WFTB Score: 9/20
The plot: Louis de Pointe du Lac celebrates the two-hundredth anniversary of becoming a vampire by granting an interview to sceptical journalist Daniel, taking him from his birth in blood to the present day and recounting the companions he has gained and lost along the way.
It’s often said that period dramas reflect the time they are made more than the period they portray, and this is particularly true of Neil Jordan’s adaptation of Anne Rice’s 1976 novel. The story begins in present day San Francisco with Christian Slater’s Daniel meeting self-possessed vampire Louis (Brad Pitt) before quickly rolling back two hundred years, but everywhere there is a mid-90s sensibility that detracts from the incredible story Louis reveals.
In 1791, Louis is wealthy but has recently lost his wife and child and, tired of life, seeks death in New Orleans bars and whorehouses; what he actually finds is Lestat (Tom Cruise), a vampire who offers him an alternative. Louis becomes a vampire but unlike his voracious mentor retains a semblance of human squeamishness, so finds the people-killing difficult, choosing instead to feed off the blood of rats, chickens, poodles and the like. When Louis does eventually take a life, that of young Claudia (Kirsten Dunst), an orphan sheltering in a plague-ridden area of town, he takes her changed, doll-like form into his care and is disturbed to discover that she has a hunger that matches Lestat’s, at times even exceeding it. Louis and Claudia come into conflict with Lestat and flee to Paris, where Louis embarks on a search for others of their kind and finds an unfriendly bunch of theatrical bloodsuckers who stage a horrific spectacle each week for their kicks. Although their senior figure Armand (Antonio Banderas) is fascinated by the New World vampires, his colleagues are less tolerant and pursue Claudia, as her youth and her treatment of Lestat are both considered unforgivable.
Had this film been made in the seventies, it would no doubt have been dirty, blood-soaked and exploitative, revelling in the many possibilities for sex and violence available in the script. As it is, however, this nineties’ production is quite clean and polished, notwithstanding the blood and dead animals strewn around the sets (there are a few nasty moments but you would hardly describe this as a horror film); and the sex is toned down, nudity spared to essentially one stylised sequence in the Theatre des Vampires.
The dominating presence in the film is hair and wigs. I can scarcely believe the hair and wigs didn’t look preposterous at the time, but at fifteen years’ distance (in the careers of the principals, as well as a viewer) everyone does look very silly, especially as their hair always stays clean, conditioned and pristine however messy they make their victims. Tom Cruise looks like Michael Bolton, whereas Pitt reminded me of the model Fabio; these elements take away from the atmosphere of the film, which in any case has a few other issues.
Firstly, although we are clearly meant to sympathise with Louis, he is still a vampire and mass-murderer, even if he mostly murders other vampires; secondly, Claudia occasionally comes across as fairly brattish, screaming until she (almost) makes herself sick – and when Dunst’s scenes with Cruise and Pitt do not resemble something out of My Two Vampire Dads, she is cuddling up to Brad in a way that was surely perfectly innocent in its intentions but now feels a bit iffy. Certainly the references to Pitt as her ‘lover’ jump out more nowadays than the unconvincing nudges about Armand’s attraction towards Louis. Given all this, the fact that Lestat’s constant killing fails to raise so much as an eyebrow amongst New Orleans society is a minor point.
Interview with the Vampire is an interesting film to watch now, but more for the light it shines on the actors’ careers and the clean nineties treatment of the subject than the story itself. Given this extremely qualified endorsement, it is perhaps unsurprising that sequels have been slow in seeing the light of day (if that’s not an unfortunate choice of phrase for a vampire movie). If Lestat and friends are to be seen again, we can only hope that next time the tale grabs more attention than the manes.