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Ambitious, yet flawed vampire love story

A vampire film by John Cassavetes? The thought is so outrageous, it pretty much sums up the definition of surrealism.

A vampire film by John Cassavetes? The thought is so outrageous, it pretty much sums up the definition of surrealism.

Cassavetes stripped his films of artifice. He pared each scene down to its emotional core, laying bare the often contradictory, confused, and destructive drives that bind people together.

Vampire pictures are all about artifice, about an imaginary dimension populated by monsters.

Yet there's a good deal of Cassavetes' sensibility in Kiss of the Damned, an ambitious, if deeply flawed, vampire love story written and directed by the great film auteur's daughter, Alexandra "Xan" Cassavetes.

A welcome antidote to the juvenile Twilight series, Kiss of the Damned stars Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes) as Paolo, a melancholy writer who has retreated to the Connecticut suburbs to write his next screenplay. His world turns upside down when he runs across the mysterious, ridiculously sexy, yet equally morose Djuna (Joséphine de La Baume).

Melancholy yearnings follow as Paolo tries to win Djuna's heart. She offers her teeth and turns Paolo into a vampire so they can live forever in their mutual admiration and melancholy longing.

Enter Djuna's even more ridiculously sexy sociopath of a sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida), a killer who loves to prey on unsuspecting men, women, and couples alike.

Disgusted by Djuna's bourgeois existence, she tries to shatter her sister's soulful bond to Paolo.

Xan Cassavetes, 47, earned accolades for her 2004 documentary, Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession, a fond look back at the influential 1980s cable channel that introduced a generation of Americans to European horror and erotica made by the likes of Jean Rollin, Harry Kümel, and Dario Argento.

Those flicks must have made quite an impression: Kiss of the Damned has a highly stylized, retro-1970s, Eurotrash-look, dangerous sexuality straight out of Tony Scott's The Hunger, and a mesmerizing, limpid pace that works like quicksand on the viewer.

Yet, beyond the artifice, Kiss of the Damned tries hard - too hard, perhaps - to strike at something real, to say something important about the nature of love, the dynamics of relationships, even about moral responsibility.

Djuna's vampire friends, all of them impossibly beautiful, overeducated, and Euro-refined, spend many a dinner party discussing Freud's theories about the nature of morality, about the duty we all have to control our base instincts - even as outside, the forever horny Mimi tracks down, seduces, and kills her next victim.

The characters' high-minded, if unsophisticated, patter clashes with the film's ironic-chic style, and it never manages to move beyond the late-night palaver of earnest, if naive, college freshmen.