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Blu-ray Review: Vampire’s Kiss / High Spirits



VAMPIRE’S KISS — Teetering on the edge of sanity, volatile literary agent Peter Loew (Nicolas Cage) tries to find purpose in his life through a cutthroat work ethic and a hedonistic night life. But when an encounter with a mysterious beauty leaves Loew convinced that he is turning into a vampire, his behavior turns positively outrageous.

HIGH SPIRITS — Daryl Hannah, Peter O’Toole, Steve Guttenberg, Beverly D’Angelo, Jennifer Tilly, Peter Gallagher and Liam Neeson star in this hilariously haunting comedy! When a castle-turned-hotel owned by Peter Plunkett (O’Toole) falls on hard financial times, he comes up with an idea to turn the place into a tourist attraction by billing it as Europe’s most haunted castle. But just when it seems he’ll have to give up the ghost, some real phantoms show up — and they’re none too thrilled about being exploited.

vampires_kiss_high_spirits_blu-ray_review_8At first glance, Vampire’s Kiss and High Spirits would seem to make for a pretty good double feature, being that each film makes you ask, “What the fuck is this?” Part horror, part comedy, part insanity, each film hails from 1988, the wondrous year of military helicopter collisions, the first communist McDonalds, and the comic strip FoxTrot. The former stars Nicolas Cage, the latter Steve Guttenberg, and in between: magic. But it’s inevitable that with every double feature release, from Shout! Factory or anyone else, there will be a feeling of disappointment among collectors. First off: the more anal-retentive movie hoarders want single releases, one film at a time, to arrange them in their collections in whatever way they feel appropriate: alpha order; the vampire section; or the Steve Guttenberg shelf (god help you). But second: one film will inevitably be more cherished than the other. If a person wants Vampire’s Kiss, they’ll have to pay for High Spirits, too. (Or vice versa.) That their film of choice has to share real estate with another makes their preferred title feel less special. And as one of those anal-retentive collectors, I totally get that.

This double-feature release, on its surface, may contain two lighthearted genre-comedies, but on closer inspection….holy shit. We’re not just talking whole horses of different colors–we’re talking fang-bearing, shrieking, bleeding Cage vs typical smarmy, bad-joke spewing Guttenberg levels of horse colors. And regardless of whatever color strikes your fancy, well, hold on to your hat, you weirdo, because shit’s about to get quirky–stat.

vampires_kiss_high_spirits_blu-ray_review_1Vampire’s Kiss—3.5/5. Forget all the Nic Cage crazy acting compilations on Youtube. Forget all his weird, eccentric turns in the early part of his career. The utter bizarreness of his role of Peter Loew in Vampire’s Kiss would’ve been more than enough to solidify Cage’s reputation as the quirkiest actor this side of Peter Sellers during a psychological breakdown. Also known as “Nicolas Cage: The Meme: The Movie,” Vampire’s Kiss makes very little sense and its tone changes with the tide as it sees fit. Sometimes it wants to be horrific, sometimes comedic, sometimes mean-spirited, and sometimes I don’t even know—god damn weird—but what it creates is an experience that never quite gels, but which you can’t help but enjoy in a “How weird is this going to get?” kind of way.

Most of the plot is spent with Cage’s Peter Loew gradually beginning to believe that he’s been inflicted with the vampire disease, which as you might imagine makes him quite irritable. He spends most of the film willfully forcing this vampire transition, such as sleeping in a coffin or eating bugs (for real), all harassing Alva, his poor poor secretary.

Referring to Vampire’s Kiss as a “so bad it’s good” kind of film would be a miscalculation, because every oddity on display—from Cage’s completely made-up aristocratic accent to him running down the street bellowing, “I’m a vampire, I’m a vampire!” while wearing Halloween store vampire teeth—is 100% intended. Nothing about Vampire’s Kiss is accidentally entertaining. It just…is.

And it’s lovely.

vampires_kiss_high_spirits_blu-ray_review_3High Spirits—2.5/5.  If someone were to say to you, “Picture Steve Guttenberg in a family-friendly ghost comedy from the late ‘80s,” High Spirits would literally write itself in your mind. Co-starring Beverly D’Angelo, a young Liam Neeson, Jennifer Tilly, and a slumming Peter O’Toole, High Spirits is corny and lame, but inoffensively watchable. The concept isn’t very novel—a location exploited as being haunted turns out to really be haunted—and none of the performances are what you would consider inspired, but seeing Steve Guttenberg fall in love with an undead Daryl Hannah while also seeing an undead Liam Neeson…er, aggressively pursue the quite living Beverly D’Angelo leads to time adequately spent, a few yuck yucks, and not much else. Plus Peter O’Toole almost hangs himself, which he would do artistically ten years later in Phantoms.

The strangest thing about High Spirits is that it was written and directed by Neil Jordan, a filmmaker known for far more serious and artistic fare–like The Crying Game, for one. High Spirits shows off a kind of whimsy that one wouldn’t necessarily associate with the Irish director, but if this is an indication of his comedic sensibilities…better he stick to bedicked plot twists and Jodie Foster going full Bronson.

vampires_kiss_high_spirits_blu-ray_review_4High Spirits is the type of film that belongs on a double-feature with another film of said caliber, but dare I say it: Vampire’s Kiss deserved a standalone release. Its insanity needs all the room possible to breathe and spread its ridiculously caped arms and scream, “I’m vampire, I’m a vampire!” Still, look at it this way: if you buy Vampire’s Kiss and end up with High Spirits, then, okay–bonus! But if you buy High Spirits and end up with Vampire’s Kiss by default, then…you’re doing it wrong.


vampires_kiss_high_spirits_blu-ray_review_2Considering the ages and reputations of the included titles, both video presentations look rather good. High Spirits takes the lead with a bit more sharpness and stability, leaving Vampire’s Kiss in a close second. Colors are strong in each, with High Spirits relying on the admittedly gorgeous soundstage on which the entire film takes place. The castle stonework and tapestries pop pretty effectively. Flesh tones are realistic across both films. Vampire’s Kiss shows just the least bit of wear and tear, but not to any detriment.


vampires_kiss_high_spirits_blu-ray_review_6The audio presentations that accompany both films are perfectly serviceable, but neither are particularly dynamic. Vampire’s Kiss offers a rather straightforward experience (or at least as straightforward as a Nic Cage vampire film can be), but dialogue is perfectly presented and sounds fairly clean. The whimsical High Spirits offers a fair bit more dynamism being that the plot somewhat demands it, but offers another case of clean dialogue, well married musical score, and some spontaneous use of ambience. Every single terrible Guttenberg joke is inescapable, so prepare yourself.


vampires_kiss_high_spirits_blu-ray_review_5The complete list of special features is as follows:

— Commentary With Director Robert Bierman And Actor Nicolas Cage
— Theatrical Trailer

— Crickets


vampires_kiss_high_spirits_blu-ray_review_7STUDIO: MGM
DISTRIBUTOR: Shout! Factory
GENRE: Horror/Comedy
THEATRICAL DATE: June 2, 1989 / November 18, 1988
VIDEO STREET DATE: February 10, 2015
VIDEO: MPEG-4 AVC; 1080p; 1.85:1
AUDIO: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
SUBTITLES: English; English SDH; Spanish
RUN TIME: 103 mins / 99 mins

 OVERALL 3.5/5

vampires_kiss_high_spirits_blu-ray_review_covAlva, there is no one else in this entire office that I could possibly ask to share such a horrible job. You’re the lowest on the totem pole here, Alva. The lowest. Do you realize that? Every other secretary here has been here longer than you, Alva. Every one. And even if there was someone here who was here even one day longer than you, I still wouldn’t ask that person to partake in such a miserable job as long as you were around. That’s right, Alva. It’s a horrible, horrible job: sifting through old contract after old contract. I couldn’t think of a more horrible job if I wanted to. And you have to do it! You have to or I’ll fire you. You understand? Do you? Good.

(Thanks to Rock! Shop! Pop! for the screen grabs.)


Shout!/Scream Factory, LLC is a diversified multi-platform media company devoted to producing, uncovering, preserving and revitalizing the very best of pop culture. Shout! Factory’s DVD and Blu-Ray™ offerings serve up feature films, classic and contemporary TV series, animation, live music and comedy specials in lavish packages crammed with extras. Shout! Factory also owns and operates Westchester Films, Inc., Timeless Media Group, Biograph Records, Majordomo Records, HighTone Records and Video Time Machine. These riches are the result of a creative acquisition mandate that has established the company as a hotbed of cultural preservation and commercial reinvention. 


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J. Tonzelli is a writer, film critiquer, and avid Arnold/Van Damme/Bronson enthusiast who resides in rural South Jersey. He is the author of "The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween" and the "Fright Friends Adventure" series, co-authored with Chris Evangelista. He loves abandoned buildings, the supernatural, and films by John Carpenter. You can read some of his short fiction at his website, JTonzelli.com, or objectify him by staring at his tweets: @jtonzelli. He apologizes for all the profanity.

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