Cyberlizard goes to the movies. Added 30 December 2008

Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Starring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, Antonio Banderas, Stephen Rea

Vampire movies have been popular since the dawn of cinema and the first vampire film Nosferatu (1921). In the 50s and 60s Dracula films were a staple of the Hammer productions, but by the 70s it appeared that even Christopher Lee could not keep the idea fresh, and vampire films lost their place as a mainstream of film culture. At the same time the Vampire Chronicles, a series of novels by Ann Rice, first appeared in the 1970s. Despite their popularity, it took nearly twenty years for a film based on the first novel in the series to appear.

The plot

The film starts off with journalist Daniel Malloy (Christian Slater) sitting in a room at night with a ponytailed and besuited stranger (Brad Pitt) who claims to be a 200 year old vampire. Malloy believes he instigated the meeting himself by following the stranger, but the latter claims that he had in fact seen Malloy following him. The journalist is understandably sceptical until the self-proclaimed vampire displays an abnormal ability to move extremely quickly. Over the course of the evening the stranger, who introduces himself as Louis, relates how he had originally been mortal before encountering the vampire Lestat at a time when he was tired of life, having lost his wife and child and wishing only to lose himself in cards, drinking and whoring and ultimately death. Lestat attacked him but then offered him the choice of dying or becoming a vampire.

The film

In the various cinematic retellings of the Dracula legend, the story was fairly simple: the evil vampire went around preying on the innocent and turning them into the undead until caught and destroyed, at least until the next film. In Interview with the Vampire, the authoress (Ann Rice also wrote the screenplay) concentrates on the lives of the vampires themselves, showing them to be as varied as mortal people. Lestat, brilliantly played by Tom Cruise, is decadent and selfish, preying on Louis partly (so the impression is gained) to be able to use Louis's magnificent plantation home and to prey on the servants there. By contrast Louis, after his initial conversion experiences, is mortified at the prospect of killing people, and attempts to live instead by preying on chickens and even rats, much to Lestat's disgust. The ancient 400 year old vampire Armand (Antonio Banderas) is similarly decadent, with what appear to be bisexual leanings towards Louis whom he attempts to detach from Claudia (Kirsten Dunst), a child vampire created by Louis. Dunst gives a brilliant performance as an ageless, adult vampire perpetually trapped in the body of an eleven year old doll-like child but with a ruthless and predatory streak. The circle of vampires around Armand are similarly decadent, if not revolting, and Armand allows them to be destroyed in the hope that revenge will allow him to get closer to Louis. In the end however Louis goes his own way, and the film brilliantly captures the ennui and sadness of immortality gained illicitly, much as Rider Haggard's She is a majestic but ultimately self-exiled and lonely figure.

Lest this should sound unremittingly gloomy, there are moments of dark humour in the film, including the twist at the end. However the overall tone is sober, with a large dash of what appears to be homoeroticism (a look at the Wikipedia article on the differences between film and book will show moreover that some elements appear to have been toned down for the cinema). The gore in this film is in my opinion nowhere near as bad as in some modern horror movies, but there is plenty of blood, and the scenes of Louis's revenge on the Parisian vampires is fairly violent. The film however is not simply a horror movie, but can be seen as a springboard for discussions on such philosophical questions as whether immortal life in this world is ever desireable, or on the nature of the relationship between the carnivore and its prey (a defence raised by Lestat in the film).

Interestingly, after a couple of decades of writing vampire-based novels and other adult literature (including under pseudonyms), Anne Rice announced that she had returned to the Catholic Church and henceforth would be writing no further novels on some of these themes. Her current stance is expressed in an Essay on Earlier Works on her website, and it pays reading even if you find yourself disagreeing with her conclusions.

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