Sunday, April 14, 2013

Review: Interview With the Vampire (1994)

Wow, it's been over a week since my last review. I've been slacking off. Anyway, I might as well check out something on the other end of the spectrum from Evil Dead. I'm reviewing this at the personal request of my aunt Peggy, who also follows my reviews, and who gave this film her highest recommendation.

Oh, and Scary Movie 5? Not a chance, bucko.

Interview With the Vampire (1994)

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Before Twilight, there was the Vampire Chronicles. Anne Rice's series of novels about vampires who loved, fought, partied, lived (unlived?), and had to deal with the morality of being horror monsters who were once normal men and women produced a revolution in the vampire sub-genre when it emerged in the late '70s and '80s. While the "urban fantasy" genre existed long before Rice was born (one could argue that Bram Stoker's Dracula was an example by the standards of the time), the Vampire Chronicles catapulted the genre to new heights, leading to a slew of copycats, the famous role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade, and the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This film, an adaptation of the first book in the series, likewise brought that revolution to the screen, making vampires look and behave less like old Slavic aristocrats and more like Hollywood hunks. While one could fault it for being indirectly responsible for Edward Cullen, there is still a lot to love in this story. Its tale of bloodsuckers with feelings is genuinely moving, while never forgetting that the characters are still predators, and it is anchored by some great performances by some nearly unrecognizable actors.

The story is as follows: Daniel Molloy, a modern-day journalist in San Francisco, is interviewing a man named Louis who claims to be a vampire, and backs it up with displays of some superhuman talents. Louis recounts to Daniel his life story, from the circumstances that led to him being "turned" through his journeys in 19th century New Orleans and Paris all the way to the present day of 1994. He tells Daniel about Lestat, his vampire "father" who embraced his dark side; Claudia, the young orphan girl who Louis turned and who "lived" in her ageless child body for decades; and the coven of vampires in Paris who Louis came into a fateful confrontation with. Louis has spent two centuries wracked with guilt over his urges for human blood, something that Daniel never seems to understand; all he hears from Louis is how he can live forever outside the constraints of society, leading Louis to angrily walk out of the interview. Daniel, of course, is in for one hell of a shock by the end.

It is important to get one thing out of the way right now: this is easily one of the most homoerotic films Hollywood has ever made. The relationship between Louis and Lestat feels like that of two lovers, and given how frequent the allusions are, there is no question that this was deliberate. Anne Rice herself penned the script here, and imports much of the book's sexual themes wholesale. The only things marking Louis and Lestat as being not gay are their relationships with the women in the film (most notably Louis and Claudia) and the fact that they're above such concerns as human sexuality; for vampires, killing is the ultimate pleasure, no matter who they're doing it to. I'm just guessing here, and I'm probably either wrong or at least oversimplifying, but I'd imagine that huge chunks of this film would be for women (and gay men) what lesbian scenes in movies like Black Swan are for guys like me. Sexuality drips from nearly every frame of the film.

A lot of that has to do with the all-around excellent cast assembled here. Tom Cruise plays Lestat with all the intensity you'd expect from Tom Cruise playing an immortal, supernatural predator who loves what he is. He probably had to be taken to the hospital after the shoot was done due to all the scenery that he chewed. He owns this role in every way possible, and never leaves a dull moment. Anne Rice famously went back on her criticism of the casting of Cruise as Lestat after getting a chance to see him in action, and I can understand why. His foil is Brad Pitt as Louis, the prototype for countless brooding, "tortured soul" vampires who hate what they are. What separates Pitt's Louis from many of the imitators is that, thanks to both his development and Pitt's great performance, we feel that this man is genuinely suffering rather than just whiny. He has to abandon his plantation out of fear of what he'd do to his slaves, he must spend an eternity dealing with his failure to protect those he loved, he cannot love another person because he knows that they will either die, or be forced to live like him in order to be with him. Lastly, there is a 12-year-old Kirsten Dunst as Claudia, Louis and Lestat's vampire "daughter". Dunst captures Claudia's anger at never being able to grow up and become a woman, trapped in the body of a pre-pubescent girl with Shirley Temple curls and no boobs, delivering a better performance than many actors twice her age would've been able to. Rounding out the supporting cast are Antonio Banderas as Armand, the head of the Parisian vamps who rejects their decadence and sees Louis as a way for vampire society to be reborn, and Christian Slater as Daniel, the modern interviewer. While their roles are small, they are both memorable in their own ways, with Banderas giving off an appropriately cultured air and Slater likewise coming off as completely clueless about what Louis was trying to tell him.

Lastly, while the vampires in Interview may be very emotional creatures, the film never forgets that they are still, above all, predators. They hunt, stalk, and kill humans many times over the course of the story. They can subsist of animal blood, sure, but what's the fun in eating Spam and government cheese when you could have a filet mignon and a fine merlot for no extra cost? Other than your soul, that is. Louis tries to subsist on draining rats and, when feeding on humans, only drinking enough blood to not kill the person, and it's clear that this is a less-than-optimal solution. Even when forced to act as the predator he is, it eats inside of Louis, a matter not helped by the constant prodding of Lestat to give in to his instincts. The conflict between Louis' remaining humanity and his vampire nature is the key driving force of the story, and produces his entirely reasonable conclusion that he would not wish becoming a vampire onto anybody. In a way, Christian Slater's Daniel could be seen as a male version of a moody goth chick or a Twilight Mom, completely missing the point of what Louis tried to teach him and still thinking that it's cool to be a vampire.

Score: 5 out of 5

This is an intense, sexual vampire drama that, from start to finish, hooked me and made me finally understand the appeal of "tragic monsters" in a way that Stephenie Meyer couldn't hope to replicate. An amazing movie that shows how to take horror movie monsters out of the horror genre, and do itright.

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