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AICN HORROR talks with director Xan Cassavetes on KISS OF THE DAMNED, a vampire film that doesn't suck!

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Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This time I’m catching up with Xan Cassavetes, daughter of John Cassevetes and Gena Rowlands, and more importantly the director of the new vampire film, KISS OF THE DAMNED which opened in select theaters and is available on Video on Demand and iTunes now. Here’s what Xan had to say…

AMBUSH BUG (BUG): I just wanted to see, is there a brief description you give to people about the film, just for those who haven’t seen the film yet?

XAN CASSAVETES (XS): No. (Laughs) In all honesty, I’m very bad at tag lines or whatever it is. My brain is way too muddled.

BUG: I kind of describe it as a film that tries to take the sensuality and the romance of vampirism back into the horror genre. Would you agree with that?

XS: Sure, that’s true.

BUG: (Laughs) So have you always had an interest in vampires?

XS: Yes. I mean I have always had an interest there. I did this documentary at Z Channel, you guys wrote about it, which had every single kind of movie on it from like kung fu to soft-core porn, westerns… every single kind of film that you could imagine and this is what I grew up on and that’s where I saw so many of those kind of films that were very Euro-centric and based on women. The stylish horror films are the films that really stimulate the imagination and the subconscious and really looking back, as a child I didn’t really pick up on it, but really kind of reflect some times different philosophical sort of themes and I loved those.

I can’t say I’m like a hardcore horror nerd, because that would be a lie and I’d be lying, but I’d like to say it. I definitely kept coming back to this world and have been turned on to a lot of stuff that I think is incredible, but my reference point is more stylized, kind of adult euro arty horror film.

BUG: I do want to talk about the music in the film, because I was just really blown away by the music in the film and I don’t think I mentioned that in the review, but it was really powerful. Where did you get the music? What type of music were you looking for? Was there a certain feel?

XS: Well the composer, Steve Hufsteter, is a guy I’ve known since I was like sixteen. We were in a band together for almost ten years, so we have a very musically symbiotic sort of mental and emotional thing going between us, so by the time… He was there when I was writing the script and giving me notes on the script. He was basically my muse while I was writing the script and I was basically his muse when he was composing the music for the movie. From the beginning, he sort of knew what I would want even though it took a minute to find it. I mean he came up with that more kind of love theme early on and that sort of set the table, even though the rest of the music that he’s written isn’t particularly period, that sort of set the tone and then we together sort of watched the movie and discarded certain ideas and went with different things spontaneously while watching the movie. He would just play and the directions he would take were sort of customized to the scenes and how they were constructed.

There was another musical duo from Manchester and we used some recordings of theirs that were more like these hypnotic sort of soundscape… just hypnotic stuff like for the sex change stuff and the couple kill and the girl running, it’s like that clacking train sort of thing, that’s Stem Dyke and somehow that kind of sound worked, I think really well, with Stevie’s and then our music supervisor found these Wicca sixties songs and then we used opera and we used jazz and we used crazy techno music in the club and some German punk rock and basically we managed to encompass a lot of different kinds of music in there that sound pretty organic to what should be there. It doesn’t sound like it’s been stuffed in there to try to be something, it sounds pretty natural to me.

BUG: Is that soundtrack available anywhere?

XS: It’s coming out. Yeah, it’s going to come out on iTunes and then they’re going to release vinyl.

BUG: Fantastic. I’m going to pick that up. I can’t wait. So how did you assemble the cast for this film?

XS: Roxane Mesquida I’ve been a fan of for ages, because I’m obsessed with Roxane in Catherine Briel movies and then I know she went on to do more horror things and RUBBER. I’ve loved her in everything and I think she’s a genius.

Then Josephine de La Baume came to me through my producer, Jen Gatien and was like “This is a girl you should look at.” She’s just so striking and I completely agreed and then she lived in Europe and we would skype and talk about the film and sort of go over scenes and work on scenes and it became clear that she would be really great as an actress and I thought she was really great. I don’t think she’d ever done a big part in a movie before, but she was fearless and really open, all of them were. I couldn’t have asked for more open actors.

Then Anna Mouglalis, my sister told me I should meet her and one phone call with her was like “Oh my god, this woman’s voice…. It’s beyond…” I looked at her picture and I’m like “How can this woman look like this and sound like this? If I don’t get this one, I might not be able to emotionally make this film.”

But I got her and Milo Ventimiglia, I wanted someone really physically good looking, so that the couple… you could question the superficiality. Painfully for them, there’s a point where they have to confront the superficiality of their relationship and they have to question it. That meant that the guy had to be as beautiful as she was.

So Milo, I met him on the basis of him being a good looking guy with a great physique and I was very happy to discover that he not only was a great actor in this movie for me, but he was also really unafraid to do what that male character did, which is really unconventional for Mil’s character, especially to come on so strong and be so assertive in that, driven by what kind of a guy… It’s a different thing for a guy to be in love with a woman, but clearly be attracted to her darkness and then to be swallowed up in a world of a socio economic group of people who were so far out of his league and sort of subvert himself intentionally. He totally understood that and I thought that was really cool. The thing was for the protagonist to involve the audience and then have her denial and her subconscious awareness of her own dark side make her more annoying and more irritable and become less sympathetic. I really like those actors for understanding that.

BUG: Yeah, they really did flesh out those characters and with the script and the story as well, it just made it so that you were rooting for these guys to survive no matter what was going on, no matter what challenges that they were facing. It really was a fantastic look at a romance where there are those things and it’s nice to see that kind of metaphor played out in the vampire genre I think.

XS: Sure, you never know. I mean Paolo’s character is a guy who has been so disappointed in life and so is Josephine’s. They had no expectations anymore and both of these people want that transcendence through art or through love and they’ve given up on it, so when they see each other, they recognize this thing and it’s not just based on beauty, it’s based on this recognition of a portal to this transcendence, however it comes. There’s an attraction to darkness and to get to that place of transcendence no matter what… It’s a mysterious force and I like that the characters don’t even really know what’s happening to them, but we sort of know that they are moving towards a dark place.

BUG: I really like the fact that he really didn’t know how to make action or make gripping scenes until he became a vampire and it’s almost like you can’t write about love unless you’ve been in love, things like that are great metaphors to play with in this film.

XS: Thanks. Thank you. I like them.

BUG: Were there any cuts or anything like that as far as the gore and the amount of blood that you were going to be using? There were some pretty harrowing scenes in this film.

XS: Yeah, well the whole focus, probably coming from, sorry to say, but I wasn’t there thinking primarily about the gore, but for me definitely I am very in touch with my dark side, so just in the course of telling this story and that it’s a horror movie theoretically there are times where the moments come to fruition and there I wanted them to come to fruition. Like someone was saying the other day, you never really see a movie where people are having sex and you see them cum and I’m like, “I guess that’s true. I really hadn’t thought of it.” It’s like when people are getting bitten, let’s see it. Let’s see the violence. Let’s see the gore, you know? That’s the moment, so let’s look at it even though it’s not like super constant. When it’s there and should happen, like “let’s do this,” you know?

BUG: I also really like the scenes that you guys did where it was like the behind the scenes where all the vampires are getting together. It could have gone really cheesy, but it didn’t. You were able to straddle that and you were able to make sure that it didn’t go to that cheesy level where they are commenting on TRUE BLOOD, the TV show and things like that. They don’t name TRUE BLOOD, but you can tell that’s what they are talking about.

XS: I guess. Dude, I swear I’ve never seen TRUE BLOOD and it’s only after people saw that scene that they are like “Dude, TRUE BLOOD” and I’m like “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

But whatever, it all leads to the same questions; the society of vampires will always lead to the same questions. It’s a classic format and you can’t get away from the classics, or you can, but I chose not to and that scene in particular, I think there was one actor, but basically everyone was a director, a painter… I just didn’t want it to be central casting and I cast a lot of my friends, international whatever and also the conversation is not supposed to be that these people are so smart necessarily, but that they are articulating their denial and you see their denial play out in a way that, for me, is touching and also transparent. They are sophisticated and they are rich and they have lived long enough to have insight that the rest of us don’t, but basically the conversation is generally naive and hopeful. And I like that.

BUG: I really liked the character of the motherly vampire. And she’s really trying to not drink blood and not be tempted. That scene where she’s turned to the dark side is really, really well done.

XS: Thanks. I had a whole day to shoot that sequence. (Laughs)

BUG: You come from a family very familiar with cinema. How did that effect your making of this film?

XS: Yes. Well though my father has been gone since I was 12, so I’m hearing his advice in my head or commentary, maybe not directly, but I mean we certainly weren’t dogmatic about trying to make us filmmakers or even film knowledgeable. They were so busy and so all consumed by making their films and doing whatever, that they liked having us around, but they liked also having us have natural normal childhoods that weren’t like we had cinema forced down our throats, but we were sent to schools were there weren’t like really rich people there or Hollywood people. We just lived in the Hollywood hills at that time, which was pretty bohemian. We’d just walk around and do cartwheels and were just like goofy kids, you know?

I kind of kick myself some times that I didn’t pay more attention to what they were doing, because I paid zero attention, but what didn’t come through is that they were really in love with what they were doing and that made all of us, I think, feel really happy. I think when your parents are happy and really impassioned with what their lives are, you feel this great sense of peace and happiness. I think the association with making movies for all of us is a positive one, because that’s why we do it.

BUG: Definitely. So do you have a sister?

XS: Sure, I’ve got a sister, Zoe, and an older brother, Nick.

BUG: Did you draw on that relationship with your sister with the two sisters in the film?

XS: Well since I wrote the screenplay so fast and I though, “Oh, this is just a classical vampire movie” and it’s really the first screenplay I’ve ever written. It’s not like an unintentional biographical confessional thing. It’s so weird, because your subconscious does come into it and I didn’t realize until after we shot that there are so many things that are in this film that were out of my own memories and my own dynamics and one of them was my sister and I get along incredibly and we always have, but there was a period when we lived in a white house in a nature setting that wasn’t our house and it was right after our father died and we weren’t fighting.

But there was a lot of questions about death and just grappling with reality that we experienced together in this house that I thought was interesting looking back and going “oh, no wonder I thought of a vampire movie when I walked into this house.” I mean it’s sort of a purgatory physical space and emotional state. I think it does have to come through… My sister does have to do with it, but not in the way that we were enemies, but just in the way that we were in a setting like that together sort of experiencing thoughts and feelings about being alive and death and things like that that we never had before.

BUG: Very cool. So what else do you have planned coming up? Is there anything you’re working on at the moment?

XS: Well yes definitely, but I’m Greek and superstitious and hey baby, it took me forty five years to make that one film, I’m not going to jinx anything. (Laughs) Yeah, it is sort of a genre flip again, not horror or vampires, but something else.

BUG: Okay, great. Well you have a really great style and a great sense of music and timing and everything like that that I saw in this.

XS: Those things all come together, that’s the movies!

BUG: I guess, yeah, that is what makes the movies great. Congratulations on a really great film. I can’t wait to see what you have next coming for us.

XS: I really appreciate it. Thanks so much. I really appreciate the way you took in the movie, it really makes me feel really happy and I thank you.

BUG: Great. Thanks a lot, have a great day.

XS: You too, bye.

BUG: KISS OF THE DAMNED is available on Video On Demand and iTunes and in sleect theaters now! Below the trailer is my review of the film.

Available now On Demand and iTunes and in select theaters now from Magnet Releasing!


Directed by Xan Cassavetes
Written by Xan Cassavetes
Starring Joséphine de La Baume, Roxane Mesquida, Milo Ventimiglia, Anna Mouglalis, Michael Rapaport, Riley Keough
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Though the sensuality of vampirism has been the focus of many a horror movie, not until recently with the TWILIGHT phenomenon has it cause so many a fanboy to groan in pain. Anyone trying to highlight that the intake of blood as an intimate form of contact is going to make most tune out immediately. While some filmmakers have tried to go the opposite route (STAKE LAND for example, reviewed here) and bring the grit back to being a vampire, filmmaker Xan Cassavetes (daughter of John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands) has decided to take the concept of the sensuality of vampires back to the realm of serious filmmaking with KISS OF THE DAMNED.

The title of KISS OF THE DAMNED is very reminiscent of Jean Rollin’s classic erotic vampire films of the seventies and eighties and in tone, it’s much like those surreal vamp films. Cassavetes amps up the sexuality as Tony Scott did with THE HUNGER and Hammer did with their lesbian vampire films of the late sixties and early seventies in this modern telling of boy meets girl vampire, girl vamp turns boy, boy and girl vamp try to make things work in a world filled with sunlight half the time. Throw in a crazy vampire sister and you’ve got a whole lot of drama.

The cast is top tier as Joséphine de La Baume plays the gorgeous Djuna, a vampires who lives a quiet life until she runs into Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) at a late night video store. Immediately, there is a spark and though it is against Djuna’s instincts to stay away, she goes with her gut (or maybe something a bit further south) and lets Paolo into her home. Though she drops plenty of clues like telling Paolo she has a rare skin condition and watches an old black and white vampire film in front of him, Paolo just doesn’t get it. Even when she chains herself up to the bed, Paolo still is just attracted to this kinky doll, and though it takes him a while to truly understand what it is he had fallen in lust with, his decision to become a creature of the night is pretty hasty. Soon, Djuna’s sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) shows up and immediately causes trouble for the couple as she brings couples home to screw and drain, attacks anyone who shows up at the house with a pulse, and tries to seduce Paolo right under her sister’s nose. All of this is done with style as the confident cast is able to amp up both the sensuality and drama exquisitely.

If KISS OF THE DAMNED has any flaws, it has to do with showing how Mimi’s interventions effect the relationship between Djuna and Paolo. Much time is dedicated to showing Paolo and Djuna’s initial attraction and development into a couple, but after they come together, the focus is shifted to Hurricane Mimi and the carnage she leaves in her sultry wake. Sure there are scenes of Paolo and Djuna coming back together after the things Mimi does, but music and stylish cuts cover up what should have come out in some drama. Cassavetes chooses to skip over these scenes which some might find boring as the couple try to understand, develop, and eventually save their relationship behind the scenes, but the film is somewhat lacking in depth in the final act as all eyes focus on Mimi and her destructive ways.

Still this is an exceptional vampire film. Don’t worry. All of drama is bathed in copious amounts of blood and some stylishly orchestrated shots of vampire debauchery. There are some nice nods to how vampires react to the modern treatment of their species in current cinema and references to TRUE BLOOD which I found to be amusing. And it’s all set to an absolutely delicious retro score which borrows heavily from the Italian giallo films and makes this film feel more like a lost film from the seventies rather than something recently produced. Though I found the story lacking a bit in the last act, there’s a lot Cassavetes did right with this film, especially considering it’s her first feature length movie. KISS OF THE DAMNED is the antidote for all of the crap vamp films horror fans have had to endure through recent years and well worth seeking out.

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 12 years & AICN HORROR for 3. He has written comics such as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He has co-written FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND’s LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in 2013 as a 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment & GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-81. Look for GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES available in February-July 2013 and the new UNLEASHED crossover miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS WEREWOLVES: THE HUNGER #1-3 available in May-July 2013! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitter @Mark_L_Miller.

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