Joshua Reviews Xan Cassavetes’ Kiss Of the Damned [SXSW 2013 Review]


It’s truly great to know the erotic thriller is still not only alive, but if Kiss Of The Damned is any inclination, still as vital as ever.

The newest film from Z Channel director and daughter of the legendary John Cassavetes, director Xan Cassavetes is back in full force with the erotically thrilling vampire tale that brings the world of blood suckers back to its lively and lusty roots.

Kiss Of The Damned tells the tale of Djuna, a beautiful vampire who tries to keep at bay a screenwriter who falls head over heels for her. When the two decide to give up the games, they become lovers, and things go smoothly until her sister, Mimi, shows up. When her entire world comes under attack, we become privy to a film full of atmosphere, sound and enough sex to have Jean Rollin applauding in his grave.

Speaking of Jean Rollin, Xan Cassavetes is in full on Rollin mode with this picture. Seemingly a blend of the couple-centric narrative found in The Iron Rose and the pure eroticism of a film like The Nude Vampire, Cassavetes’ frame oozes the same type of thrilling aesthetics than many of that cult icon’s films had in spades. With lush photography from Tobias Datum, the costumes are lavish, the hues are contrast heavy and the photography has a crispness to it, making this as beautiful a thriller as we’ve seen in quite some time. Inherently a film that is more aesthetics than frights or intellect, Kiss Of The Damned is truly exciting as both an erotic tone poem and a genuinely thrilling proto-horror drama. Toss in a breathtaking score from Steven Hufsteter (and great source music), and you have a film that is as much a body blow to the senses as it is a true blue horror film.

Performance wise, the film is solid. The three leads are great, with Josephine de La Baume being the biggest and brightest star. Her performance as Djuna is tonally on point, and her chemistry with the equally great Milo Ventimiglia is icy cold, but believable. Ventimiglia proves once again that he’s becoming as daring a character actor as anyone in his age bracket, and the ever stunning Roxane Mesquida gives such a great sense of punk rock danger to her performance as Mimi, making for a collection of tonally perfect turns from three really interesting actors.

That said, this will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Entirely devoid of true frights, there are moments of what appears to be Cassavetes’ attempt to add terror to the picture, but instead, it ends up only adding to the beauty of the film’s sensual aesthetic. With vampire attacks shot as lovingly lyrical as the copious number of sex scenes, the film doesn’t posit itself as a horror film. A tad overlong, this never overstays its welcome, thankfully, but for those unwilling to go along for the ride, this may not work as well.

However, for fans of films from the likes of Jean Rollin or Jess Franco, this will be a welcome breath of fresh air. Blending eroticism with Hammer Horror-style aesthetics, Cassavetes proves herself as a truly interesting visual filmmaker, with influences that are as fresh to the horror world as any around. In the body of a sexy and thrilling vampire tale, Cassavetes crafts as beautiful a genre picture as we’ve seen in quite some time.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.