Xan Cassavetes has spent a life living and breathing movies. Her father is the late John Cassavetes, actor and indie film pioneer. Her siblings, Nick and Zoe, are filmmakers, just like her. (Nick directed “The Notebook;” Zoe helmed the Parker Posey-starrer “Broken English.”) In 2004 Xan directed “Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession,” a documentary about the legendary Los Angeles pay channel that hipped a generation to cinephilic oddities.
Her debut fiction feature — “Kiss of the Damned,” an off-beat vampire film with nods to, among others, the moody, trashy ‘70s Euro-horror of Roger Vadim and Jean Rollin — wasn’t a project that had been gestating for ages. It came about suddenly when someone she knew tasked her with making a movie, a horror movie, inside a remote, white New England mansion. She had been working on an actor-driven drama about obsessive love, to be shot in Mexico.
“It had been something I had written so long ago that I lost the urgency,” Cassavetes says. “I wanted desperately to have something that was immediate.”
Writing it quickly, she was amazed at how much of her life and her preoccupations wound up in the screenplay, including a period when she lived in a large house with her sister, as her lead vampire (Josephine de la Baume) does. “None of it was conscious,” she claims, before pointing out that her relationship with Zoe is much better than the contentious one depicted here. “We were always very close. But it was a hard time for us. We had just lost our father. It was filled with lots of questions of life and eternity and pain. That wound up popping up in certain situations in the film.”
The film gave her the chance to live out a dream of hers, and she found herself channeling the masters. From Bernardo Bertolucci she borrowed the way he filmed women. “You’d always have these beautiful women going crazy,” she says of his movies. “I loved it. I loved the courage of these actresses who put themselves in the hands of this director who is going to love them and make sure they’re weren’t just an object, but a mystical presence.”
She feels the same way. “One of my best friends accuses me of seeing women the way men see them. Strangely enough I’m heterosexual,” she jokes. She says she loves women as both objects and complex humans. “I have a very beautiful mother,” she says, of the actress Gena Rowlands. “Since I was a child, the woman in my life was as beautiful as any woman I’ve ever seen.”
As for her father, he raised three kids who all became filmmakers like him, but not filmmakers like him. “My inclination to make films isn’t like John’s style at all. I have a whole different history and past,” Xan says. Both her father and mother inspired her in different ways. “They made it look really hard making movies, but they made it look so passionate. They made filmmaking look like what you did when you grew up. If you’re lucky.”