Vampires have been a staple of popular culture for over two centuries now, from the publication of Polidori’s ‘The Vampyre’ in 1819 to Bram Stoker’s 1897 classic ‘Dracula’. There have been a plethora of modernized interpretations since then of course, and let’s be honest, vampires have fallen from the lofty realms of aristocratic decadence, brimming with sexuality and fierceness into parodied clichés. Unfortunately in the digital age of CGI and ‘cant-linger-on-a-shot-for-more-than-three-seconds’ editing, they’ve grown less brutal and frightening as time has passed. Once, these undead creatures that fed on blood to keep their immortality and vitality were cold, aloof and seductive prowling creatures, just like your creepy uncle during the family Christmas reunion. Now they’ve got ‘feelings.’ Hmmph. And sparkly chests. Double Hmmph.
Cast your minds back to 1994. Ninety-five million viewers watched O. J. Simpson pootle along LA freeways in history’s most exciting low-speed car chase and Wet Wet Wet were causing brain embolisms across the world with the sickeningly popular song, Love is All Around. It was this year that Interview with the Vampire was released in theatres, and the story of Louis, Lestat and little curly-haired Kirsten Dunst changed the narrative for other vampire stories forever. But the journey to bring the movie to the big screen was an arduous one…
“[Interview with The Vampire] changed the narrative for other vampire stories forever. But the journey to bring the movie to the big screen was an arduous one…”
The author of the Vampire Chronicles source material, Anne Rice, sold the rights to Paramount to adapt the book into a movie way back in 1976, a few months before the book was released. The script remained in development limbo for years, with it getting tossed around from writer to writer with many believing that the movie would never get made. The rights then got sold once again before finally finding a home at Warner Bros. After receiving critical acclaim for directing The Crying Game (1992), Neil Jordan was approached for the vampiric tale concerning themes of manipulation, addiction and the grotesque loneliness of being an immortal, and he took on the project, eighteen years after Paramount first bought its rights. The three-legged dog raised its weary head. It wouldn’t suffer the same fate as Old Yeller.
Interview With The Vampire begins during a night in San Francisco, in our time (or the 90’s, more accurately). A young journalist (played by Christian Slater) follows a man through the streets and they end up in an anonymous room. When the journalist starts to interview the man, the stranger tells him that he is a vampire, over 200 years old. He recounts his tragic tale to the investigative reporter while the Dictaphone machine records all. Brad Pitt plays Louis de Pointe du Lac, a Louisiana plantation owner. After losing his wife and infant in childbirth, he becomes restless and apathetic with the world around him, drinking himself to oblivion or inciting violence so that someone will end his miserable existence. Looming in the shadows is Tom Cruise’s Lestat – a French aristocrat with piercing blue eyes and the taste for nihilism as well as the red stuff. He offers Louis a chance to see the world in a different spectrum and turns him into a vampire because…well I guess he likes Pitt’s smoldering face, requires company and needs a nice place to stay. Louis regrets losing his humanity, and he and Lestat squabble for about 200 years.
Upon re-watching Interview With The Vampire for this retrospective, I was initially surprised by the pacing of the movie compared to modern adaptations of the vampire mythos. It’s undeniably slow, steeped in gothic tradition and at the core of its blackened, withered heart thrums a drama about the loss of humanity and the bond of family. It actually felt quite refreshing to watch an unhurried movie, letting me absorb all the minute details going on in the scene unfolding before me. Brad Pitt’s brooding Louis warbles in a monotonous voice-over as he steers the audience through 1791 Orleans to the present day. And this was the second thing that struck me about Interview With The Vampire– the technically excellent surroundings.
There’s fantastic art direction being showcased here, coupled with costume design and set pieces that were nominated for an Oscar and also claimed two Academy Awards. It’s simply an exquisite colour palette of each time period, juxtaposing light and colourful scenes to the more prominent dreary environments. Would I consider it a horror movie? There are elements present that would (at the time) cause people to squirm in their seats. Necks are slit, rats are drained of blood and vampires catch fire when exposed to sunlight, but it’s never gratuitous or placed for sheer shock value. It certainly does have a 90’s film vibe about it, but the aesthetics get put to the side when you consider the ongoing battle between Lestat and Louis. They are bound together, one reveling in the nature of what he is and the other learning to retain his humanity as he knows it is slowly slipping away from him. Lestat impertinently chides Louis at any opportunity for not reveling in the taking of lives, but Louis is the bridge for the audience to empathize with.
“Since 1994, the vampire has evolved from a creature of the night, a predator who consumes souls along with blood, to a warbling cosmopolitan teen.”
Although one of the characters in Interview With The Vampire begs to be transformed into a vampire, and eagerly awaits the glittery flower bomb of immortality, the movie never makes vampirism look like anything but endless desolation. Tom Cruise provides unavertable magnetism that fits the melodramatic and primordial nature of Lestat, and took a career gamble by reveling in an audacious performance that could have left viewers cold to this Machiavellian character. Daniel Day-Lewis was the first choice for the aristocratic bloodsucker, but he turned it down. One can only ponder what lengths Day-Lewis would have subjected other cast members to, following his famously reputed ‘method’ acting approach. Author Anne Rice was initially dubious about the choice of Cruise, but later recanted her skepticism of the actor when she observed his performance onscreen – and if anything, it’s really fun to watch Lestat’s mood swings and cruel jibes at other characters. It’s a scene-stealing performance and would pave the way for the actor to become the commercial success we all know today.
Another great performance comes from the young Kirsten Dunst, who plays the tragic Claudia – forever entombed within the body of an adolescent. Claudia’s inception has its own heart-breaking backstory: Rice had a daughter named Michelle, who died of leukemia in 1972, so in order to deal with her grief and loss, during which time she spent in an alcoholic miasma, she wrote Interview With the Vampire. Sure enough, gothic themes that permeate the pages and onscreen equate vampirism with alcoholism, repressed sexuality and addiction – but the inclusion of a small, golden curled innocent that is turned into an undead creature, forever cursed with the body of a child while her intellect grows into adulthood, bears a chilling reminder that the forces of sinister darkness can only lead to one inevitable road – that of damnation.
The flood of vampire novels unleashed by the huge sales of Rice’s novels expanded the vampire mythos in many directions but generally speaking, the new vampires are simply humans with fangs. They can be your boyfriend or your husband. They’ve been marketed at the teen demographic, with hot bods to go along with chiseled jaws and voluptuous lips. They’re too cool for school, daddy-o, and here is where I think the slippery slope of the bloodsuckers has been declining. Since 1994, the vampire has evolved from a creature of the night, a predator who consumes souls along with blood, to a warbling cosmopolitan teen.
Even with comedic turns, such as the film and subsequent TV show What We Do In The Shadows, it could be argued that the vampires are so funny because they do away with any attempt at making them unflinchingly gritty and cool. They can be scary at times, sure – but woefully inept at dealing with the modern world. Just the way Lestat becomes towards the end of Interview With The Vampire.
Rice has written sequels to Interview With The Vampire, following the adventures of Lestat – and these will soon be turned into a television series. Let us know your hopes for the new series, and share your thoughts on Interview With The Vampire with us on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club.