Renfield might be the first movie where Nicolas Cage plays Dracula, but it’s not the first movie where he’s played a vampire. Kind of. Maybe? That indistinct honor goes to 1988’s Vampire’s Kiss, an exceedingly strange movie where Cage becomes a vampire... sort of. He does have to buy a pair of fake Halloween fangs to complete the effect.
There are two things you need to know immediately about Vampire’s Kiss: the first is that although it is billed as a “horror-comedy,” there are zero supernatural scares and the movie never seems to be in on the joke. The second is that while you may have heard that the movie plays around with the idea of whether Cage turns into a vampire or if it’s a delusion, upon watching it I can report with almost total certainty he is not a vampire and just a dude who utterly loses his marbles over the course of about a week or so.
Although to be fair, when the movie starts, Cage’s Peter Loew already has very few marbles left to lose. It seems impossible that he’s gotten, let alone maintained, a job as a literary agent. Loew is the same sort of narcissistic, womanizing capitalist Patrick Bateman portrayed in American Psycho, but he’s not hiding his bad behavior, which is focused primarily on abusing and assaulting his poor assistant Alva, played by Maria Conchita Alonso.
All it takes is for a bat to fly in through the window of his New York City apartment to knock Loew completely off the deep end. The next day, he confesses to his therapist that (unsuccessfully) fighting off the bat aroused him. That night, he has a sexual encounter with a woman (Jennifer Beals) who bites him on the neck and drinks his blood. We can be reasonably confident the bloodsucking, at least, is a hallucination because the next morning his neck is fine, although he cuts himself shaving where bite wounds would be. Oh, and then he serves a cup of coffee to the visibly nonexistent woman in his bed.
From there, Loew slowly starts to believe he’s a vampire while quickly becoming an absolute maniac. He screams the alphabet to his therapist (watch the amazing video below). He trashes everything in his apartment. He falls to his knees in horror in front of a neon cross. He chases Alva into the women’s restroom. He eats a live cockroach. He turns his black leather couch over so he can sleep under it like an ersatz coffin. He stops being able to see himself in mirrors (although his reflection is clearly there). Eventually, he buys those aforementioned kids’ plastic vampire teeth—you know the ones—and bites a woman secluded in a loud nightclub on the neck, drinking her blood. (Hilariously, he has to take out the teeth to do this.)
If you’re a fan of over-the-top Nic Cage performances like in The Wicker Man reboot, Vampire’s Kiss is still something exceedingly special. In Wicker Man and, say, Face/Off, Cage is playing over-the-top characters in an over-the-top world. But Loew lives in the real world, at least partially knows he’s going crazy, and embraces it. As cartoonish as it is, Cage’s performance is emphasized by the normal women he harasses, giving it elements of authentic danger and menace that are missing from roles where he screams about bees.
Vampire’s Kiss very cunningly doles out Maximum Cage in bursts at first, crescendoing them throughout the film until its bananas final act. It’s a mesmerizingly weird movie that offers no message; hell, it’s barely a story. I have absolutely no idea why it exists, but I’m certainly glad it does.
- At a certain point, a despondent Loew actually yells “Boo-hoo!”
- Although the movie takes place in the real world, there are still little nuggets of unexplained weirdness sprinkled throughout. My favorite example is two mimes who have inexplicably decided to perform directly in front of Loew’s apartment building. Their routine involves the male mime slapping a female mime (an actual slap, and not mimed), and then the female spitting on him (possibly mimed). They’re there when Loew gets home from work one night, and still out there when he leaves later to go out on the town, where they do the slap/spit again.
- Throughout much of the film, Nic Cage uses a bizarre accent that sounds familiar but it took me a moment to place because this movie came out in 1988. It’s a Trump impression—not ‘80s Trump, but a mediocre, modern-day Trump impression. I have no idea how this is possible, but I defy you to listen to it and tell me otherwise.
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