When it comes to movie monsters, vampires go in and out of fashion with mixed results: sometimes you get a great retelling of Dracula, sometimes you get Twilight. In between, you get the work of Anne Rice, whose Vampire Chronicles has not had the same success on the big screen as Stephanie Myers’ books, but her first entry is one of the best exploration of what it must be like to be a vampire. Interview with the Vampire (1994) features the life and times of two vampires, one a complete sociopath who sees humans as cattle, and the other a man with guilt over the people he has destroyed. In a brilliant casting stroke, they are played by two of the biggest movie stars in the world.
If you are behind on your horror movie watching, October is a great month because all the movie channels play the old classics, or just the successful ones. So during a holiday from the university while staying in Quebec City, I saw Neil Jordan’s adaptation of Interview with the Vampire on MPix and was glad to see something to counteract the whole Twilight craze that was all over the place at the time. Here are some of my favourite vampire tales: John Carpenter’s Vampires, The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro, Blade II by Del Toro again, and Dracula by Francis Ford Coppola. If the vampires are heinous monsters that can only be stopped by being stabbed, shot, dismembered or burned in the sun, count me in.
Interview with the Vampire is narrated by vampire Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt) who has decided to tell his life story to fascinated San Francisco reporter Daniel Malloy (Christian Slater). Back in 1791 Louis was living in misery in his Louisiana mansion following the death of his wife and child. He craved death, but instead Lestat de Lioncourt (Tom Cruise) gave him something else. After drinking each Lestat’s blood, Louis became immortal and developed a thirst for other people’s blood. He tried to control it at first, feeding on livestock, but eventually caved in and killed a house slave. After trying to kill himself by setting his house on fire, Louis flees with Lestat into the night.
While living in New Orleans, Lestat gives Louis a gift of sort by turning Claudia (a young Kirsten Dunst), whose mother died from a plague. Together the three of them form an odd family. Claudia never grows old and her “fathers” have to teach her not to suck the blood out of her tailor, or at least not until after he has finished his job. Yet after thirty years, amidst all the killings she does to stay alive, Claudia begins to feel cursed rather than gifted. Realizing she will never grow old like normal people, she blames Lestat for transforming her. Together with Louis she hatches a plan to leave him for dead, but this guy is harder to kill than the Terminator.
The third act unfolds in 1870s Paris, where Louis wishes to find information about the origin of vampires and to find out if him and Claudia are the only ones left. He finds some answers with two European vampires, Armand (Antonio Banderas) and Santiago (Stephen Rea). Their coven is a theatre troupe whose members suck the life out of a young girl in front of an unsuspecting audience. Vampires pretending to be humans who are pretending to be vampires: it’s so clever it actually works. Unfortunately for Louis, vampires can read each other’s minds and once they find out about his attempt on Lestat's life they are none too thrilled. He may have crossed the Atlantic only to find more trouble.
Blood flows aplenty throughout the movie and the set designs and cinematography are all works of art, especially when Louis attacks the Parisian vampires in their crypt. The movie’s greatest triumph though is conveying how time must weigh on a vampire. For Lestat, this is all fun and games, but at the dawn of the 21st century Louis feels alone and isolated. It took the invention of the cinema for him to finally see a sunrise after 200 years, but when he goes to the theatre he is alone.
Rice seems to be saying that if vampires actually did exist like in they do in the movies they would be just like everybody else. In real life there are complete monsters that can kill without remorse like Lestat, and decent people like Louis who sees the horror of his actions. Just because you are a monster it doesn’t mean you have to act like one.