Vampire’s Kiss

Vampire’s Kiss (1989)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Maria Conchita Alonso, Jennifer Beals, Kasi Lemmons
Extras: Commentary Track, Theatrical Trailer

He’s currently nominated for an Oscar for his work in "Adaptation" and he already won the coveted statuette for "Leaving Las Vegas, " but for me the benchmark Nicolas Cage performance arrived in 1989 with the pitch black comedy "Vampire’s Kiss." MGM Home Entertainment has resurrected "Kiss" on DVD with a great looking transfer and a fun <$commentary, commentary track> with Cage and director Robert Bierman.

Cage plays Peter Loew, a tyrannical literary agent living in pre-Guiliani Manhattan. During the day, he terrorizes his staff, focusing most of his wrath on mousy assistant Alva (Maria Conchita Alonso). At night, he prowls the city’s nightspots in an endless series of meaningless trysts. However, a one-night stand with the enigmatic Rachel (Jennifer Beals) leads Peter to believe he is slowly turning into a vampire, down to the proverbial need for coffin beds and nightly blood feedings. However, what could be a supernatural transformation might be nothing more than yet another ego trip for the already delusional Mr. Loew…

From the first time I saw it in a theater with ten other patrons, I have been an ardent fan of "Vampire’s Kiss" and, at times, a fervent defender of the movie. It really hits you on a gut level; it’s either bleakly funny or utterly repugnant. There’s nothing flashy about Bierman’s minimalist direction or Joseph Minion’s imaginative but kooky script. Quite simply, what puts this film into gonzo territory is Cage. What he does with Peter Loew was one of those rare instances where an actor doesn’t play a part so much as inhabit it. There are easily a half dozen scenes that showcase his fearless performance: Loew’s apoplectic fit over "the alphabet," jumping up on the desk to get Alva’s attention, running down the street screaming "I’m a vampire! I’m a vampire!" or gliding "Nosferatu"-like through a disco. In true Divine fashion, Cage even ate a live cockroach for the role. (Actually, he consumed two according to the commentary.) If this film were made today, there would be the inclination to pump it up with CGI nonsense. Cage’s acting accomplished what the budget could not provide: he turned himself into a walking special effect.

The disc offers the film in wide screen and full-frame flavors. The 1.85 <$16x9,anamorphic> option opens up the framing slightly, whereas the full screen loses some picture information on the sides but gains in magnifying Cage’s priceless facial gestures in some long shots. Both transfers look extremely good, with solid, rich colors and nice depth of detail. Perhaps I’m supposed to, but I kept noticing how dead-on the flesh tones looked. (No pun intended.) The source print must have undergone some tweaking as I noticed no defects or wear in the image. I also found no digital or compression artifacts during the presentation.

The audio, presented in <$DD,Dolby Digital> 2.0 on the disc, works appropriately enough, being primarily a dialogue-driven soundtrack. The front soundstage and rear channels open up during street and nightclub scenes, giving some nice aural ambience moments. Otherwise, it’s a standard matrixed surround track that serves the visuals nicely and without distraction. Dialogue sounded clear and clean and there’s even some low-end punch during the more pulsating music cues.

There are few extras on the disc, but the main supplement is a gem: a feature length <$commentary,commentary track> with Bierman and Cage. From the outset, they acknowledge their years of affection for the film and its cult status. They wryly illuminate individual scenes, recall the difficulties of filming on a low budget, how Cage almost didn’t make the movie (he accepted, turned it down and re-accepted after Judd Nelson declined the role) and his "choreography" of some of the more outrageous moments. A clean-looking theatrical trailer, presented in <$16x9,anamorphic> wide screen and mono audio, rounds out the goodies.

If you’re a fan of "Vampire’s Kiss," then I don’t have to convince you of adding this DVD to your collection. For the rest, I can only hope that you’ll give it a spin. You might be disappointed, you might be thrilled, but you definitely won’t be bored.