Darke Reviews | Interview with a Vampire (1994)

As I write this review I reflect on the imagery and dialogue choices within the film, how they talk about the two lives – one before and one after. This is of particular note to me as the year I was born was the year the original novel by Anne Rice was released. As with most children the year they graduate high school is the year their new, second life begins; and that is the year that the film was released the oh so lovely 1994. This movie changed the face of modern vampire films as much as Dracula did back in 1931. It goes in waves, we are delivered the monstrous vampire (Nosferatu) then the romantic bloodsucker as Lugosi did. The 80s and early nineties vampire films were a turn from the 70s sexploitation and had become the rebellious monster (Lost Boys). We once again as a lover of the things with fangs, yearned to be seduced again, yearned to be romanced.

Along comes Interview with a Vampire.

The screenplay for the film was written by Anne Rice herself, so any changes to the story she had written eighteen years before can be forgiven as she had evolved as a writer over those years and had fallen in love with her personal demon Lestat. This is the story of Louis, a southern plantation owner begging for death. Death comes in the form of Lestate deLioncourt, who gleefully offers him death or…something more. The film centers around Louis coming to terms with his own existence and what it means to be a vampire. The introduction of a vampiric daughter, Claudia, the betrayal of his own dark father, his journey to find more of his kind are highlights of a rather large scale story told in a personal way. Louis pain reaches new heights as he finally comes to term with his own vampirism but that awareness has such sweet suffering. All of it based around the concept that he is giving the story to a small time journalist and this is the biography he has wanted to get off of his chest.

The director Neil Jordan, best known for The Crying Game, could probably call this his masterpiece. Nearly every decision made and performance reached is on him. The movie is staggering in the amount of sheer gothic visual imagery it contains. Even the musical cues are powerful throughout. The key performances are nuanced and executed well, which falls on a director as much as any actor. It also proves that yes, with the right director a child actor can perform to the caliber of her adult co stars. Please take note M. Night Shamalama-ding-dong.

Lets talk about the actors a bit. When first announced, as a fan of the books, I was incensed at the casting of Tom Cruise as Lestat. Anne Rice herself was less than pleased. When I saw the movie however, he did play one facet of the magnificent bastard that Lestat is. He played it well. I think Townsends’ Lestat is better, but Cruise did a remarkable job. The role of Lestat was a huge departure from his usual A list roles and mainstream films. Others still pan him to this day, but the reality is he did a really good job at playing the Lestat as written in the novel on screen.

Brat Pitt (no I am not going to list his credits, if you dont know who he is, check your pulse), plays our main character Louis. Lets be fair, I don’t like Louis as a vampire or a human. I suppose thats what makes Pitts performance so outstanding is that he at least can make you put up with him for two hours. He covers the range of emotions well, but more importantly understands the changes happening to Louis as the decades become centuries. There is a subtle, but noticable shift in the character that Pitt executes on perfectly.

Both Pitt and Cruise however are upstaged by fledgling actress and twelve year old Kristen Dunst. She played the aforementioned dark daughter Claudia. She is a very naughty girl. she actually seems to force both actors to elevate their own performance. She handles the lines she is given and the physical cues she must perform like someone twice her age, if not three times her age. while if you look at her actual age to the age of the actors she plays against some of those dialogues and motions are far more uncomfortable. When you examine the fact that she is playing a fourty year old in the body of a twelve year old it really shows the ability of the actress and makes the scenes that much more powerful.

From a technical standpoint the film is again nearly flawless. The CGI minimal and what there is of it is difficult to notice in all but a handful of shots. The make up work is amazing and holds up twenty years later. The sets, costuming and lighting were spot on through out the film.

This isnt to say its a perfect film. There are some casting choices that bother me to this day even more than Cruise did at the time. Such as the casting of Antonio Banderas as a cherub faced red head with curls named Armand. I will leave you with that character to actor description for a bit. The technicalities of Claudia’s fate defy astronomy as they could only occur a few days a year.

For the TL;DR crowd

It is one of the best vampire films ever made; while it leans more to the dramatic than the horrific it is an honest vampire movie. It isn’t flawless but it is close. It’s drama however does tend to limit it’s rewatch value to a once a year kinda deal. The performances are amazing and that alone is a reason to watch. Again any changes from the source are tacitly approved by the author, which while not always a good thing, needs to be kept in mind for those who would compare novel to screen.

Interview with a Vampire is a must see for anyone at least once.

Tomorrow’s review doesn’t want to end up like Nancy

Darke Reviews | Queen of the Damned (2002)

Few times in all the movies have I watched has there ever been a film that is so blatantly a quick, sloppy studio money grab than the adaptation of Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned. That being said there are even fewer times that such a blatant grab is actually enjoyable for me. Let me explain for those who haven’t seen it.

The year I was born the world was given another gift, Interview with the Vampire. Ten years later Anne Rice followed it with The Vampire Lestat, two after that Queen of the Damned. Somewhere along the way Ms. Rice sold the rights to her books to Warner Bros, who in a rare moment of beautiful handling gave the first of the books to Neil Jordan and he gave us Interview with the Vampire in 1994 (Review to come on that one). The years passed after the critically acclaimed film and the studio found its rights to produce the next movie waning rapidly. With DAYS to spare before expiration they quickly put into production the Queen of the Damned. What happened to the second book? Oh lets get to that…

WB, in its more typical case of mismanaging franchises and scripts, gave the writing to two men who I won’t name since they haven’t apparently worked since who feverishly read the cliff notes versions of the two books and then used trained goldfish to write a script. The source material itself was thrown into a blender and the two books merged to become one. While I have spoken about adapted material before, sometimes at length, the raw amount of ignorance that was shown in this adaptation is nearly criminal. Easily 600 pages of the just over 1,000 were expunged for the film. The sheer number of characters, plots, history and mythology that were lost is too much to mention.

By now, it sounds like I despise the movie doesn’t it? I should. Yet I don’t. It deserves it as many other reviewers out there, fans and critics will attest, but I don’t. Why? Because it got some things perfect, for all its many many flaws. Casting about half right but the half that was spot on. Music, while tonally appropriate, beautiful, haunting and again spot on, was dated by the time it came out. Costumes, sets, general look and feel – I love.

Lets talk casting. Stuart Townsend plays our main character of Lestat. Let me be clear, while the earlier incarnation was good it wasn’t quite Lestat. Townsend IS the Lestat I wanted. He was arrogant, he was magnificently beautiful, he was rebellious, and so cock sure he could “I am the vampire Lestat”. Then there is the casting of the titular character, Akasha, played in a way by the taken too soon Aaliyah. When I first heard this casting, there was nerd rage, then I saw the film and I loved her and missed her. I was unsure how “she” could play a force of malevolence and yet she did it. She was sexy, she was dangerous, she was truly the Queen of the Vampires. Vincent Perez and Paul McGann play the slash fic couple, no not really, but they are cast correctly in their roles as Marius the ancient roman vampire and David Talbot of the Talamasca watchers of the supernatural world. Now I did say half right…

Lena Olin, while always solid as an actress is clearly not Maharet the sixteen year old red headed beauty with no eyes. Marguerite Moreau as Jesse performs only slightly less wooden than Kristen Stewart, with a few moments of emotion in an otherwise bland performance.

Musically, I owned the soundtrack before the film even came out. David Draimans music was perfect for the fim and quite honestly in 2002 I don’t think better could have been achieved. Was it the music of the God of Rock and Roll that Lestat became? Eh..not really, but in this day and age vs. 1985 I don’t know that we have true gods of rock anymore.

Director Michael Rymer (later known for Battlestar Galactica) did what he could with the script, budget and time he had. That this movie isn’t SyFy quality is only a testament to him. The shot angles were lovely, sets and costuming everything I want in a vampire film of this nature.

Story, oh let me get back to the story. It’s bad. It’s bad in ways that I didn’t think it could be. They have David Draiman write all these songs to be used for the movie, QUOTE the usage of the song and then say it has lyrics that aren’t actually in it. It falls under the weight of trying too much in too little time and rarely if ever handles a single scene perfect. Much less just right. Townsends, Perez and Aaliyah’s natural charisma are all that make it work. Beautiful moments are saved thanks to the actors (Hello David), and we are taught to appreciate our prey.

So where are we? TL;DR

Queen of the Damned is one of the most flawed vampire movies out there yet is still quite enjoyable. I consider it a guilty pleasure movie that I can actually watch over and over. Unlike another vampire series, this one had good original writing, bad scripting but was saved by good acting.

I do think it’s worth checking out for the vampire aficionado, but most everyone else give it a pass. Audiophiles may dig the sound track so that alone is worth getting for them.

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Hint for tomorrow: You’re not afraid of the dark, are you?