CINEMA.

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A RIVETING CHARACTER STUDY creepily documenting the last days of a young, New York City literary agent’s mental, physical and spiritual breakdown, Vampire’s Kiss may not sound like a funny movie. But for those who have toiled in or within shouting distance of the hostile publishing milieu, no matter the pay or the post, the 1989 film from writer Joseph Minion (_After Hours_) and director Robert Bierman plays like a twisted documentary.

In one of his most over-the-top and best performances, Nicolas Cage is the aptly named and longing-for-love Peter Loew. Aside from his annoying part-British, part-Valley guy accent, Peter seems to have everything a media-minded young professional craves: a great job at a venerable literary agency, cool digs and an active social life. But we know from the outset that he has deep-seated issues about life and love. About yet another woman he met at a club and took back to his place, he tells his psychiatrist, “I wanted her the same as always, I wanted her to disappear, I wanted her to be the hell out of there…and she got the hell out of there.”

Peter can cajole whatever, or whomever, he wants. While talking business and finance at a bar with a couple of buddies one night, he eyes something far more interesting and satisfying: a ravishing, dark-haired stunner (Jennifer Beals) in a nearby booth. He compliments Rachel’s earrings, they exchange greetings and the scene cuts to Peter’s bedroom.

The first time I saw the seduction sequence, I expected it to have more dialogue and to make clear whether Rachel was a figment of Peter’s imagination. Even though Peter is good-looking, successful and charming, I expected he would have to work harder to woo the fetching Rachel. But after reflecting on the sequence a few weeks later, I realized it made perfect sense. We are so used to inane, stilted dialogue in love scenes that the efficient yet effective wordplay between Peter and Rachel catches us off-guard. More significant, Peter’s effortless seduction of Rachel exemplifies what the media has led so many of us young professionals to believe: that we deserve to experience personal and professional happiness NOW. Unfortunately, the volatility of today’s social and business climates proves the opposite.

Has Peter turned into a vampire? The movie, much like Peter, sends mixed messages. The morning after he beds Rachel, a chipper Peter brings her coffee in bed. But when he passes her the cup of coffee, hand trembling, the camera pulls back to show that no one is there. Naturally, sunlight bothers him, but he still goes to work during the day. In one of the film’s funniest scenes, a deteriorating Peter stares at himself in the mirror at work and freaks out when he thinks he doesn’t see his reflection. “Where am I?” he repeatedly shrieks to himself. Finally, a man in one of the stalls yells to him that he’s in the men’s room — and shut up.

Initially, the “bitten” Peter is innocently eccentric. He wears dark shades and mutters to himself like some dysfunctional, ultra-chic Conde Nast editor one moment and stares forlornly out his window to a happy young couple in the park the next.

But Peter’s behavior soon moves from benign to dangerously unpredictable. He mercilessly browbeats a secretary for failing to find an old contract a key client has requested. When Alva still hasn’t unearthed the contract after a few days, he jumps on an empty desk to admonish her and then chases her down the hall into the women’s bathroom. A twisted game of mental torture follows, with Peter ultimately raping her late one night at work.

In a sane and structured office, the higher-ups would (hopefully) not tolerate such irrational and criminal behavior. But, if myriad gossip columnists, magazine insiders (two excellent diatribes against Conde Nast come from ex-staffers: Ted Heller’s Slab Rat and Toby Young’s How to Lose Friends and Alienate People) and media pundits are to be believed, key publishing players have free reign — so long as their titles are profitable and attract the right demographics. Accordingly, Peter’s superiors (all males), colleagues and even strangers on the street ignore the golden boy’s venomous behavior, as when, arms flapping, Peter runs undeterred through the streets, screaming, “I’m a vampire! I’m a vampire!”

Peter is just as ruthless and unpredictable with his dates. Because Rachel has such a “hold” on him, he has many false starts. Guilt-ridden after leaving one woman stranded at an art show, he arranges to meet her to apologize, but as he’s about to leave his apartment building he “sees” Rachel, who lures him back under her spell. Lonely and mentally tortured, Peter eventually kills a woman at a disco when he bites her — with fake, plastic fangs — on the neck.

Many of us may — like Peter, Patrick Bateman in American Psycho and the narrator of _Fight Club _— float in and out of a strained dream state from time to time. While we obviously do not want to follow Peter’s insanity-fueled lead, we do need to have healthy, constructive outlets to escape our shitty realities.

Peter, however, has no escape. At the end of the movie, Alva’s brother tracks a totally deluded Peter to his apartment. He finds Peter hiding under the couch (his makeshift coffin) and fittingly avenges her death. Spared of any more lonely and torturous days, Peter truly finds peace and happiness.

We should all be so lucky.

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a. richard langley lives and writes in atlanta. his day job as a technical writer pays the bills, but he yearns to write for a pop culture publication and document “complex” entertainers. his byline has appeared in film threat and atlanta citymag.