The Bizarre Brilliance of “Vampire’s Kiss”

Nicholas Cage is synonymous with his absurd antics on camera, as well as the endless debate of whether he’s a good or bad actor (he’s actually both simultaneously).  But in the 1980’s his reputation was more “normal” and “straight edge”.  That was until the release of 1988’s Vampire’s Kiss, a movie that has been immortalized with memes, and remains a fan favorite as far as insane Nicholas Cage performances go.

Best Cage Performance?
It’s easy to look at Cage’s work of late and disregard it and just silly and over the top.  And while that may be true for some, it’s very apparent that every unconventional choice he makes is very deliberate.

Even his “accent” in the movie is downright strange and doesn’t sound like it comes naturally from anywhere.  But Cage did it because he felt like his character would be so vain that he’d adopt a fake accent he thought sounded elegant in order to elevate his social status.  It’s a bad accent because it’s supposed to be.

Only Cage could make this seem “natural”.

While Cage is shouting the alphabet and harassing his assistant Alva to the point that she gets a gun, everyone else just thinks he’s crazy.  His coworkers, therapist, and even the vampire that turns him all seem like “normal” human beings with him being the crazy one, but again that’s the point.

Just by sheer contrast, Cage’s insanity makes him stand out.  He was already an unstable person, whose vampire transformation is only amplifying that bad that was already there.  Cage has certainly been over the top since, but it’s never been as genuine as it was here (except maybe for Mandy).

No other performance of his even comes close.  And when directors try to Cage to dial it up to 11, so to speak, it’s this movie that they point to as a reference point!

Director Richard Stanley even told Cage to emulate his Vampire’s Kiss performance when making Color Out of Space.

Ahead of Its Time?
In a weird way, Vampire’s Kiss is rather similar to a film that came out over a decade later, American Psycho.  Both deal with a violent, unstable protagonist, who’s incredibly egocentric, slowly descending into madness.  And both offer a harsh criticism of upper class “yuppie” culture that was prevalent in cities like New York in the 1980’s.

It was a time of stock market gambling and an innate desire to get rich quickly, while ignoring the consequences.  The subject had been examined by Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (albeit in a much more grounded manner), but both Vampire’s Kiss and American Psycho used the intensity and absurdity of yuppie culture and just ran with it.

Which one is more insane?

But the one thing that Vampire’s Kiss has over American Psycho is that it doesn’t need to rely on hindsight.  Many of the same themes and ideas are expressed, but it managed to do this during the very decade it was happening.  This is by no means a slight against American Psycho, or a commentary on which one is a better movie.  Just an acknowledgement that Vampire’s Kiss was able to make a commentary in the moment, and get it quite accurately.

Ultimately, the point is that while Vampire’s Kiss may just seem like a crazy, ridiculous movie with Nicholas Cage shout-acting, eating bugs, and acting like a cartoon character, it’s all coordinated in service to a greater theme and idea.  Not only is a fun movie to watch, but it’s a movie with something to say.

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