Interview With The Vampire [Retro Review]

“I haven’t been human for two hundred years”

The Scoop: 1994 R, directed by Neil Jordan and starring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and Kirsten Dunst

Tagline: Drink From Me And Live Forever

Summary Capsule: For one night, a damned soul reveals his life as a vampire to a lucky/unlucky (take your pick here) journalist.

Rich’s Rating: Listen to the creatures of the night…what music they make!

Rich’s Review: Recipes are funny things.

Now, I like to cook – especially if I’m cooking for others – but the one thing I hate doing when I’m cooking is following an exact recipe. Whenever I’m throwing ingredients around my shared kitchen with all the abandon of the Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show, there will always be something that catches my eye and makes me thing “Hmm, I wonder if these cheesecake will taste better if I mix some chili sauce in”.

Granted, that wasn’t one of my better ideas, and my creations will, I admit, have a tendency to turn out worse than the original recipe, but sometimes, amazingly, something works, and everyone tells me what a great cook I am, inflating my ego to zeppelin-like proportions and thankfully glossing over that time I made them eat my special ‘honey fried rice’.

Why am I rambling about this? Because what holds true for me in the kitchen also applies, in many ways, to Hollywood. Everyone knows that if you combine part A with part B with part C in the right proportions, you end up with X kind of film; sometimes bland, sometimes well made, but always predictable. But when you start throwing chili powder and honey in the Hollywood mix, 9 times of out 10 you’ll get a disaster…and occasionally, via some form of weird fusion I was never taught in Home Economics class in Year 7, you’ll produce something rare, different, and not completely inedible.

If you followed the formula, Interview With The Vampire didn’t look like it was gonna be anyone’s idea of a good meal. The combination of a openly adored series of cult books, fairly dark subject matter, a rambling angsty plot and some casting choices that were so unpopular even the author of the books disapproved meant that fans and critics alike were drooling, not at the prospect of devouring this film, but at slicing it into thing strips and throwing it to the wolves.

(Now, wasn’t that beautiful sustain on a metaphor there? I’d like to thank the academy…)

Back when I reviewed Queen of the Damned with Alex, I remembered checking the MRFH archives, thinking “Surely someone must have already reviewed the original Interview?” Fortunately for me, they hadn’t, which meant that it ended up filed away somewhere in my head in a little box marked “review this film next time you get the chance to actually sit down and watch it.” And fortunately for me once again, since my Satellite TV channels like to do nothing better than endlessly loop every single film ever made before 2001 on non-stop showings on their 84 free movie channels, it was only a matter of time before it re-appeared again.

So, here’s the deal, plot fans. Christian Slater, young journalist, happens upon a guy in New Orleans who wants to tell him a story. That guy just happens to be a vampire, who, after proving his credentials in the fang department, sets out his life and unlife story for us, as the film unfolds.

Starting after the death in childbirth of his wife and infant, wealthy New Orleans Land-owner Louis De Point Du Lac (hereafter known as Louis, and played… well, accurately, let’s say, by Brad Pitt) is naturally a little upset, and looks to find some useful ruffian to end his misery and suffering. However, in an example why karma can really be a bitch, after that nothing seems to be able to go wrong for Louis, and despite trying his very hardest, he quite inconveniently finds it impossible to find someone to kill him. But worry not, young Louis, because help is soon at hand in the form of down-at-heel-and-looking-for-someone-weathy-to-shack-up-with-vampire Lestat De Lioncourt (hereafter known as Lestat, and played absolutely perfectly against all expectations by Tom Cruise).

Louis wants and end to his pain and suffering, so Lestat offers to turn him into a bloodsucking fiend from beyond the grave. As far as grief counselling goes, it leaves something to be desired, but then again Vampires were more open in the 1800’s before they officially changed their name to Therapists and started draining out bank accounts instead of veins. Louis foolishly accepts, and one biting/sucking session later, Louis is on the other side of the mortal coil, happy that he can now wear those red velvet jackets with the ruffed shirts and not feel foolish.

What seemingly never occurred to Louis was that as a vampire, he might have to, well, drink people’s blood; and thus begins a long 200 years of Louis whining about how much he hates being a vampire. Lestat, on the other hand, having been dead for much longer, is pretty much in love with his condition, and so while he hunts people with impunity, and enjoys being pretty much better than everyone else, Louis settles in for 200 years of undead teenage angst.

Now, I know that we, as an audience, are meant to associate with Louis’ struggle to hang onto his human side while Lestat merrily leads him down the path of corruption. Sorry, but I really can’t do that, simply because Louis is such a little whining bitch, whereas Lestat is such a gloriously upbeat and genuinely entertaining villain — I dare anyone of you not to root for him. Whether it’s in the book or the film (which is wonderfully faithful to its source material), there’s just something about Louis character that makes you want to slap him around the face.

In short, Louis and Lestat’s partnerships keep going awry, sometimes because Louis is having another hissy fit about something, and sometimes because Lestat is enjoying himself a little too much. But either way, the pair are forced to move around frequently to avoid visitors of the Van Helsing nature. When it looks like Louis is about to run out on Lestat, Lestat binds Louis back to him by manipulating Louis into creating another vampire, the child Claudia (a very young Kirsten Dunst), for them both to raise.

As stories go, its unashamedly rambling, more of a series of misadventures than any structured plot of any kind; we’re instead meant to experience what it would be like to be a member of the secret and shadowy undead; it’s a character study of the life of a moaning Frenchman. Not the most appealing, I’ll admit; Brad Pitt does a great job of playing Louis, but Louis is such a sap that even Brad can’t make him charismatic or particularly sympathetic.

The reason to watch this film is Tom Cruise as Lestat; he outdoes himself as the flamboyant playboy vampire in love with his immortality. He owns every second of the film he’s in, and is endearing enough to help up put up with the bits where Louis mopes around on his own.

If you’re a fan of the books, this is a fine adaptation; faithful to the original, it was brought to life perfectly on the screen. If you’re a fan of the gothic genre, or just like Vampire films in general, it’s a great sympathetic look at life on the other side of the shroud, and if you’re just a fan of seeing an actor stretch both your preconceptions of his talent and his acting ability, watch it for Lestat.

But whether you watch it or not… don’t watch the sequel.

Shalen’s Rating: One out of the five liters of blood found in the average male human.
Shalen’s Review: By now, everyone has heard about the connection between vampires and sex. Fangy penetration plus exchange of body fluid equals sexual metaphor. Some sources, like Joss Whedon’s Buffy and P.N. Elrod’s vampire detective books, wimp out on this tradition and have the vampire capable of both normal relations and the pokey teeth approach.

Most vampire films don’t look for this rather silly middle ground. The question in film is generally whether to go with a subtler Bram Stoker-style approach, in which the Freudian aspects remain mostly subliminal, or go all out and just have victims writhe in ecstasy and then die when bitten. Needless to say, “Interview” has taken the latter approach.

I tend to watch a fair number of vampire movies, though most are lower budget than this one, and “Interview” has most of the things that amuse me in the genre. It’s got uber-Caucasian men in fem clothing made of luxury fabrics1, bite marks that are closer together than canines are, and that wonderful grimace actors have invented in order to display fangs that would be hidden by any normal facial expression. (Try it in the mirror.)

And of course it has that wonderful disregard for human biology that is generally attributed to “supernatural” factors. Rice-style vampires can drink a human down to almost the last drop (like Folger’s!) before the victim dies, whereas a real person can only lose a couple of liters through a neck vessel before they expire due to loss of blood pressure in the brain. And, of course, there’s the fact that vampires are apparently capable of VERY powerful suction, since they seem to be taking in four liters or so of blood in around ten to fifteen seconds2. They also have the ability not to have their stomachs bloat up with four liters of fluid, not to mention some odd connection between teeth/stomach and veins without the intervention of intestines. But it’s all okay, because it’s, you know, supernatural.

And then there is the “plot,” which really does not exist. (See the film script contest for my summary of ditto.) The conversations between Louis and Lestat read like an extended argument between a really depressed Immanuel Kant and a slightly drunken Friedrich Nietzsche, and wouldn’t THAT make for exciting viewing3.

More or less the coagulated red icing on this cake for me was the fact that the filmmakers chickened out on Louis’s accent. Half my family is from Louisiana, and in this movie Mr. Pitt sounds about as authentically Creole as a plastic alligator. Doesn’t even sound like someone from Louisiana. I suspect the reason this keeps happening in films is that a writer can describe someone as having a “soft drawl” while simultaneously ignoring the fact that this would result in statements that sound like, “Yew have condayummed me to hayull.” Not to mention the fact that Louis and Lestat would argue much less if Lestat couldn’t understand a word Louis was saying, since real Creoles don’t sound particularly French and arguably didn’t in 18-whatever either.

If none of this can dissuade you from seeing this admittedly stylish and atmospheric film, consider this. “Interview With the Vampire” was nominated for one Oscar for its costumes/sets and score, and none for its acting or script. It did not win an Oscar. It did, however, win a Razzie Award for worst screen couple. I can certainly say that if I was going to become a vampire’s… girlfriend, my first choice for that vampire would not be a falsetto-voiced Tom Cruise standing on a box.

1 – Notice how few vampire films are set in times and places when velvet and satin were unpopular, such as ancient Rome or Viking Norway?
2 – This might explain their popularity, if they weren’t so strict about the whole necks and wrists thing.
3 – No.

Puttin' on the ritz

Intermission!

  • Lestat’s stabby thumb-ring…someone could have their eye out with that if they’re not careful.
  • Working with Claudia really needs to come with some pretty hefty life insurance.
  • Even down a sewer tunnel eating rats, Louis still has time to make sure his hair is shiny and perfect.
  • The fate of the yappy poodle…you just knew it was coming.
  • The Interviewer’s name, Malloy, is never mentioned throughout the movie; it only appears in the credits.
  • River Phoenix was cast as The Interviewer, but died before filming began. Leonardo DiCaprio was approached to play his role, but Christian Slater eventually got the part and donated all of his earnings from the film to Phoenix’ favorite charities.
  • Author Anne Rice wrote the part of Lestat with Rutger Hauer in mind. Upon learning that Tom Cruise had been cast, she was quite disappointed and expressed concern that Cruise could not carry the part. After attending a screening, Rice wrote a letter of apology, quite pleased with Cruise’s portrayal.
  • Cruise wanted a private set, and hence tunnels were built to escort the actors to and from the set. This was done so that the vampire’s makeup effects would remain a secret.
  • Cruise was placed on an elevated platform during some scenes to reduce the height difference between his character and other vampires.
  • The scenes set on the riverfront in New Orleans (including the infamous “Chat Noir”) were filmed on a false front built on the levee downriver from the actual French Quarter. The entire set was constructed around the old section of Jackson Barracks, a National Guard post.
  • The river scenes were done by removing such modern items as the Greater New Orleans Bridge and radio towers and replacing them with 18th century sailing vessels in post-production.
  • Johnny Depp was offered the role of Lestat.

Groovy Quotes

    Claudia: You… fed on me.
    Louis: I took your life. He gave you a new one. Lestat: Your body’s dying. Pay no attention. 

    Louis: Where are we?
    Lestat: Where do you think, my idiot friend? We’re in a nice, filthy cemetery. Does this make you happy? Is this fitting, proper enough?
    Louis: We belong in hell.
    Lestat: And what if there is no hell, or they don’t want us there? Ever think of that?

    Lestat: God, I swear you grow more like Louis each day. Then you’ll be eating rats!
    Claudia: Rats? When did you eat rats Louis?
    Louis: It was a long, long time ago. Before you were born, and I don’t recommend them.

    Lestat: What’s wrong, my dear?
    Whore: It’s a coffin…
    Lestat: Yes, it is. Well, then you must be dead.

    Daniel Molloy: So, what do you do?
    Louis: I’m a vampire.
    Daniel Molloy: Hmm. That’s something I’ve never heard before. You mean this literally, I take it?
    Louis: Absolutely. I was waiting for you in that alleyway: watching you watching me. And then you began to speak.
    Daniel Molloy: What a lucky break for me.
    Louis: Perhaps lucky for the both of us.
    Daniel Molloy: You said you were waiting for me. What were you going to do? Kill me, drink my blood, all that stuff?
    Louis: Yes, but you needn’t be concerned with that now.

    Lestat: Oh Louis, Louis. Still whining Louis. Have you heard enough? I’ve had to listen to that for centuries.

    Lestat: Lord, what I wouldn’t give for a drop of good old-fashioned Creole blood.
    Louis: Yankees are not to your taste?
    Lestat: Their democratic flavor doesn’t suit my palate, Louis.

    Lestat: Whining coward of a vampire that prowls the night killing rats and poodles; you could have finished us both!
    Louis: You’ve condemned me to Hell!
    Lestat: I don’t know any Hell.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Near Dark
  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula
  • Queen of the Damned
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5 Comments

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  5. Great review. You shed some new light on this movie for me. But personally, this movie just didn’t do it for me. The plot lacked direction in general and left me feeling unsatisfied. I will say the vampires were classy and suave, but I don’t think that’s enough to make a compelling movie.

    I also got the chance to review this film on my Horror Movie blog. I could always use some feedback from other critics if you get the chance. But keep up the good work.

    http://horrormoviemedication.blogspot.com/2013/03/interview-with-vampire-vampire.html#view

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