Retrospective Review: Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles

Year: 1994
Runtime: 123 Minutes
Director: Neil Jordan
Writer: Anne Rice
Stars: Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kristen Dunst, Antonio Banderas, Christian Slater

By Joan Amenn

Anne Rice’s debut novel, “Interview with the Vampire” was published in 1976 and was somewhat controversial at the time for its openly erotic depiction of the undead. Two years later, “Dracula” would open on Broadway with first Frank Langella and then Raul Julia as the Count with obvious sex appeal. The book would take nearly two decades to be adapted to the screen but by that time, Rice had paved the way for vampires to be portrayed with animal magnetism such that Bela Lugosi would never have gotten away with in the 1930’s.

 Brad Pitt plays Louis as a mournful sympathetic vampire, regretful of his lost humanity and the loss of human life he is directly responsible for. His desire to unburden his conscience sets up the interview of the film’s title as he tells his life story to Christian Slater. Director Neil Jordan deliberately shows Pitt as androgynous with long hair, perfect skin and full lips. It is no surprise that the vampire Lestat (Tom Cruise) desires him or that other vampires will want to possess him as well.

vampirecruise
Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994) (Warner Bros.)

This was a groundbreaking take on the old trope of vampires as heterosexual predators dating back to Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” published in 1897. Even more shocking is the character of Claudia (Kristen Dunst), a child dying of the plague spared death by vampire intervention. Dunst is impossibly beautiful and menacing at the same time. She is at first almost amusing in how she lures unsuspecting old ladies to their deaths with her cute “little lost girl” act.

Rice had paved the way for vampires to be portrayed with animal magnetism such that Bela Lugosi would never have gotten away with in the 1930’s.

As time passes, she grows more and more frustrated until she explodes in fury at Lestat for condemning her to a life of unfulfilled desire. Dunst is able to convey sexual tension to the point of madness and revenge even though she is only a preteen. She deserved an Oscar for her performance but sadly, did not get the recognition she earned.

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Kirsten Dunst in Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994) (Warner Bros.)

Fleeing to Paris in search of safety and others like themselves, Louis and Claudia discover the “Theater of Vampires” a Grand Guignol performance space. Here Louis meets Armand (Antonio Banderas) and sparks fly between them. Banderas is as seductive and androgynous as Pitt but has no qualms using his gifts to feed on humans to the appreciation of his unsuspecting theater audience. Claudia is immediately jealous and afraid Louis will abandon her.

This was a groundbreaking take on the old trope of vampires as heterosexual predators dating back to Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” published in 1897. Even more shocking is the character of Claudia (Kristen Dunst), a child dying of the plague spared death by vampire intervention.

Tragedy strikes before this complicated love triangle can be resolved. All of the theater troupe led by Stephen Rea resent Louis and Claudia as outsiders whom they suspect hide a terrible secret. They become the victims of a terrible revenge which haunts Louis nearly a century later as he confides the horror to his interviewer.

tom cruise
Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994) (Warner Bros.)

Much has already been written about Tom Cruise as the vampire Lestat. He tries very hard to be sinister and charismatic but fails and instead drains much of the gothic atmosphere from the film. Worse, some of his scenes border on camp which undermines the effectiveness of Pitt’s elegiac monologue. Anne Rice wrote the screenplay adaption of her novel and most of the bisexual seductiveness is only suggested onscreen but the tension between Pitt and Banderas is smoldering. Claudia’s doomed longing for Louis as a mature woman is as heartbreaking as it is disturbing.

With a properly cast Lestat, this film would have been so much more, and the complete title references the “Vampire Chronicles” suggesting Rice hoped to continue her adaptions to the other books in the series. Attempts at continuing the story with different casting have not been very successful but Rice recently regained the film rights to try again to bring it to the screen. For now, “Interview with the Vampire” (1994) is worth watching for a little girl who sweetly says’ I want some more” and then ruthlessly displays her fangs.

 

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