Nicolas Cage has been my favorite actor for over 20 years and his craziest performance came out 30 years ago today. I probably only saw Vampire’s Kiss 10 years ago but it turns out that’s a common experience. It wasn’t the easiest to find and maybe you need to come to Vampires Kiss in your own time.
Had I seen it in 89, or even the ‘90s during Cage’s blockbuster run, I might not have been ready for it. In fact the first time I watched it it took me 15 minutes to click with it. I was like “What is this voice he’s doing? Am I supposed to take this seriously?” No. No, I’m not.
Most Nicolas Cage fans love to see Cage go crazy. You haven’t even seen Nicolas Cage go crazy if you haven’t seen Vampire’s Kiss. If you think Wild at Heart or Bad Lieutenant are crazy, those are subtle Jane Austen movies compared to Vampire’s Kiss.
Vampires Kiss is most famous for Nicolas Cage eating a live cockroach. That’s not even in the top five weirdest things he does in this movie.
My favorite is when he screams the entire alphabet. Thanks to the YouTube video “Nicolas Cage Losing His Sh*t” you’ve probably seen this scene.
In context, it’s even better. The whole movie, Peter Loew (Cave) is angry at his secretary Alva (Maria Conchita Alonso) who can’t find a contract that’s been misfiled. This is actually early in his rage when he’s indignant that simple alphabetizing could be botched.
Also great: when Cage leaps onto a desktop in a single bound. ‘80s Cage could do parkour.
He makes the crazy eyes at Alva and scream with a pointed finger, “Am I getting through to you, Alva!” He does the Nosfetatu walk. He runs up to strangers on the street screaming, “I’m a vampire. I’m a vampire.” And he does that voice just as Peter Loew’s normal voice.
There may be a misconception that Vampire’s Kiss is a vampire movie. It’s not. Peter Loew thinks he’s been bitten by a vampire (Jennifer Beals) but he hasn’t. So he goes through all the tropes of a vampire movie when he’s the only person who believes he is one.
He moans that he’s lost his reflection in the mirror. He still has one. Everyone else can see it.
Oddly, Peter buys his own fake vampire teeth. So he knows he needs fangs but doesn’t know they’re supposed to grow naturally? He even cheaps out with a plastic pair instead of the nice porcelain ones they also sell.
At work Peter is obsessed with finding the Der Spiegel contract long after his bosses tell him it’s ok. Frankly, I could watch a whole Der Spiegel contract movie without any of the vampire stuff.
Watching Peter terrorize poor Alva is oddly compelling. It’s the nightmare boss we’ve all had who can never be pleased and turns on a dime but it’s also the incompetent employee we’ve all had who can’t just do the simple thing we ask.
Although it’s really not her responsibility. Her predecessor misfiled the contract so I am ultimately Team Alva, and Peter does commit real crimes against her, not just funny weirdo ones.
In another subplot Peter is dating Jackie (Kasi Lemmons) and he keeps standing her up, then trying to win her back. One time he stands her up because he’s in a vampire trance but one time he ditches mid-date. I’m sure this is all an indictment on how narcissistic yuppies abuse people everywhere but I just like seeing Cage be weird.
I also have a theory that Peter’s therapist (Elizabeth Ashley) isn’t real. I know he has a hallucination about her in the end but I’m thinking maybe she wasn’t even real when he did the alphabet at her.
He’s able to call her at home which I don’t think even in the ‘80s psychiatrists would allow that. He’d have to leave a message at the office. So I’m thinking the very fact that she humors his alphabet could be part of his decision.
Vampire’s Kiss was the movie Cage did after Moonstruck. Hollywood, and his agents, wanted Cage to do more leading man roles but Cage wanted to use his clout to do something really weird. That’s why I love him. He’d come back to leading man eventually.
We have Vampire’s Kiss to thank for all future Cage performances. The freedom he had to explore here taught him to apply those flourishes to mainstream characters.
Sometimes he directly borrows from Vampire’s Kiss. The wide eyed grin is in Face/Off. He’d do variations on the alphabet. It’s the Hokey Pokey in Mom and Dad.
I will always be interested in what Nicolas Cage is doing. Vampire’s Kiss will always be the purest, unadulterated Nicolas Cage going crazy movie of all time.
Vampire’s Kiss is available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory and is currently streaming on Starz or available to rent or buy on Vudu and Microsoft.