In the court of popular opinion, Nicolas Cage went bat shit crazy—at least professionally speaking—around 2006, the same year that the maligned Wicker Manremake hit theaters. The box office dud was quickly assimilated into pop culture, what with Cage’s character viciously punching and karate kicking women, stealing a bike (pedal not motor) at gunpoint, running around in a bear costume, and lamenting that the bees, the bees are in his eyes, you see. YouTube clips and message boards lit up the Internet in rapid succession. Where had this version of Nicholas Cage been all this time? He had kept this facet of his performances relatively reigned in for a majority of the decade; films like Matchstick Men, the National Treasure series, and World Trade Center have the actor playing his roles straight, oftentimes without a hint of the madness Cage would drop on the mainstream movie-going world just a few short years in the future. The fact of the matter still remains, Cage never tried to hide this trait. All you have to do is dig back into his work in the 80s and early 90s—before he won his Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas—to cast eyes on the groundwork Cage laid on his path to become either a cult icon or a critical punching bad—depending on which camp you reside.
For me, the best example of the young, manic Nicholas Cage performance is Vampire’s Kiss, a film that would come to be seen as a roadmap for how the actor would be allowed to create the campy, 3-ring circus performance he has become known for. There are two key characteristics to this film that would allow the actor the breathing room to do what he does best. First you have the script, one that adopts a psychologically dark comedic tone—not at all surprising since in was penned by After Hours scribe Joseph Marion—which lays the groundwork for the actor’s signature off-kilter line readings. Second, and most important in allowing Cage to create the madness residing within the 103 minute running time of this overlooked gem, is Robert Bierman, the director, who would be hard pressed to reign in the whirling dervish of over the top talent that Cage displays in his performance here. Bierman is no Spike Jonze or Oliver Stone, directors that possess strong visions for their work, and one gets the sense that Cage’s personality allowed him to steamroll the director into letting him craft a performance that was so in your face, leading to the (incorrect) argument by some that it only served to dominate and destroy the fabric of the film.
Cage plays a literary agent by the name of Peter Loew, an uptight yuppie of the highest order, one that could only be a product of Reaganomics and a stunning amount of cocaine that the New York of the 80s offered people of his ilk. Loew works hard and parties harder; the most important things in life to this suit are prestige and power, and more important, the money and one night stands that accompany these traits. Early on in the film’s run time, while carousing in a local club, Loew meets Rachael (Jennifer Beals) who he hopes will be his conquest for the evening. In a startling turn of events, the woman of his dreams turns out to be the woman of his nightmares, a vampire who seizes her opportunity with Loew by sinking her teeth into his neck shortly after their return to his apartment. Consumed with the possibility that he too is becoming a vampire, Loew’s behavior becomes increasingly (more) erratic; he dons dark sunglasses during daylight hours, inserts a set of plastic vampire teeth when trying to attack strangers, fails to see his reflection in mirrors, and in the scene that serves as the cult-classic’s standout, decides to make a cockroach dwelling in his apartment his dinner for the evening. Has Loew actually become the victim of a beautiful vampire or are these just delusions brought on by the onset of a powerful mental illness?
At the time of its release, Cage received positive reviews, applauding him for his willingness to go “out on a limb” in creating his performance. Most of these critics are the same ones who have started to look down on Cage with disdain in recent years, deriding him for the same merits that earned him praise twenty years prior. Nicolas Cage has been—and always will be—an actor of unique talents; one that marches to the beat of his own drummer, both professionally and in his personal life. He even claims to have invented a new method of acting he refers to as “Nouveau Shamanic*,” which he is on record as saying he has used throughout his career. One would have to imagine that style is on prominent display here, certainly becoming a contributing factor in the rise of Vampire’s Kiss as a well-regarded cult classic from the 80s. If you are a fan of the style of acting that only Nicolas Cage can unleash or just love outrageously overblown movie performances, Vampire’s Kiss hits the sweet spot for off-beat movie lovers everywhere.
*A quick online search yields few results in terms of description of this style and what it does or doesn’t entail. Cage only offers that he hopes to pen a book detailing the method. I for one can’t wait to read it.