I am admittedly not much of a vampire fan. They have been at once both overdone and under done. The character of “vampire” is so rarely done well that storytellers usually have to afix “lesbian” or “Nazi” as a prefix just to make the tale spicy. Likewise, I am most assuredly not a Tom Cruise fan. The minute I see his name attached to a movie, I am guaranteed to miss it. Even if they add lesbian or Nazi to his name.
However, I have a small amount fondness for Interview With A Vampire (ludicrously subtitles ‘The Vampire Chronicles’ as no doubt they intended this to be a long running series of movies). Well, enough to watch it again for this illustrious website. I think the basis of my fondness is three-fold; one, Anne Rice is a literary master of a high caliber. I don’t read her works, as I am rarely interested in her subject matter, but her skill as a writer is top notch. This literary excellence shines through even the most ham-fisted handling of her source material (written in 1976) that Hollywood could muster. Some of the scenes they left intact (mostly) are nearly poetic. Second, this is a big budget movie, and a project that was given a little room to breathe. Because of that, it represents some of what Hollywood can get right with a big, wide release horror feature film. Unfortunately, there is a lot of what is wrong with the same. Lastly, this movie stands as a beacon to all of us to “don’t believe the hype” when we are told that star-power and budget can give us the sort of horror film we want.
Before I get into the movie, let’s talk shortly about the cast, as it would be unfair to bash Cruise every breath. This is a Tom Cruise vehicle, as he is cast as the “star” of the book, the vampire Lestat. Lestat is sinister, controlling, imposing, charming, and at times physically intimidating. The Parisian vampire is surrounded with mystery and pomp as well as power and great violence. Cruise nails about 10% of this. His performance may have been less awful than Rice feared, but it breaks this movie for non-Scientologists.
So is the movie doomed? No, because the three supporting cast members are razor sharp. Brad Pitt plays Louis, a vampire that Lestat creates if for no other reason than to lord over. His awakening from mortal, to vampire, to principled vampire is pure joy to watch. Likewise, 12 year old Kirsten Dunst plays Claudia, the “daughter” of Lestat and Louie who develops a will and desire of her own. Lastly, Antonio Banderas surprises in a role that must be seen.
What doesn’t need to be seen in this cast is Christian Slater. Once again he puts on his best-worst Jack Nicholson impression and adds nothing to the character he plays, which is the reporter Louis has tracked down in 1994 to tell his legacy to. Slater, who cannot act any role than Slater, only got the job because River Phoenix overdosed before they could film his scenes.
A couple things are worth noting about the movie itself. Much has been written how the movie almost never saw the light of day due to homoerotic tones in the story itself. Much of this is due to the interplay between Lestat and Louis, as they become sort of a couple. Also, vampirism is often symbolic of sex, and the screenwriters go all in for this imagery. The scene where Lestat “makes” Louis is perhaps the first gay love scene I have ever seen, without a single sex act performed. Their cohabitation and bickering, and eventual adoption of a daughter coupled easily be seen as a parable for gay relationships.
To avoid the Red State backlash, Hollywood rewrote Louis into a female character. Once you see the movie think hard about this. Lestat finds a spirited but depressed woman, fang rapes her and turns her into a sort of captive mate. She eventually sees her principles wither away until she finally takes a stand against Lestat, but not without a codependent guilt and longing for him. And even then, her escape is catalyzed by the will of her child being threatened by Lestat. Not a very feminist role. But strong enough of a performance by a female lead that Hollywood decided to let their probably-gay flag fly. The message isn’t “we decided to stay with the integrity of Rice’s original vision,” but rather
“Sorry women, America remains a man’s world, even if the man likes men.”
Let me clarify my opinion on this; Faced with openly and honestly handling the themes of homosexual relationships, even in symbolic manners, and breaching a community taboo OR creating a potentially strong leading role for a woman, Hollywood chose to go with gay. Pre-Will and Grace. Think about it.
The movie itself, released in 1994, comes from a time when there wasn’t really any sort of horror craze to speak of. Horror was mostly low budget and niche. Vampires were not glittery or sullen. Zombies weren’t on absolutely everything. There was no internet. So the small cult of “drink from me and live forever” Interview fans never really hit a fever pitch. I’d venture to say that there was a bigger Lost Boys camp than Interview. It pains me to say it, but I actually find this to be a shame, as the movie could have ushered in a wave of intelligent, budgeted horror movies instead of leaving a vacuum that would get stuffed with Scream, Sixth Sense, and Twilight. All dumber than the last. I’ll fight you to the death over this fact.
The Passion of the Christ was more of a horror movie than Twilight.
Anyway, the movie starts out with a reporter being called to a dark room that overlooks a modern (read: 90’s) city. The man waiting for the reporter wants to tell his life story, and for some reason the reporter shows up with no pretense of why. The man reveals himself to be a literal vampire, to which the reporter at first scoffs at. Then , in one of the last scenes actually filmed for the picture, the vampire (Louie) efficiently and quickly sets the tone of the entire movie in a minute.
He asks for the lights to be turned on, to which Slater scoffs. Louis then crosses the room, turns on the light, then returns to stand beside Slater. Slater is suddenly afraid, believing that there is something supernatural at work. He stammers “how did you do that?!” to which Louis replies “Same as you do, with a series of simple gestures.” Wow. This scene is perfection. It establishes that vampires are real, that they have great powers, and that they are not fully like the tropes we know from stories and folklore. A masterful horror scene, and if the movie could have kept pace it would have been the finest horror film ever produced by big Hollywood.
Immediately we are transported to 1791, along the Mississippi. There are Frenchmen, slaves, and whores everywhere. Some of these early scenes have some of the greatest sets… here is where a big Hollywood budget pays off. You get top notch acting and beautiful period costumes and gorgeous sets to immerse you in the setting. And Louis has the greatest 90’s grungeband hair. I don’t know my New World history enough to know male fashions, but he could have been in Mudhoney no problem.
The story continues as such. Louis is a mortal. He loses his wife and becomes a self-destructive drunkard. He has a death wish and floats aimlessly without any purpose at all. Lestat, our worldly wise vampire, is drawn to him and sets upon him. His intention is to create a mate. Not an equal, but a mate who he can subjugate, coddle, and groom into being a codependent fan. (*cough* Katie Holmes *cough*).
This is where the movie slips a rung or two: when Tom Cruise takes the scene. Complete with some sort of coat, simply ridiculous ponytail, and pale skin, he hardly makes any impression at all except for the fact that he is Tom Cruise. Look that’s Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise killed that pimp. Tom Cruise can fly. In what is a critical scene, the attack on Louis and leaving him clinging barely to life, becomes a scene of comedy. Lestat grabs Louis, who has ether fainted drunk, from fear, or succumbing to a proximal hex that they never explain but use as a device a few times, and flies into the air as he makes out with Louis’ neck. No joke. The scene is two men soaring into the air while necking and music plays that sounds like the theme from Jurassic Park. I defy you to watch and feel as much as a spark of fear.
Soon Louis is recovering in bed, nearly bled out, and Lestat visits and offers him a bargain; he may either die, or be made into a vampire. Lestat offers this in spite of not been given the same option himself. Louis has no joy in life. The things he once loved are gone, and the normal world is just a place he floats through. Lestat is offering to show him a life that runs concurrent to what he knows, only more decadent and fabulous and with the promise of hedonistic pleasures renewed. Recruitment.
Left to make up his mind, Louis wanders to a graveyard set that is supposed to be alongside the Mississippi but looks like it was recycled from any Hammer horror movie from the 1960’s. It is way too gothic and way to overgrown to actually exist in the Americas. Lestat appears and awaits his decision, which we know is “make me a vamp, dude.” Tom Cruise could have done one of two things here. He could have done an elaborate Top Gun high-five and hug montage or cut his wrist open with an ornate thimble and allowed Louis to mouth-fuck the hole. He goes with the latter. Both men enter into an uncomfortable to watch orgasmic state and soon we have not one but two vampires. Louis has been turned.
Louis begins to experience the new world of vampirism. The first object lesson Lestat gives is to have Louis stare at an angelic statue. The face comes to life, its eyes move, it blinks, then returns to stone form. It means nothing. And thanks to bad writing, never happens again in any way. Such a critical feature of being a vampire, this pulling aside of a veil and seeing the mysterious workings of life unknown to mortals… and it’s a onetime event. Terrible writing. There should have been shadows swirling and portraits winking and candle flames forming faces in the background anytime there were only vampires on screen.
We soon start to see cracks in the marriage. At their first dinner party, Lestat intends to share a woman with Louis. They both toy with her and drink from her, but Louis declares “I will not take her life.” Lestat is seemingly amused by his hesitation and flaunts his own ambivalence to life by ending hers. It seems that Pitt still clings to some of the old morals, and turns to drinking the blood of rats. Animals, it turns out, can sustain a vampire but not quench their thirst quite like human blood. Animals are the box wine of the vampire kingdom.
Lestat is trying to teach Louis how to “hunt,” partly from a desire to mentor and partly to give himself an opportunity to camp about and elicit responses. Lestat is an exhibitionist and a narcissist of the highest caliber. He would have loved Facebook. We find that he enjoys feeding from aristocracy, and they go to a fancy ball to lure an older matron, her two poodles, and her boy toy out into the night. Lestat feeds on the boy, leaving Louis to feed from the matron. She starts to succumb to the anticipation of being conquered sexually by a young Brad Pitt when her dogs won’t stop yapping. Louis relents, but since his launch sequence has started, he much find release. He eats the dogs. The woman loses her mind and Lestat comes and snaps her neck before she alerts the guests.
Louis has a tantrum after Lestat scolds him and attacks Lestat. Here is where the movie is nearly drained of its last bit of cool. The fight scene in like poorly done Hong Kong wirework. Two foppish men flying from tree to tree, with Pitt sort of angrily growling and Cruise giggling like a child, trying to drop his lines referring to the fact that “this is why I chose you!” Ugh, this scene… honestly I about turned it off as I had forgotten how awful it was. There was no menace in it, no rage. Just a lover’s spat.
It is said that Rice wanted Rutget Hauer to play Lestat if Hollywood insisted upon adapting her novel. Think about this. Do you remember the end of Blade Runner where Roy Batty is toying with Deckard in the crumbling hotel? I remember holding my breath, terrified and confused along with Deckard. My heart raced. I hated and loved this monster of a man, but wanted to see good triumph. This is what an actor brings to a villain. What could have been…
Not content to accidently recover from such an awful scene, the movie then makes another bizarre choice. They cut to the men, seated and bored at a dinner table. Lestat flicks olives (figs?) at Louis trying to provoke a response. In the background the slaves are in the middle of some sort of voodoo ritual to drive out evil. The ritualistic drums are unnerving Lestat, either by their supernatural power or by just their noise, making him edgy.
Louis suddenly is an expert. Drowns the noise out, doesn’t let it affect him, and coolly explains to Lestat why they are doing it. He also takes the role of patient manipulator and asks Lestat a series of questions about the nature of being a vampire. Lestat is irritated and states he doesn’t know much more, and Louis insists me must. Then Lestat rolls into a rage that makes absolutely no sense, especially when juxtaposed with the fight we just saw moments before. The shoes changed feet. Lestat in engulfed in scene chewing fury (which looks ridiculous and again, devoid of menace), and storms out after Louis declares calmly “forgive me if I have a lingering respect for life.” Lestat charges on horseback through the slaves and their ritual, stopping momentarily to glare at them all before riding off.
Oh, and Louis immediately drinks the pretty servant girl dry, killing her. What the hell?! Louis regrets it immediately. Her screams somehow alert every slave for miles, who come charging in full on “storm the castle with torches” mode. Pitt bursts from the mansion, gives one of the most insipid speeches ever given in a horror movie, throws the body to the slaves, and returns to the house to start an inferno.
There is a shot of the slaves rejoicing in the yard, looking a lot like natives hoisting spears or the Ewoks from the “remastered” Return of the Jedi ending. Either way, it comes of uncomfortably racist. Oh, and Lestat flies through a window to save Louis just so he can bitch at him. Women, am I right fellas? The movie carries on like this, and frankly I would stop this review here. I already have a reputation for being the tl:dr guy. But I do want to mention a few specific things that occur that bear mentioning.
Needing to flesh out the rift forming between the vampires, there is a scene where Lestat toys with two whores while Louis looks on disgusted. Lestat drains one girl, but the other is oblivious. Lestat turns to her and woos her. He then vampire-bites her enormous breast, draining much of her blood. He stands and she is incredibly turned on, even reaching down with her hand to explore her own genitals. Then she realizes she is bleeding and freaks out. The scene went from sort of sexy, to weird, to sexy, to annoying horror cliche. Lestat refuses to kill her, and demands Louis do it. He refuses. Lestat throws her half alive into a coffin. They spat. He then lets her out, toys with her, and when Louis stands firm kills her himself in a fit of anger.
This scene has all the makings for the type of horror moment that lives in infamy. All the set pieces are in place, every emotion is on the surface ready to be stoked. There is fear and sex, there is helplessness, there is moral disgust, and there is violence. Instead, it sort of shrugs and is over. No part of Cruise’s performance in this scene sells it at all. It is a true shame. Even Pitt, who has a very admirable performance throughout the film, just sort of looks on and scowls. This was either the best they could get out of their golden-boy lead, or it was a stylistic choice to keep the film from getting too heavy for a wide audience. Either way, enormous strike out for something that would make for a great short one scene student film.
That exchange (in theory) sets up a true highlight in this movie. Lestat knows his allure is wearing off (never was there to start with), so he needs to trap Louis the battered wife, who is packing up and ready to run home to mother’s. Louis finds a young girl in a quarantined plague zone (again, my history is bad, did we have plague in pre-America New Orleans?) and feeds off her, but doesn’t kill her. Lestat pretends to apologize to Louis, brings him home to his “gift,” which is the little girl left for dead. Lestat then turns her (she lustily feeds from Lestat’s wrist, its a gruesome scene that is awesome), and reveals that they are now a family.
This girl, Claudia, stabilizes then destabilizes the relationship, until it is apparent that the family is split into two factions, Lestat vs. everyone else. She finds a way to trick and murder Lestat, with plans to run away with Louis and create a new life, investigating vampire kind. Of course, Lestat isn’t done away with so easily, and the movie becomes a chase flick. But the murder scene, where she nearly seduces Lestat, poisons him, then violently slashes his throat ear to ear, watches him bleed out, then plots on how to dispose of him is the second most chilling child-horror scene just behind Reagan in the Exorcist and just ahead of the little girl with a trowel in Night of the Living Dead.
From this point there is an hour of movie left. The sets start to look a little recycled, some even look less impressive than earlier ones. The movie drifts to a close, with some cool scenes, more overt homosexual activity, and some touches that scream 1990’s. As a whole, it isn’t a terrible movie. It serves as a lesson to us though, to mistrust Hollywood money. When source material is as revered and lauded as Ms. Rice’s, maybe leave it as prose. When you rewrite the script out of fear of moral backlash, change the sex of a main character, replace an actor due to suicide, and under act some truly masterful scenes maybe this isn’t the movie your studio needs to make. And never, ever, let Christian Slater and Tom Cruise occupy the same movie ever again.
As horror fans, we need our art to be handled by caretakers that are fans first. Ridley Scott and James Cameron will continue to shit on sci-fi movies because the fans are easily duped from their money to see the special effects that being Hollywood whores can afford. But with horror, too much is actually a bad thing. Movies like Blair Witch Project aren’t perfect, but they are labors of love and add to the scene. Movies like World War Z do not. In my book, Interview With A Vampire was the first movie to stand as a shining warning to us to distrust Hollywood and look to the indie circuit for true scares.