Why She’s On Our Radar: Xan Cassevetes, daughter to indie icons John Cassevetes and Gena Rowlands, follows in family’s footsteps with her feature directorial-writing debut “Kiss of the Damned” (playing the SXSW’s Midnight section). A feverish vampire story strictly aimed at the adult set (think more “True Blood” and less “Twilight”), “Kiss of the Damned” doesn’t recall the work of her famous father, but that of European masters like Michelangelo Antonioni, Claude Chabrol, Louis Feuillade, and even Dario Argento. Together with cinematographer Tobias Datum (“Smashed,” “Terri”), Cassevetes conjures an intoxicating tale that seduces and frights in equal measure.
What’s Next: “I have four things in the works,” Cassevetes told Indiewire. “One is something that I wrote before.The other are
things that I’ve written since. They’re all very different, but I don’t
know which one is going to be the one I am going to make. The work for ‘Kiss of the Damned’ is ending now, so I’m going to have to make a decision.”
The vampire genre’s been done to death. Why did you choose to make a vampire film as your debut?
It wasn’t the first feature length film I tried to do I’ll tell you that (laughs). I was about to make another movie that was more expensive and much straighter and I really wasn’t feeling it so I kind of bowed out. I came up with another script quickly before I had gone to a location, which is the house in the movie, where the owner expressed that he wanted a film made there. I had been there before — I loved that it was on top of a lake and this sinister hill. But there was something that was sort of unnatural about the house in a beautiful way. I just got this connection in my head of these two sisters who were living in the house together and roaming these halls sort of lonely, like anyone in a horror film. My mind automatically went there — a kind of poetic, philosophical idea of vampires. And it is a philosophical kind of genre, it’s not necessarily a horror genre or sexual genre, whatever. It has a lot of room for philosophical thought in it and something about that house and that atmosphere made me want to do something like that.
As far as “Twilight,” this and a lot of vampire movies over the course of time have existed before. Everyone goes ‘oh “Twilight’” but that’s a movie for children. I took my daughter to see it and I thought it was fine for kids, but to me it’s not like the ultimate vampire movie in the world, it’s just something that people reference now.
Did you grow up as a fan of the genre? The film plays like a love letter to European horror films of the ’70s.
I love European films, I grew up on them. I really love the freedom and I really love the not-people-pleasing of the giallo films. They’re not trying to be a big blockbuster or even go on an auteur level, though they’re very beautiful, very stylized and I love them. I really love the kind of not kiss ass sort of worlds in which those sort of giallo films live. I just love the way those moves create such stylish and beautiful things without looking towards that. So that did very much influence me at the time.
I’m from a certain era, but “The Hunger” to me is the ultimate.
Many people are no doubt curious to check this out because of your pedigree. How do you live that down?
Honestly, John is so above and beyond and so uniquely John, and so, in my eyes as a father and as a director, so above. I love him so much as a father and a director; the idea of him of ever really… of having anyone compare us seems so absurd to me because he’s so elevated, in my mind, to something that… there is nothing like that and there will never be anything like that. He was, as a man and as a filmmaker, on such a different level of everything. So I don’t feel any pressure.
I really never felt any pressure from him, for anything I ever did. And that’s really probably where it originates, and I don’t have a fear of it. I never set out to be a filmmaker, but somehow that happened through the course of being a musician and making videos and somehow I found myself doing what they all do (laughs). I don’t feel that way about my brother or sister or father, I don’t at all. There’s nobody in my mind that’s better than John and I would shutter that anybody would even or that I would ever assume that I could ever be in that ballpark. So it’s not really not pressure, absolutely not possible. I’m my own person with my own point of view and this movie is probably not a movie that people are hoping that Cassevetes’ child would make. It’s not: it’s a vampire movie. I kind of like that about it.
You appeared as a child in many of his films growing up. What did you take away from spending time on set with him that influenced you as a filmmaker?
We were always making movies in the house and writing. He would make me read pages and everything. I think that, for my brother and my sister and I, we think of making movies as just sort of a way of life, as a natural way of life. It’s not fancy, you don’t get geared up for something or jazzed up for something. It’s just… it’s arts and crafts. It’s an extension of the way you feel that day or what you’re thinking about in your life, what you’d like to see.