the thirsty Peter is seen walking around Soho with blood on his jaws from the previous night. Bierman imbues the film with pervasive anxiety and ambiguity, never falling into the traps of low farce or routine horror.