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This vampire business, you know, it can be a lot of fun. Oh, not for unfortunates who get their throats ripped out by hungry bloodsuckers or for bloodsuckers dissolved by the hostile rays of the rising sun. But certainly for the audience, the vampire saga “Kiss of the Damned” is rather a hoot. I’m not sure writer-director Xan Cassavetes (daughter of Gena Rowlands and the late John Cassavetes) quite intended it that way, but the picture is so artily excessive that it’s hard to believe she wasn’t fully in on her own joke.

For her first outing as a fictional feature director, Cassavetes layers on the atmospherics to a degree that’s borderline ludicrous. The wind moans mournfully while clouds scud sullenly across the face of a moon that somehow remains full night after ominous night. Lovers exchange smoldering glances as drenching mood rain soaks the scene. And when it comes to the sex … well. Let’s just say Cassavetes’ vampires certainly know how to vamp it up. Lips adorned with lipstick of the deepest crimson, skin smooth and eerily pale, speaking in seductive Euro-accented voices, they lead men to bed and, in quite a number of cases, doom.

Meeting a mystery woman named Djuna (French actress Joséphine de La Baume) one dark and — what else? — stormy night, a hunky young American screenwriter named Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) is so inflamed by her lip-shredding smooches that he becomes obsessed with finding out more about her. When the secret of the “skin condition” that prevents her from going about in the sunlight comes out, he wants to go all the way into her world.

They go all the way — bring out the chains and gauzy black dainties and cue much heavy breathing — and it seems that they will then live happily forever after. That’s because Cassavetes’ vampires are rich and cultured. They have fabulous homes whose walls are hung with pricey paintings, and their parties are salons where the philosophical underpinnings of vampirism are deeply discussed. Who wouldn’t want to live like that?

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But then Djuna’s sexpot sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida, another French actress) arrives on the scene. “She is a disturbed creature,” Djuna warns. “A crazy freak.” Smiling maliciously, Mimi quickly proves her sister knows whereof she speaks. Bloodlust gets quickly out of hand.

All of which is to say that for a lurid good time, “Kiss of the Damned” is damn hard to beat.

Soren Andersen:

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