October Horrorshow: Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles

Here’s an old review I wrote for an abandoned month of Tom Cruise reviews. It slots into the Horrorshow quite well:

What a clumsy title. The title of this film is up there in clumsiness with Ballistic: Eks vs. Sever, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. It can’t be too much longer before Hollywood shoves out a film that has two colons in the title, right? Of course, Hollywood has nothing on the Japanese, who are absolute virtuosos at stringing together nonsense titles. The anime realm brought us The Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love?, a film which showed us that J-pop is a weapon of mass destruction, and Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone. Not too long ago I saw a Japanese detective flick from the 1960s titled Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards! It was every bit as good as it sounds. But, while I jest, potential viewers should not let the awkward title steer them away from Interview with the Vampire.

Directed by Neil Jordan from a script by Anne Rice, adapting her own novel, Interview tells the story of Louis (Brad Pitt), a plantation owner in French colonial Louisiana who is transformed into a vampire by Lestat (Tom Cruise), the undead antihero of Rice’s novels. Before joining Lestat as a creature of the night, Louis was a man full of despair. After the transformation, little changes in Louis’s personality. He remains deeply troubled by his past grief, and also mourns the death of the mortal man he once was. He refuses to kill people, instead drinking the blood of rodents and chickens to survive. All the while, he mopes. And mopes some more. Meanwhile, Lestat is the life of the party, putting up with Louis for decades while Louis remains mired in his deep funk. Lestat is either the most patient vampire ever or Louis has been picking up the tab, because I imagine most people would have left Louis to his own devices not long after they first met him. His demeanor is that dour. Yet, it is understandable. Vampirism is something of a Faustian bargain, full of unexpected and undesirable outcomes.

Vampirism is also about sex. It always has been. From Bram Stoker’s suave Transylvanian, who floats into the bed chambers of young maidens on wisps of smoke, to Lestat and Louis, becoming a vampire instills youth, vitality, sexuality, and an insatiable appetite in those transformed. Vampire stories are allegorical tales full of lust, Interview with the Vampire movie posterand feel very much like an outgrowth of sexual repression caused by varying religions. Either way, some form of bloodsucking demon has existed in mythology and fairy tales for millennia. It is an idea as enduring as God and the devil.

Lestat and Louis are eventually joined in their nighttime forays by young Claudia (Kirsten Dunst). Dunst was only eleven or so when Interview was filmed, and she was given a very difficult role. As a child vampire, her character watched the years tick by, and while her mind matured, her body did not. Dunst had to play an adult trapped in a child’s body. Having never been an adult to that point in her life, the degree of difficulty in her performance was very high, and she nailed it. There were only a handful of times when her lack of experience came through in her readings, but these moments were fleeting, and did nothing to distract from an otherwise flawless performance. This might be the best performance from a child actor I’ve ever seen. And she wasn’t the only one tearing up the screen.

Tom Cruise, at this point in his career, was a gigantic star, and he would only get bigger with the release of Mission Impossible a couple of years after Interview. But, back in 1994, when Interview was released, I don’t think there was much thought of Cruise as a serious actor. His best turn in the craft of acting to that point was in The Color of Money, but that film was directed by Martin Scorcese, who made a career out of extracting good or great performances from mediocre talent. So, it was a pleasant surprise to see Cruise dominating this flick…right up until the point Dunst arrived on screen.

Of course, that means that Pitt was the weak spot in this film. All I wanted him to do was cheer up a little bit, let some of the angst go, but alas, it was not to be.

Other performers of note were Thandie Newtown as one of Louis’s slaves, Stephen Rea and Antonio Banderas as European vampires, and Christian Slater as the guy who interviews the vampire.

The film plays out as a kind of power struggle pitting Lestat against Louis and Claudia. It’s also the rare film that has a linear plot but isn’t typified by a string of set pieces. The delineation between acts is there, but it feels like a natural flow, existing outside of time. Considering it’s a story of the undead, that works quite well.

The art direction in Interview is a bit heavy-handed, and also aging poorly. The aesthetic is similar to romance novel covers, but from what I know about Rice’s work, that is an accurate interpretation of the source material. The look and feel will be a turnoff for some, but for others it will serve to bring them deeper into the story.

Top to bottom, Jordan crafted an excellent film. That’s not surprising, considering Jordan was back on his game after releasing The Crying Game two years earlier.

The vampire subgenre of horror is tired and well-worn at this point in film history. Quite frankly, it was in 1994, as well. But occasionally something gets made that rises above genre. This is one of those films.

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