After the documentary debut Z CHANNEL: A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, Xan Cassavetes now makes her feature film bow with the sleek, stylish and sexy gothic vampire tale, KISS OF THE DAMNED. STARBURST was lucky enough to sit down with Miss Cassavetes to talk European horror filmmakers of yesteryear and get the inside scoop on her lusty vampire romp…
Starburst: As well as directing Kiss of the Damned, you wrote the script. What inspired you to tell this particular story?
Xan Cassavetes: Exactly what prompted me was a tour through that house . The house was giant and lonely and vacuous, and it was just sort of a weekend house for some people; it wasn’t very lived in, and it felt that way. They wanted to know if anybody had any ideas to do a horror film, and, whilst I wasn’t really visualising straight-up horror, I did think of this lonely girl living there temporarily, passing through on her way to wherever… her eternal road. And that’s how I thought of it; just from a tour of this house. I think that triggered some weird subconscious memories of my own life, and the next thing you know, I have a screenplay and I’m shooting it without too much time to think about it; where everything came from in my mind.
Before this you did the Z Channel documentary, and this is quite a different route for you. So it wasn’t a conscious effort to go down a more horror route?
Well I really have pretty eclectic taste in movies, because of Z Channel probably; it caused me to appreciate a lot of different stuff. Here in the US, everyone always expects you to make an indie style movie, and I really did have another movie that I was gonna make but I dropped, that was much straighter. When I say much straighter, I mean more socially acceptable in many ways. What appealed to me about this movie, especially making it at 45, this was the first time I got to make a narrative film, the first time I was allowed to. I just liked the idea at this point in time that didn’t cater to any audience except for myself. If I liked it, then some people would like it. It’s not too thoughtful or too wacky – it is what it is. It was really great to make something just from a string of consciousness and something based on atmosphere, and some of the things, y’know, that trouble me about being alive.
There’s a very European flavour to Kiss of the Damned. Was that always the intention?
Yes. I love this way that a lot of European directors, like Bellucci and Nic Roeg, portray this whole mythology of women, without making it stupid or superficial or shallow. There is something truly magical about women, whether you like it or not. There tends to be a nightmare or a dream… there’s something mystical. I love that European way of looking at women. A woman is a woman, not woman as in girl. I love that perspective to that much more common European filmmaking; to look at a woman, even if she’s 20, she’s going to be dressed like a woman in those ‘70s’ movies. It’s that ‘80s and ‘70s idealisation of a woman to be a woman; to go through the intense things women go through, and not really understand how to make it work. It’s always been very fascinating to me, and I thought that would be a very cool approach to vampires that way too. A woman is, y’know, maybe a little bit intimidated by her own sexuality as well as her own fear of hurting someone, and what physical contact means with someone, and what attraction means… not just fear of being a vampire, but fear of being a woman.
There’s a very sexy side to the film. Is that something that you were trying to strive for?
Yes, for sure. In the movie I’m writing now there’s no sex scenes, because there doesn’t need to be any sex scenes. I mean, a vampire movie, and all the scenes that have sex in them in that movie are very narrative and there’s a lot more at stake in those scenes beside the kind of sex they’re going to be having.
You’ve said about the guys that had an influence on you, were there any particular films or names that you drew from when making this? What horror films and directors were you a fan of growing up?
You can probably guess, the Giallo guys - Dario, Fulci, Martino, Franco - and I love Jean Rollin. I worship him. He’s the most loving horror filmmaker ever.
Over here we had Hammer, in the States you had John Carpenter, Wes Craven…
Hammer, yes! John Carpenter, yes! Wes Craven, yes! All of that! I mean, there’s so many really scary movies. I remember I went to see Suspiria in the theatre – that’s how old I am! I had no idea, I didn’t realise it was Dario Argento. I just walked in and I saw that, at, like, 9-years-old. I will never forget being that scared. That’s the dragon that you’re always trying to chase… like you need to be that scared again as soon as possible. I remember this movie called Tourist Trap that is super, super, super scary to me. I haven’t seen it since I was 10 though. But the scariest of all time is Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
As a writer, as a director, what are your ambitions?
I find that being a woman of a certain age, that through my life what works best for me, what appeals to me most, is not really knowing or having a set idea of who I am, who my people are, where I feel comfortable, what I can count on. I like to just be a slave to what excites me, and sometimes those things are so out of the blue and random that it makes it exciting to me. So I would just like to stay light on my feet and just not be a phony… just be open to anything that’s worth doing and exciting me to the point that I wanna share it with other people.
KISS OF THE DAMNED is out now on DVD/Blu-ray. For our full interview, check out STARBURST Issue 397, on sale now in all good newsagents and digitally.