Sifting through the many manic faces of Nicolas Cage

From Vampire's Kiss to The Wicker Man, the 54-year-old actor has carved out a genre unto himself.

Nicolas Cage in Vampire's Kiss.

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Nicolas Cage in Vampire's Kiss.

It seems as though every week there’s a new film starring Nicolas Cage being released: some good, some just OK, others dire direct-to-video blots on the actor’s resumé. But no matter the movie, Cage is almost always worth watching and in many ways has become a kind of genre unto himself.

This week sees Crank co-director Brian Taylor’s jet-black horror comedy Mom and Dad screaming across Canadian screens. It’s a satirical shocker starring Cage and Selma Blair as a suburban, middle-aged couple who contract a virus that is turning parents into child-killing lunatics. And while the movie itself is a decent enough riff on the zombie film motif, it’s Cage’s grandiose head-spinner of a performance that truly dazzles, all teeth and shouting and spastic freak-outs, the kind that only Nic Cage can do.

Sifting through the legendary actor’s dense back catalogue, here are some favourite of Cage’s “out there” scenery-chewing turns. And trust me, it was a hard list to whittle down.

Moonstruck (1987) — One of the first and finest examples of filmed Cage-delirium hides within the confines of this charming comedy classic. Cage’s raving, opera-mad, one-handed Italian bread baker is alternately amusingly manic and sweetly vulnerable when he locks his passions on a never-better Cher.

Vampire’s Kiss (1989) — Cage’s own personal favourite of his many scene-snacking performances. The actor stars as corporate slug Peter Loew who thinks he’s been bitten by a vampire then promptly loses his mind, running around L.A. eating cockroaches and leering at women while wearing dime-store fangs. Describing Cage’s mania in this movie is pointless; you have to see it to believe it.

Wild at Heart (1990) — David Lynch’s rowdy, surreal masterpiece sees Cage channelling Elvis playing ex-con Sailor Ripley, who flees to New Orleans with his lover Lula (Laura Dern) to escape her malevolent mother. Nic rhapsodizes about his snakeskin jacket, karate-dances to thrash metal and is the epitome of retro-cool.

Deadfall (1993) — Cage’s equally eccentric brother — artist and filmmaker Christopher Coppola — directed this transgressive, over-boiled noir featuring one of Nic’s most outrageous turns. Cage’s Eddie is a cartoonish lowlife from Hell and when he finally gets offed in the middle of the movie, his berserk presence is sorely missed.

The Wicker Man (2006) — The understandably derided remake of the 1973 British horror classic sees Cage as a doomed detective trapped on an island of female pagans. Filled to the gills with out-of-control Cageisms, including the now-viral sensation scene where Nic gets his head wedged in a honey bee booby trap. His “Not the beeeeeees” line is the stuff of legend.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009) — German arthouse director Werner Herzog substitutes his regular mad muse Klaus Kinski for Cage and the results are delightfully insane. Cage’s corrupt but dedicated copper snorts, smokes and injects himself to oblivion while hallucinating iguanas and terrorizing invalids. Brilliant stuff.

Kick Ass (2010) — Vulgar and amusing adaptation of the adult graphic novel sees Cage in a supporting role as loving but psychotic widow who trains his pre-teen daughter (Chloe Grace Moritz) to be a vicious assassin. Nic keeps his performance controlled until his fiery demise, a screaming kissing cousin to his burning freak-out in The Wicker Man.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011) — Mom and Dad director Taylor co-directed (with Mark Nevaldine) this baroque companion film to the first Ghost Rider movie and while not a great movie (Taylor claims his unreleased R-rated version is superior) Cage is fully dedicated to the role. He screams till he’s shrill, his eyes bug, he yells at walls, does many of his own stunts and delivers the world’s first “method” comic book movie performance.


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