APRIL 7, 2011
I saw Interview With The Vampire when it first came out on VHS (so, spring/summer 1995?), but just the one time, and I only retained two memories. One: the line from the trailer – “You never knew what life was until it ran out in a red gush over your lips”, wasn’t in the actual movie. And two: it bored the hell out of 15 year old me. But I’ve matured since then, not to mention grown to appreciate more types of horror films, so I figured I’d give it another look, hopefully appreciating it more.
Well, guess what – it bored the hell out of 31 year old me too. Vampires or not, these are just some insufferably dull folks, and that the closest thing to a conflict the movie offers is resolved around the halfway point (taking top-billed Tom Cruise essentially out of the movie entirely until the final ten minutes) certainly doesn’t help matters. I guess if you consider it a character study of Brad Pitt’s character then the lack of tension, revolving cast of supporting characters, and other issues aren’t as problematic, but he’s still a boring protagonist.
And that is due to the film’s insanely fast opening ten minutes, 2-3 of which are just opening credits over shots of San Francisco, and then another 2-3 of Pitt introducing himself to Christian Slater’s writer character and starting to tell his tale. Thus, we’re left with less than 5 minutes of Pitt as a human before he gets turned into a vampire by Lestat. Maybe this is how it is in the book, but it seems like his turning should be something that occurs near the end of the first act, not halfway through the first reel. The story seems designed to get us to feel some sort of sympathy for this guy as a vampire and think of him as our hero, but the movie gives us nothing to earn our compassion. I assume fans of the book were able to fill in these gaps but newcomers like me just felt instantly lost - a good adaptation doesn’t make you feel like you’re at a disadvantage for not reading the source material. As far as the movie is concerned, Louis’ wife and child died and he likes to play cards, that’s about all we know before Cruise shows up, turns him (twice, it seems, with almost the same dialogue), and then he spends the rest of the movie droning on and on about how he doesn’t care for the way Lestat or (in the film’s 2nd half) Armand does things.
The only time the movie kind of comes to life (on a narrative level I mean; the production design and cinematography are spectacular) is when Claudia is introduced. Not only do we get to go “awww” at the little girl who’d go on to make out with Spider-Man, but Pitt stops whining for a bit and the movie gains some sort of minor narrative thrust, with Pitt and Cruise quietly (well, relatively quiet for these two) battling for her affections as they raise her. There’s even some black comedy in there, with Claudia lashing out as any kid would, but using her vampire strength/teeth (i.e. she kills her piano teacher after he gets a bit too domineering). And then Cruise turns all out evil, dons some excellent makeup after nearly dying, and they all battle it out and cause an inferno. If this was a normal movie, it would be the rousing climax.
But no, this is a wannabe epic (plus a period piece), so it has to be over two hours long. So Pitt and Ms. Dunst wander around Paris for a while until they literally walk into Armand (Antonio Banderas, third billed for a role that isn’t introduced until 75 minutes into the film) and another vamp played by Neil Jordan staple Stephen Rea. And then the movie basically starts over, with Armand doing the same sort of shit Lestat did, i.e. yammering on and on about how great it is to be a vampire while Louis broods and tries to find another way of life. Basically, there’s just too much movie here, and either it needed to be 3+ hours long and structured like The Godfather II or something, or cut in half, with the Lestat stuff being the first film and Armand in the second. Since Lestat and Armand never share a scene, but have about equal screentime, it just becomes a very schizophrenic viewing experience, since (again), Pitt’s character is pretty much the least interesting in the movie.
I also don’t like when a vampire movie changes some of the standard rules but doesn’t bother coming up with an explanation why. Slater asks Pitt about stakes through the heart, and he just laughs it off as nonsense. Um, why? Seems like that’s a surefire way to kill pretty much anything, why doesn’t it work on you? Daylight still works, at least. In one of the movie’s few emotional scenes, Claudia and her protector are reduced to ash by the sunlight, and Pitt finds her later still in a figure form, only for her/it to collapse into dust when he touches her. Good stuff. The rest of the vampires are killed by fire or a sickle, and (sigh) there is no explanation for why a sickle will work when a stake won’t.
And it ends on a cliffhanger (an abrupt one at that - the final scene between Slater and Pitt is borderline incoherent). I can’t recall why a proper sequel was never made – the movie did quite well, it had the highest grossing opening weekend of all 1994 and remained the highest grossing vampire film of all time until the Twilights came along (Van Helsing doesn’t count!). I have to assume that they PLANNED a sequel when they shot the ending that they did, right? Or is that just how the book ends and they were being faithful even though it made for a lousy denouement? Well, at any rate, the “sequel” Queen of the Damned didn’t have a goddamn thing to do with this one, and came about 5-6 years too late to boot. So I guess if I ever want to find out if Lestat turned Christian Slater into a vampire, I’ll have to read the book. And I will not be doing that. I read "Twilight" trying to understand why people liked it, I won’t be doing the same for this (I’d actually rather re-watch Twilight. At least it had some attractive women to go along with all male model types).
Nice use of Tequila Sunrise though.
What say you?