Interview: Xan Cassavetes, director of Kiss of the Damned

Interview conducted by Nia Edwards-Behi

Kiss of the Damned seems to be a film that has thoroughly split opinion, with some falling for the sumptuous Euro-sleaze stylings of the vampire drama, while others have found this particular mode dull and self-indulgent. I’m very much one of the former – everything about the film endears me to it, first and foremost the style but also the smarter-than-it-looks themes beneath that shiny veneer. It’s an incredible achievement for the film’s director Xan Cassavetes, who, while highly experienced in the various aspects of the industry, here with Kiss of the Damned presents her debut fiction feature film.

Ms. Cassavetes was kind enough to spend time answering some questions about the film for us.


BAH: Hi Xan. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions for us at Brutal as Hell!

Xan Cassavetes: Hey guys, no, thank you!

BAH: You have a background in music, music videos, and documentary filmmaking. Were you particularly drawn to such an ‘unreal’ world – that of vampirism – for your first fiction feature film?

XC: It was visiting that house that made me think of doing a vampire movie to begin with. That house really did have this unreal feel, so new and constructed in the middle of raw nature above this lake. So it really did come to mind, that combination of ‘unreal’ or unnatural vs. reality.

BAH: Your feature documentary, Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession, is about a cable pay-channel which showed a broad range of art cinema, cult cinema, and genre-defying films; Kiss of the Damned seems to very much bear some stylistic influence of the films of cult directors like Jean Rollin and Jess Franco. Were the films of Rollin et al. ones you would watch on Z Channel?

XC: No, they weren’t, but ironically it was F.X. Feeney who introduced me to Jean Rollin – F.X was the main voice in the Z Channel documentary and a huge part of the Z Channel itself.

I’m not sure Z Channel didn’t play the Rollins but I don’t remember seeing them there. I’m pretty sure I first saw Vampiros Lesbos on Z Channel, maybe on the ‘Nightowl Series’ where they played anything with Euro-erotica, great cinematography and killer soundtracks. That’s where I first saw Daughters of Darkness. Those were the days.

BAH: Were there any particular films that influenced the look and feel of Kiss of the Damned?

XC: It’s funny, we didn’t really try to technically take so much from the films that are cited as being influences. They for sure were influences, but for instance the DP, Tobi, and I would talk and conceptualize shots and the names Brian de Palma, Bertolucci, Visconti, Nic Roeg, Zulawski, were thrown around once in a while to describe a feel or type of camera movement…in our hearts though we definitely carried Rollin, Argento Franco. Oh, and The Hunger.

BAH: The film’s opiate style isn’t just in the cinematography and direction; it really infuses the performances too. Did you have much say in the casting? Roxane Mesquida seems particularly perfect in her role as Mimi.

XC: Oh, I think so too! I couldn’t have been happier. I like that the three vampiresses all have French accents and speak English. Does that add a little preposterousness? For sure. Also exoticness. It did remind me of those French and Italian horror films mentioned earlier. A feeling that’s familiar yet disorienting. And Milo being the only American feels like he is kind of on the outside of these beautiful French women vampires. A different breed, kind of. So all those things, yes, were thought of as giving a deliberate feel.

BAH: The music, too, feels very appropriate. You’ve worked with composer Steven Hufsteter previously, both as a musician yourself and in your films. Was it important to you to bring someone on board who you knew could create a particular sound?

XC: Oh yes, Stevie and I have so much background playing and loving music together. I think Steve is mind-blowing but it’s a history of loving things together that made it really meaningful for me. Same for music supervisor Dina Juntila. The two of them are two of my best friends and we all love music and movies in a deep, passionate, nerd way! So yes it was very much living the dream to create this together.

BAH: The narrative of the film is actually quite human, particularly in the characters’ interactions with each other – even in Paolo’s decision to become a vampire. Was this important to you?

XC: Sure, and I agree about Paolo’s wanting to become a vampire as being very human. People take huge risks for love and even sex, we all know that. What makes them take that risk is also complicated. It’s not just the tantalizing creature before them but the backlog of subconscious emotions and drives – what’s happened in our lives up to that moment.

And with the sisters, yes, it’s a human sibling relationship in many ways. A love underneath that can never be gotten to because of pain that can never be resolved. Then there are issues of addiction, and just a human’s inability to understand their own dark and mysterious sides. So human, yes.

BAH: There’s quite a strong sense of individual morality in the film, particularly in the sisters – it’d be too simplistic to compare Djuna and Mimi as the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sisters, as Mimi herself points out in the film. Is this grey scale of morality a theme that particularly interests you?

XC: Yes, for sure. I always thought of Djuna and Mimi not so much as two sisters but two sides of the same person. And then Roxane said she thought of Mimi as Djuna’s fantasy of what she wished she could be if freed from moral constraints. At this point with the film done and out, I actually see them as sisters again. Two people whose love is so deep and yet who are so hurt by the inability to relate or be accepted by the other, that it brings out a mutual destruction. In fact, although they are vampires I feel that the bloodthirst in the movie comes from a mutual rage between the sisters, a sorrow so deep, fountains of blood must erupt.

BAH: Kiss of the Damned has played very well on the film festival circuit, playing festivals as prestigious as Venice, London, SXSW and Sitges, as well as a whole host of fantastic film festivals across Europe. How have you found the experience of having the film play in so many festivals, and do you find that the festival circuit is a good way of getting the film seen?

XC: Well yeah, in this day and age the film festival circuit is the primary way your films get to be screened and properly experienced. I love film festivals. I love that other creative people are there and make friends and you begin to think ‘oh, this is the way the world is!’ but it’s not, it’s just the world of film festivals and it’s awesome. All the festivals you mentioned were incredible.

BAH: Do you have a particular affinity for fantastic or horror filmmaking? Do you see yourself making more horror films?

XC: Well, considering life is kind of horrific or at least fantastic, yes, for sure! There’s so much we have no control of these days, it feels really good to create realities where you not only dictate what happens but you get to express frustration and desire and victory – all that stuff that works so well in a fantastic or genre movie.

BAH: Finally, what’s next in store for you?

XC: Something fantastic.

Kiss of the Damned comes to Region 2 DVD and Blu-ray on 27th January 2014, from Eureka Entertainment – read Tristan’s review here.