Thursday, 14 October 2010

Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Interview with the Vampire went through an interesting transition. A beloved novel of Goths and other macabre people, idea of a film adaptation by Neil Jordan of The Crying Game fame led to some apprehension. Then came the news that Tom Cruise, Top Gun himself, was going to be playing the blonde, French, sexually ambiguous, ubervampire Lestat. That was too much.

Anne Rice, writer of the novel and countless others about vampires, witches and now Jesus, put out a public statement of outrage. She originally placed her bets on Julian Sands, of Warlock and Boxing Helena, but he was not a big enough name for the studio. Rice and fans were alike flabbergasted by the idea of Cruise. Brad Pitt as Louis nearly fell by the wayside.

This changed when the film was completed. Rice was struck by Cruise's performance and put out an equally public apology. When the film came out on home video, Rice filmed an introduction commending the production and Cruise's performance. It rose above the controversy to become a Gothic classic that, in "real Goth" circles, eclipsed even The Crow.

Jordan masterfully translated one of the novel's most potent appeals, which is the richly haunting atmosphere of dark New Orleans. It may be nigh on impossible to figure whether the chicken or the egg came first: whether Interview was set in New Orleans because it was a Gothic destination or if it became a Gothic destination because of Interview. Nevertheless, the Crescent City ascended from a city to a trope, as famous for ghouls and bloodsuckers as for Mardi Gras and Louis Armstrong. It is nearly a character in itself.

Louis, the vampire not the musician, begins his life as a semi-aristocrat in New Orleans who has lost his wife and child to fever. No longer desirous of life, his agonized soul cries out to the vampire Lestat. He is more than happy to oblige, transforming the young man into a creature of the night. The ironies are too much for Louis: wanting to die, he is now undead; no longer wanting to live, he is now immortal. For the longer part of their tenure in N'awlins, Louis rails against his condition.

To Lestat, Louis seems to be little more than a toy. He is not adverse to adding another toy to the collection, and together they turn a little girl. Claudia, played by Kirsten Dunst, spends the next several decades growing in mind under the tutilage of Lestat and Louis but remaining trapped in her child's body. Finally she and Louis hatch a plot to destroy Lestat and escape to the Old Country.

The action shifts from the colony of Louisiana to Belle Époque Paris, where the pair runs afoul of the Theatre des Vampires and their rule that a vampire should never kill another of their kind... especially their maker. Yet the head of the Theatre, Armand (Antonio Bandaras) has his own designs on Louis. Not unlike Lon Chaney's Count Alucard, Armand has grown weary of Europe, its dusty ground and its decadent vampires. He wants Louis to show him the world, to re-enchant him with relatively young eyes.

Interview with the Vampire was criticized in some circles for being slight on the frights. In some ways, it may even be held responsible for wrecking monster horror, transforming them from things that go bump in the night to bumps existentially gazing into their own navels. Truly, much of what is called "horror" is little more than pyschological dramas and action movies where the characters are vampires instead of housewives and terrorists. For good or ill, that is where Interview with the Vampire lies. It is the story of the vampire Louis coming into his own, growing into his own existence and self-determination as a parable for living and breathing human beings.

1 comment:

Russell said...

I liked the movie, and the book, but Tom Cruise always looked a little odd with blond hair to me!

BTW, thoroughly enjoying this month's theme, thank you.