On this overcast smudge of a day, when a sinus headache grips the back of my head in its talons, I find my mind playing tricks on me.
Is it possible I never watched "Vampire's Kiss" (1988) with my brother all those years ago? That I, instead, watched it by myself? Perhaps during my summer of vampires, 1992, while researching my last WPSU radio show, a four-hour examination of vampires in mythology and culture? It's possible. But if I had, I would have wanted to share that waking hallucination with someone, just to be sure I hadn't imagined the whole thing. I would have insisted my brother watch it, too, and probably watched it again with him.
Whatever the true origins of my introduction to "The Vampire's Kiss," the film has wormed its way into my mind, forcing me to exclaim, in mid-day, for no reason, "No! The sun!" Or to mutter, in a sing-songy voice, to someone who provides me with an item I've requested, "Too late! Too late! Too late!" (to which the proper response is to say, in utter confusion, "It's not too late. Why is it too late?")
My brother gets it. At least I think he does. I mean, I think that's an in-joke I share with him, and that I'm not the only one in on it.
For those of you who haven't spent an otherwise unremarkable summer gorging on vampire books and movies, let me tell you about "Vampire's Kiss." Actually, I don't have to. All you have to do is Google "Vampire's Kiss," and you're greeted with a healthy page of links related to the movie. You won't have to read far to discover that the movie, a black comedy horror film, received decidedly mixed reviews (ranking 59% on Rotten Tomatoes). Or that the film is legendary for Nicolas Cage's off-the-wall performance. In fact, if you do an image search for "Nicolas Cage crazy," the first page will be loaded with eye-bulging stills from "Vampire's Kiss."
To summarize, Nicholas Cage plays a loathsome Wall Street type, Peter Loew, who gets bit by a vampire. Or does he? That matter never gets resolved. What becomes increasingly clear throughout the film, however: his self-perceived transformation into the undead hardly necessitates his half-despondent, half-ebullient cries of "I'm a vam-pah! I'm a vam-pah!" As he finds more and more "evidence" of his vampirism, the viewer merely observes from the sidelines. He may not see his reflection in the mirror, but we certainly do.
Even odder, at times Peter Loew doesn't even seem to exist. Rarely does he play out a scene where anyone pays much attention to him, even when he's stumbling through Manhattan, begging people to stake him. Is his trusted therapist real? Or even his assistant, poor persecuted Alva? Does he even have a job? Aside from Alva's presence, his office seems decidedly bare.
"Bare" describes the subtle soundtrack, as well, restricted mostly to natural sound and songs played in clubs or apartments. Those invisible cues we depend upon to determine a scene's meaning? They simply don't exist. I was reminded of this while watching a YouTuber's montage of the Best Scenes from "Vampire's Kiss." Go ahead and watch it, if you like. There might be spoilers, but let's face it: you're probably not going to watch the entire movie anyway. Put together, even the best moments are painstakingly slow and awkward.
So why does this movie retain such a hold on my memory, when I have forgotten so much else? As a girl I read the entire Frank L. Baum series about Oz. Do I remember it? Not a bit. I scarcely recall most books I've read, and most movies, too. To stand out in my ocean of literary and cinematic experiences, a work must speak to me. "Vampire's Kiss" did, and not just for all the wrong reasons.
Why else would I remember one vampire movie from a summer's worth of feeding on the genre? Almost all the books and movies I imbibed, unless they were enshrined in my radio show, have lapped out to my cerebral sea. But "Vampire's Kiss" floats at the edges of my consciousness, and I think that now, 20-some years later, I can fathom why.
In 1992, stuck inside an emotionally abusive relationship, I used vampire lore as escapism. Whether I was reading "Carmilla" by Sheridan LeFanu or binge-watching the entire Dracula oeuvre by Hammer Films, I gained a few crimson moments outside of my cage. Since my research project was officially sanctioned "radio business," I got to invite my brother over to watch vampire flicks with me, a rare treat in those stunted days.
But here was something different! This victim was no victim. Deluded, perhaps, but he was completely capable of his own salvation, if only he'd stop shirking the light.
Time plays tricks. I no longer remember how soon after watching this movie I made my plans to leave. It must have been at least another year, but in my director's edit, I jump right to the moment where my then-boyfriend told me he didn't know what he'd do without me, and I told him that he would have to try.
That much happened. I'm sure of it.