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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Vampire's Kiss/
High Spirits

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Films
    Vampire's Kiss (1989)
    3 Stars
    High Spirits (1988)
    2.5 Stars
(Release Date: February 10, 2015) – 1989's offbeat, bleakly comic "Vampire's Kiss" and 1988's frothy ghost comedy "High Spirits" share very, very little in common, and even less than that once certain revelations during the former film's third act come to light. Tonally, they are night and day. Creatively, one is experimental and indie-minded in nature, while the other reminds of an Amblin Entertainment production on the order of "Gremlins" and "The Goonies" that should have been produced by Steven Spielberg. If this double feature offered up from Scream Factory is not as perfect a fit as their other same-day combo release of 1979's "Love at First Bite" and 1985's "Once Bitten," both movies are nonetheless certainly worth one's while.

First up is director Robert Bierman's "Vampire's Kiss," an unsettling satire of corporate yuppiedom. Most notable for Nicolas Cage's otherworldly-bordering-on-certifiably-insane performance, the film jumps the rails every two minutes yet somehow, some way, keeps finding its way back on track. Peter Loew (Nicolas Cage) is a megalomaniacal literary agent who regularly sees a psychiatrist (Elizabeth Ashley), is incapable of romantic commitment beyond the one-night-stand variety, and thinks nothing of terrorizing his dedicated, understandably frightened secretary, Alva (Maria Conchita Alonso, excellent). When Peter brings home a sultry woman (Jennifer Beals) he meets at a bar, he becomes convinced the next morning that she was a vampire who fed on him. As his behavior grows increasingly erratic—quite the achievement, considering he is already a monstrous human being—his life begins to crumble as he gives himself over to what he believes is a transformation into a bloodsucker. Adopting a bizarre vocal affectation that sounds like "American Psycho" anti-hero Patrick Bateman cranked up to a thousand, Nicolas Cage's turn as Peter is a sight to behold. It is so over-the-top that it shouldn't work, and yet the further one delves into the story, the more it makes perfect sense. Cage takes a huge gamble that pays off, which could also be said about the whole of "Vampire's Kiss." Alternately weird, disturbing and uncomfortably laugh-out-loud hilarious, this is a little-known cinematic oddity from the late-1980s that deserves to find a second life.

Lightening the mood considerably is Neil Jordan's "High Spirits," a notoriously troubled production that ended up turning out fairly well in its released incarnation. Facing eviction, Peter Plunkett (Peter O'Toole) desperately needs to find a way to draw tourists back to historical Castle Plunkett, an Irish-estate-turned-hotel. His crazy plan: advertise it as haunted and turn it into a sort of spirit-filled theme park. Just as a group of American vacationers arrive—among them, hen-pecked Jack Crawford (Steve Guttenberg) and his high-maintenance wife, Sharon (Beverly D'Angelo); single gal on the prowl Miranda (Jennifer Tilly); priest-in-training Tony (Peter Gallagher); and a paranormal investigator (Miguel Ferrer) and his family—Peter and his staff go out of their way to pretend there are ghosts prowling the property. What they do not anticipate is that the place really is crawling with supernatural activity. "High Spirits" was a childhood favorite of mine, a movie that I watched over and over on VHS. Seeing it again twenty years later, the film holds up for the most part, but probably will work best with viewers who have a nostalgic relationship to it. Whether or not there was tension on the set, it doesn't show; the ensemble, also featuring Daryl Hannah and Liam Neeson as an ill-fated 18th-century married couple whose spirits are stuck reliving their past, bring energy and pert comic timing to their roles. Quick-paced, classily shot, memorably scored, largely silly and just a little spooky, "High Spirits" entertains in spite of its less-than-airtight script.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound
Vampire's Kiss: B+/B+
High Spirits: B+/A-

"Vampire's Kiss" and "High Spirits" make their introductions to Blu-ray with solid 1080p transfers that are superior to all previous home video versions. "Vampire's Kiss" looks a little rough during its opening credits, marked by age-related lines, dirt and cigarette burns. Things clear up quickly afterward with a balanced grain field and a marked uptick in image clarity. How much clarity, you might ask? Enough to actually be able to see skin-colored pasties over Jennifer Beal's breasts in multiple scenes. "High Spirits" looks a lot clearer, too, and drawing from experience with this title, it can be said with full confidence that it hasn't looked this good since it premiered in theaters in 1988. As is the case with movies that are over a quarter-century old, some shots run softer than others and little, unobtrusive white specks pop up here and there. In the case of "High Spirits," there is a strange blip in the print at the 30:17 mark that looks less like an encode error and more like a flaw in the master used. It comes and goes in less than a second, but it deserves noting. Both pictures come with 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks, and there is little to complain about as long as audiences realize they aren't watching the latest "Transformers" extravaganza. Some of the dialogue sounds slightly muffled near the beginning of "Vampire's Kiss," but it is difficult to tell if this a problem with the mix or simply a result of Nicolas Cage's quirky speech pattern. Otherwise, these are very good presentations, becoming more active when music and action are involved.

Blu-ray Features

Vampire's Kiss
  • Audio Commentary with director Robert Bierman and actor Nicolas Cage
High Spirits
  • None
Bottom Line
It warms the heart to see Scream Factory providing Blu-ray releases of "Vampire's Kiss" and "High Spirits," and while some new interviews would have been welcome alongside "High Spirits"—my suspicion is that there would be a lot of juicy stuff to discuss considering the battle that went on between Neil Jordan and the studio over the final edit—it is nice to just have both films in the high-definition format. An added bonus: an audio commentary on "Vampire's Kiss" with Bierman and Cage that fascinatingly delves into their creative decisions behind this bonkers cult-movie-in-the-making. Fans of either movie should not hesitate to pick up this double bill on Blu-ray. With a price point that is basically two features for the cost of one, newbies would be wise to take the plunge as well. "Vampire's Kiss" and "High Spirits" are ripe for rediscovery and deserve another moment in the spotlight. Highly recommended.

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© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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